The best defense may be a good offense, but, as it turns out, the worst defense is even better, at least for teams playing the Yankees. Repeatedly throughout the season, the Yankees’ defense has proven to be a greater threat than opposing batters, and never was that more on display than last night in Toronto.
There’s no defense for the way the Yankees played in yesterday’s 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays…literally. The comedy of errors began in the fifth inning when Derek Jeter made two crucial misplays that directly led to three runs. The coup de grâce was delivered by Yangervis Solarte in the ninth, when his throwing error on a bunt allowed the winning run to score. It was the Yankees’ first walk off loss on an error since 1997, but merely the latest of many games this year that have been marred by poor defense.
Yankees Walk Off Losses on Error, 1938-2014
Note: Play by play data is mostly complete since 1950 with gaps beforehand.
Not only does the Yankees’ defense fail the eye test, but many fielding metrics also grade the unit below par. Baseball Prospectus’ park adjust defensive efficiency rating ranks the Bronx Bombers as the 10th worst fielding team in baseball, while UZR/150 places them a few notches lower. The most telling indication, however, could be the frustration expressed by Joe Girardi. The normally positive and protective Yankees’ manager pulled no punches when asked about the team’s defense during his postgame interview, stating, “It’s hurt us during the course of the season. It’s something that we clearly need to do a better job of.”
Unearned Runs Allowed Per Game, 2014
Note: Data as of June 24, 2014.
Girardi is absolutely right. Although not as overtly as last night, the Yankees’ defense has hurt the team repeatedly throughout the season. Through 76 games, the Bronx Bombers have allowed 34 unearned runs, which ranks as the fourth worst rate in the majors. And, that doesn’t include the three runs that scored after Jeter’s misplay, which was scored a hit, and the countless other dubious scoring decisions that often skew earned run data. The number of unearned runs also doesn’t take into account the collateral damage caused by the team’s poor defense. Extra outs lead to more pitches, which result in shorter outings and more innings needed from the bullpen. Combining that dynamic with a depleted pitching staff and struggling offense isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
The Yankees’ poor defense is particularly offensive because it is the result of neglect. The team’s weak infield defense was as glaring during the offseason as it is now. The Yankees knowingly entered the year with an injury prone first baseman and no backup, a middle infield on the wrong side of 30 with their own injury concerns, and a carousel of third baseman with little to no experience at the position. If anyone is surprised by how poorly the infield defense has played, they either weren’t paying attention, or like the Yankees’ decision makers, crossing their fingers while willfully turning a blind eye.
The Yankees are in their current predicament because of a change in organizational philosophy that has placed economy over excellence. Adhering to that approach isn’t likely to solve any problems. With the team in desperate need of reinforcements on defense and offense (who has time to worry about a fifth starter), the Yankees are now in a position of having to kill two birds with one stone, provided, of course, they are even willing to take aim. If so, targets like Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado could help buoy the Bronx Bombers on both fronts. Otherwise, Yankees fans may need to be content watching their team tread water in the A.L. East, although, it might be good idea if they cover their eyes when the team is in the field.