TORONTO — Giancarlo Stanton’s leaping grab on Monday night went viral. The 6-6 outfielder stole an extra-base hit from Matt Chapman at the top of the right-field wall in a tremendous defensive play. Less noticed are the everyday tough and routine plays that the Yankees are making this year.
Part of the belief that this Yankees team is better than last year — and the 2020 squad — is that they have become a more complete team. That shows in their defense. In short, last season, the Yankees finished 29th out of 30 teams in defensive runs saved (-41), according to Fangraphs. Through 25 games this season, the Bombers have made massive progress. Heading into Friday’s series opener against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, they are ranked third in defensive runs saved on Fangraphs team rankings.
A big part of that is personnel.
The Yankees ended their experiment with Gleyber Torres at shortstop last year and went out to find a solid, athletic defensive infielder for that spot in Isiah Kiner-Falefa. They also have a healthy DJ LeMahieu, who was playing through a sports hernia and a biceps issue last year that limited him severely. And in a Benjamin Button kind of way, Stanton seems to be defying the aging process and getting healthier and stronger as he gets older.
That all adds up to outs on the field and wins on the schedule, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
“I think you bring in Isiah Kiner-Falefa at a premium position like shortstop and you see his athleticism. That’s a pretty important defensive position that I feel like we’re pretty dynamic at now. I think Gleyber has done a really nice job sliding over to second. I think he’s much more comfortable. They’re much more confident,” Boone said. “I think DJ to me is healthier, and that’s shown itself in the way he’s moving around. His arm strength his is better, which is allowing him to be in play more often at third base. Our catching tandem, I’d put them up against anyone.
“And then Giancarlo being able to go out and play the outfield, Aaron Judge’s ability to slide over to centerfield [from right]. So we had that built-in flexibility there.”
Kiner-Falefa has three defensive runs saved, eighth among major league shortstops. Last year, Torres had a -7 defensive runs saved and was 120th among players who played shortstop. This season, at second base, Torres has five DRS.
After a very disappointing 2021, the Yankees made a new commitment to defense. While they would take some infield practice at the start of a series on the road, that was mostly to get comfortable with different fields, they seem to be doing it much more so far this year.
That reflects the organization’s renewed commitment to defense. The fact that so many players are out before games working on ground balls and different plays shows the players have bought in.
“It’s something that — not that we haven’t prioritized in the past because we certainly have —but I definitely think it’s very much a priority and to the guys, they understand the importance of it too and the commitment that they have to make to it,” Boone said. “The good thing about it is we’ve seen it show up for us in the way of helping us win games here.”
Bench coach Carlos Mendoza points to the Stanton play on Monday night as one that won a game for the Yankees. They ended up squeaking out a 3-2 win that night.
“But you also look at the many routine plays that Izzy [Kiner-Falefa] makes at shortstop every day,” Mendoza said. “Those get by him and it’s a different game. It can change the way you pitch or how you use your bullpen.
“It’s made a big difference so far this season, I think.”