The Yankees enter Friday tied with the Mariners for second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved.
That’s pretty remarkable given that in 2021, they finished next-to-last in the majors in that stat.
It’s only a month into the season but the remaking of the Yankees infield has been a significant contributor to their 18-7 record and 2.5 game lead in the AL East.
This was a necessity. Last season, the Yankees got negative Runs Saved at each of the four infield spots.
What impact have the changes had?
The Yankees have converted 78% of groundballs and bunts into outs this season. That’s the fifth-highest out rate in MLB. The Yankees ranked 23rd in that stat in 2021 at 73%.
The difference of 5 percentage points equates to this – The Yankees have turned 216 of 277 groundballs and bunts into outs this season. Had they performed at the 2021 rate, they would have converted 201.
That’s not just 15 potential baserunners wiped out. It’s trading potential baserunners for outs.
On an individual level, three things have paid dividends. Runs Saved is one way to illustrate that but let’s go one step beyond that and show the out-getting numbers to provide a more tangible illustration.
One was that the Yankees moved Gleyber Torres back to being a full-time second basemen. Torres saved 5 runs there in 2018, then struggled at both second base and shortstop the next three seasons.
Torres has played 18 games at second base this season. He’s gotten at least one out on 39 of 55 balls on which he had a >0% chance of recording an out (we’ll call the potential outs “opportunities” going forward).
In 2021, he played 19 games at second base. That season, he got outs on 39 of 67 opportunities. That’s the same number of plays made on 12 fewer opportunities.
Torres moved to second base because the Yankees traded to get shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa saved 10 runs at shortstop last season. Torres was the Yankees primary shortstop last season. He cost them 10 runs with his defense.
Torres got an out on 60% of his opportunities as a shortstop last season. His expected out rate against those balls (yep, we track that) was 62%.
Kiner-Falefa has turned 60 of 96 opportunities into outs this season. That’s a 63% out rate. He was expected to convert 55, an expected out rate of 57%.
Though Gio Urshela’s defense at third base last season passed the eye test, it was a net negative for the Yankees, costing them 4 runs.
The Kiner-Falefa trade also brought Josh Donaldson, a third baseman with a good defensive track record.
Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu have combined to convert 63 of 89 opportunities into outs. That’s a 71% out rate within a small sample. Urshela’s out rate last season was 61%.
You may be wondering why we haven’t mentioned first baseman Anthony Rizzo yet. That’s because Rizzo’s defensive numbers aren’t good since he joined the Yankees last season. He’s cost them 6 runs in his 74 games, including 1 in 25 games in 2022.
But Rizzo’s track record is pretty good. He posted positive Runs Saved in every season from 2013 to 2020. If he performs at the level he’s shown in the past and the other Yankees infielders maintain what they’ve done, we may be talking about this as the best defensive infield in the American League in a few months.