One could argue — in fact, one should argue — that the biggest reason why the 2022 New York Yankees are five levels up from the 2021 New York Yankees is because of vastly-improved performance on defense across the board.
This season, the Yankees are fourth in MLB in fielding percentage (.988) and that’s with the fifth-most chances, sixth-most putouts, and fourth-most assists. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees lead MLB in Defensive Runs Saved with 57 — 18 more than the second-place Baltimore Orioles. There are other successes on this front, but we won’t bore you.
Among the many contributors captaining this turnaround is DJ LeMahieu, who has admirably played three different positions (first base, second base and third base) for 102 innings or more and has been an above-average defender.
His 0.8 dWAR on the season is proof of that, as is his +1 DRS at first base (102.1 innings), +1 DRS at second base (192 innings) and +5 DRS at third base (290 innings). Per Statcast, he’s in the 97th percentile for Outs Above Average. He’s made just ONE error on the year between the three positions.
Any more brain busters? LeMahieu is playing Gold Glove defense and deserves recognition for his efforts … but can he actually win one?
Ah, the tough life of a utility player, a role LeMahieu took on after signing a massive contract extension because Gleyber Torres couldn’t handle shortstop, which was originally part of the Yankees’ long term plan. So, as this article progresses, you’ll get a nice defensive highlight of DJLM at each position.
Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu deserves a Gold Glove … but where?
Can we get a utility category for the Gold Glove awards, please? Utility players are players too! Nobody will understand LeMahieu’s impact outside of the diehard Yankees fans tuned into every game each night.
This season, the Yankees are playing a much better version of defensive musical chairs, with LeMahieu leading the charge thanks to his versatility. In 2021, when the Yankees were towards the bottom in all the important defensive metrics, they had guys like Luke Voit at first, Torres at shortstop, Tyler Wade at literally every position except first base, pitcher and catcher, Joey Gallo stuck in left field, Miguel Andújar and Clint Frazier in the corner outfield spots, Gary Sánchez behind the plate, and JAY BRUCE. Jay Bruce was on the roster!
Wade was the utility player in 2021, and while he wasn’t bad, he was asked to do far too much and didn’t possess the necessary experience at the highest level.
LeMahieu got his first taste of the utility action in 2019 (75 games at 2B, 52 at 3B and 40 at 1B) upon his arrival, obviously received less in the shortened 2020, had a similar division of labor in 2021, and is now seeing a swap in reps between second and third base, with first base being on pace to hit his average mark of ~40 games.
And that time bouncing around has clearly paid off, because the Yankees are getting the best defensive version of LeMahieu yet. Plus, don’t forget he was slowed last year due to a core muscle injury, which undoubtedly affected his range at third base (his worst position by far in 2021).
Apologies if we’re rambling, but the least we can do is give the man credit for helping elevate the defense and make the Yankees’ infield situation more fluid, which has helped New York become the best team in baseball during the first half of 2022.
Now the ball’s in Rawlings’ court to figure out this Gold Glove dilemma.