The “New York Yankees” name is arguably the most evocative in North American sports. The team brings to mind a variety of images to both diehard baseball fans and the unfortunately souls who are barely aware of the sport alike.
Whether it’s the pinstripes, the financial might, 27 World Series titles, or even just the logo, if you have a pulse on this continent it’s pretty likely you know something about the Yankees. However, there is a difference between knowing something and being knowledgeable.
The folks who patronize this website are more likely to fall into the latter category, and people that do know that there are some more subtle “inside baseball” things the Yankees are known for. One of the most significant ones is stacking their lineup with left-handed hitters in order to take advantage of their famous-or infamous depending on your point of view-short right field porch.
This year that tendency has not changed. The current everyday lineup includes only one hitter–Alex Rodriguez–who hits exclusively from the right side. This roster construction method is tried and true for the Yankees and there’s no compelling reason to deviate from the plan now.
However, this year the Yankees should likely be more concerned than usual about their opponents using their own tactic against them. The team will always be vulnerable to left-handed power because of the way their ballpark is constructed, but this year the way their defense is deployed leaves them especially vulnerable.
The issue for the Yankees is that there is a serious imbalance in the skill-level of the defenders on the different sides of the diamond. On the left side–where right-handed hitters will pull the ball–they have a Gold Glover in Chase Headley at third base, a defensive stud in Brett Gardner in left and a shortstop with immense potential with the glove in Didi Gregorius.
Statistically speaking the trio’s defensive contributions over the past three years–a large enough sample for the fielding numbers to take hold–look like this.
The age of the players is included here because players tend to peak early defensively and relative youth is a bonus when it comes to turning balls in play into outs. The metrics don’t love Gregorius just yet, but the tools are there and he is young enough to refine his game. Even if he doesn’t he’s a scratch fielder at shortstop which is nothing to sneeze at. While the triumvirate on the left side of the field is very solid defensively, the trio on the right is less impressive.
This table is probably too generous to the players listed above. All three players are well into their decline years so we can be almost certain that their present true talent is worse than what they’ve shown. In fact, in 2012 Teixeira, Drew, and Beltran combined for a DRS of 14 and a UZR of 5.3 and last year those numbers were 0 and 0.8 respectively.
Additionally, Beltran was a disaster defensively in 2014 with a UZR/150 of -27.3, but luckily for the Yankees he was limited to only 259.2 innings. If Rodriguez settles in as the team’s DH, Beltran will be forced into the field more.
Another factor is Drew’s transition to second base which did not go well by the metrics last year-albeit in a very small sample. In theory a natural shortstop like Drew should excel at the keystone, but that needs to be seen to be believed.
Overall the Yankees are covering the right side of the field with three creaky old bodies whose best years with the glove are deep in the past. Right now the team has a reputation as a fairly strong defensive squad, but that is based off their excellent left side and the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann up the middle.
How exactly this affects the bottom line remains to be scene. Luckily for the Yankees their starters have fairly neutral platoon splits, so the pitching staff isn’t already in trouble with left-handers. So far left-handed hitters a slashing a healthy .291/.355/.396 off the Yankees, but in only 112 plate appearances it’s far too early to draw meaningful conclusions.
It is likely that over the course of the season hitters will find more holes on the right side of the field than the left against the Yankees, which will benefit left-handed hitters. Exactly how significant the effect will be remains to be seen, but there’s a good chance that the team will be getting a taste of their own medicine in 2015.