Yankees’ new outfield already showing dramatic improvement from 2023

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was a disaster for the New York Yankees, who had World Series aspirations and found themselves slumping to 82-80, their worst record since 1992. They nearly became the first Bronx Bomber squad in the 21st Century to not have a winning record, and things needed to change quickly. A focal point of the winter was looking for outfield talent, as they ran some truly putrid defensive alignments, especially in left field. While there are still 161 games to go, the Yankees have taken the first step toward being a contender by shaking up their outfield defense, and it netted them an Opening Day win.

In a house of horrors, the Yankees emerged victorious in Minute Maid Park to open up the 2024 season, and while all the focus was on their incredible comeback, the win was stamped by a series of defensive plays that steered the bullpen in the right direction for a “Yankee Classic” in the words of Aaron Judge.

Big Defensive Plays Show Glimpse of Yankees’ New Outfield Potential

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees were one of the worst defensive teams in baseball at left field, a position that has seemingly haunted them over the past few seasons. Joey Gallo was their big addition at the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline, and his career went sideways the second he got to the Bronx. They tried to remedy it with Andrew Benintendi, and while it was working towards the end of August and the start of September, he’d suffer a hamate bone injury that would prematurely end his short-lived career in the Bronx, as he signed a multi-year deal with the Chicago White Sox.

Juan Soto’s throw to home plate was the most-discussed play of the game, but I’d argue that the plays made by Alex Verdugo were just as crucial to the Yankees securing that win.

This play isn’t going to be on SportsCenter tomorrow, but to any Yankees fan, it was a play that a year ago would drop into the outfield and set the Astros up beautifully to tie the game. In 2023 their left field group combined for -14 Defensive Runs Saved (t-30th) and -8 Outs Above Average (20th), making it one of the worst defensive units in the league. When looking at their most frequent left-fielders last season, it’s easy to see how they struggled so much in the outfield.

Oswaldo Cabrera, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Jake Bauers were all infielders who were converted into outfielders, and they combined for more innings in left field than Everson Pereira, Billy McKinney, and Aaron Hicks, who are naturals at the position. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that we’ve become used to seeing infielders in the outfield, and while Alex Verdugo won’t bring All-Star production or contend for the MVP, the fact that he’s a reliable glove in the corner outfield makes a massive difference, as it did yesterday.

Defense doesn’t get talked about enough when it comes to player value, great defensive players can alter the course of a game for the better, and bad ones can make plays so detrimental that they end your season. Some of the small defensive moments in this ballgame that got overlooked were Gleyber Torres diving to stop a grounder from Yordan Alvarez from trickling into the outfield, as Mauricio Dubon would have taken off for home plate and scored on the single that Juan Soto turned into an iconic throw.

Even looking at the throw, it was a great tag by Jose Trevino as he didn’t block home plate and still nabbed the illusive Dubon, who nearly eluded the tag with a great swim-move slide. Small details go a long way toward winning a game, and the Yankees put that on display in a game that will go a long way in their playoff chase.

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