The Yankees hit a milestone earlier this week when they reached 100 Defensive Runs Saved for the season.
Now understand that Defensive Runs Saved aren’t like wins or home runs. Your defensive performance can fluctuate and the Yankees did in fact dip below 100 to their current total, 98. They’ll likely finish at or above 100 so long as they keep playing such good defense.
Four teams have previously reached 100 Runs Saved in a season, most recently the two teams that rank 1-2 in that stat since we began tracking it in 2003 – the 2018 Diamondbacks (125) and the 2018 Brewers (123).
And while 100 Runs Saved has now proven reachable recently, it’s particularly notable that the Yankees did it.
The Yankees are currently taking shots from their fan base because of the team’s lackluster play the last two months. But knocking them means ignoring that, on the whole, their defense has been excellent.
The Yankees ranked 29th in Runs Saved last season with -41. The 139-run improvement year over year is not (yet) the largest in the 20 seasons of Defensive Runs Saved. But it’s close. The Phillies have the mark for the largest single-season improvement, going from -82 Runs Saved in 2018 to 68 in 2019, a jump of 150 Runs Saved.
Also, the Yankees have obliterated their previous single-season mark for Runs Saved. Their past best was 28 in 2017, which ranked 9th in MLB.
The Yankees have fielded some rough defensive teams, particularly early in the DRS era. The -41 Runs Saved in 2021 looks pretty good compared to the -120 Runs Saved of the 2005 team. In fact, the Yankees rank 26th in Runs Saved from 2003 to 2021.
In fairness, the Yankees under Brian Cashman began to prioritize defense a little more in the 2010s, finishing with a positive Runs Saved seven times in a nine-year stretch before a three-year stretch from 2019 to 2021 in which their best result was 1 Run Saved in 2020.
The remade infield has been a huge key to their success, with the acquisitions of third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa playing a major role along with the resurgence of Gleyber Torres and the continued success of DJ LeMahieu at third base.
Those four have combined for 35 Runs Saved this season (Anthony Rizzo is at -3 Runs Saved, though he’s been lauded by fans for his throw-handling). The Yankees rank 1st in how often they turn a ground ball or bunt into an out in 2022, 77.4% of the time (a smidge ahead of the Cardinals).
The Yankees also have one of the best defensive catchers in baseball in Jose Trevino (MLB-best 17 Runs Saved) and a pitching staff whose 14 Runs Saved lead MLB.
Rookie Oswaldo Cabrera has been an instant defensive sensation even as he’s struggled at the plate. He’s recorded 9 Runs Saved in only 20 games thanks to 5 assists from right field.
And though the Yankees aren’t running away with the AL East as they once were, they are running away with the Defensive Runs Saved lead.
The Yankees entered August with 65 Runs Saved, one run better than the Dodgers. But they’ve pulled away since then, with 33 Runs Saved. The Dodgers, with 74 Runs Saved, are now 24 behind the Yankees.
That puts the Yankees close to another milestone as well. The largest margin between the top two teams in Runs Saved in a season is 30 runs, with the 2016 Cubs besting the Astros, 107-77.
That Cubs team is remembered for something much bigger than that. That’s the Cubs team that won the World Series for the first time since 1908. Those Cubs and the 2008 Phillies are the two teams to lead the majors in Runs Saved and win the World Series.