That the Yankees finished 10th in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved disguised a significant defensive issue. Their corner outfielders rated terribly in that stat last season.

The Yankees’ left fielders finished with -14 Runs Saved and their right fielders finished with -14 Runs Saved. They ranked tied for last with the Phillies in left field and next-to-last ahead of only the White Sox in right field.

It was a rough go for almost everyone. The only one of their 10 left fielders to finish with a positive Runs Saved was Everson Pereira (2 Runs Saved in 27 games). None of their 9 right fielders finished with a positive Runs Saved total, not even usual standout Aaron Judge, who tallied -3 in his 54 games there.

The eye test vindicates the numbers. There were plenty of just misses, miscommunications, and bad botches to go around.

That’s why the acquisition of Alex Verdugo in a trade from the Red Sox was significant. Verdugo had fallen out of favor in Boston and was benched once due to what manager Alex Cora termed a lack of hustle. But his defensive numbers are good.

Verdugo had 9 Runs Saved in right field last season, tied for second at the position. He also has a strong track record in right field with 21 Runs Saved in just over 1,900 career innings, though he totaled 0 as the Red Sox most-used left fielder in 2022. Still, 0 would be a major upgrade over what the Yankees had in 2023.

Verdugo should play one of those two spots regularly depending on whether the Yankees make a bigger acquisition like Juan Soto.

Another team to make a defensive upgrade was the Astros, who agreed to a deal with catcher Victor Caratini to a 2-year contract. Caratini replaces the team’s primary starting catcher the last 3 seasons, Martín Maldonado, though he’s projected as the backup to Yainer Diaz.

Maldonado was both a fan favorite and a pitcher favorite who won a Fielding Bible Award in 2017. He was beloved by Astros manager Dusty Baker for his pitching staff work. We don’t dispute that on his best days he was very good. But it’s fair to wonder what he’s got left. Maldonado totaled -10 Runs Saved last season. He still rated as a good pitch blocker, but by our pitch framing stat (Strike Zone Runs Saved), he ranked next-to-last among catchers.

Caratini has a considerable defensive flaw. He threw out only 3-of-47 runners attempting to steal last season. But even with that, he still got to 0 Runs Saved last season and had 2 Runs Saved in 2022. He’s an adept pitch framer. Over the last 2 seasons he ranks 8th in Strike Zone Runs Saved per 1,000 innings among the 40 catchers who caught the most. 

Diaz will get an increase in playing time. He totaled 4 Runs Saved in roughly 400 innings last season. Within that small sample, he had the highest block rate on potential wild pitches (96.2%) and totaled 3 Runs Saved for stolen base prevention (only 4 catchers had more). 

Like Maldonado, Diaz didn’t fare well in pitch framing but Diaz did enough other things his total defensive package was a positive. He finished the season with 4 Runs Saved. Diaz and Caratini bode – at least on paper – as a better defensive combination than the Astros had last season.