New York Yankees Editorial: Signing of Holder Reinforces Yankees’ Commitment to Defense


Shake a tree and a glove falls out. This phrase has been applied to all glove/no hit players, at times, to imply that it is easier to find quality defensive players than offensive ones or that somehow runs on offense are more valuable than runs on defense. However, the advanced defensive metrics (and hopefully more Statcast data soon) have shown how valuable and important defense is in baseball.

The New York Yankees clearly value this skillset with the acquisition of Didi Gregorius, deployment of good pitch-framing catchers, retention of Chase Headley, and utilization of Brendan Ryan. Their recent draft also highlights their valuation process as they selected top glove-man Kyle Holder from the University of San Diego in the first round with the 30th overall pick.

This pick was compensation for losing David Robertson to free agency and they signed Holder for $1.8 million while the slot value was $1,914,900.

Holder hit .325/.391/.446 with a 35/34 K/BB rate in 478 plate appearances in college. The fact that he is a left-handed hitter is also valuable as it flips 300+ PA (across an MLB season) in the Yankees’ favor as Holder gets the platoon advantage more often. He has a better chance of maintaining an acceptable batting line as a lefty. Yet, the glove is Holder’s carrying tool according to scouts and there are questions with the hitting ability.

Keith Law of ESPN rates him as a 70 glove but possibly a 35 bat.

Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs echoes this evaluation:

“Holder emerged this year as a top three round prospect due to his acrobatic defensive ability at shortstop, but his lefty swing hasn’t progressed much, limiting his upside but not the interest in him in the 2nd round.”

Scouts love the glove but question if the bat will progress enough for the major league level. The natural question becomes how poorly an elite shortstop can hit while still maintaining value.

The answer is typically to look at Rey Ordonez’s career. Ordonez hit .246/.289/.310 for his career (54 wRC+) but remained playable because of his elite defense at a difficult defensive position. Rey Ordonez, Brendan Ryan, or even the ongoing Didi Gregorius path would be great outcomes for Holder and the Yankees. His ability to play an excellent defensive shortstop will keep him in the league for a long time as a utility infielder at worst. It is simply hard to find players who can legitimately play even an average defensive shortstop. These guys tend to stick around.

The acquisition of Holder is another example of the Yankees recent transformation from a run creation to a run prevention team. The bat might limit his upside, but the ability to play shortstop makes him a sound bet to help the Yankees in some capacity in the future.

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