In Game 3 of the 2022 ALCS, New York Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader made an error that has been mostly forgiven and forgotten thanks to his clutch play during the majority of postseason. In this way, and in terms of his actual skill set, he’s not much different from former Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch.
Does that sound crazy? Well, let us explain.
If Bader can play as Knoblauch did during the dynasty years, the 2023 Yanks could have a consistent table-setter that also boasts a solid glove (most of the time).
For most of his time in the Bronx, Knoblauch hit leadoff and got on. base for players such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez. A career .289 hitter, Knoblauch was consistently a tough out for pitchers and the kind of player that stretched out at-bats. He also showed flashes of power in pinstripes, and hit a career high 19 home runs during the 1999 season.
Defensively, “Knobby” was a serviceable defender who held down the fort at second base. There were indeed moments where he made numerous questionable errors, but it clearly didn’t ruin New York’s championship plans.
The Bombers didn’t even see the best version of Knoblauch, either. Before becoming a Yankee, he spent seven years with the Minnesota Twins where he was the 1991 AL Rookie of the Year and 1997 Gold Glove winner at second base. The 28-year-old Bader is roughly the same age Knoblauch was when he arrived in New York, but it can be argued that the Bronxville native still hasn’t hit his peak at the plate or in the field.
Like Knoblauch, Bader is a Gold Glove winner. The former Gator’s athleticism and ability to chase down difficult fly balls has been cited by Brian Cashman as part of what compelled him to trade former starter Jordan Montgomery for the outfielder.
In 2022, Bader placed in the 91st percentile in terms of outs above average and the 82nd percentile in terms of outfielder jump. It’s highly unlikely that Bader will struggle to the extent Knoblauch did in the field, making the key comparison one between two streaky hitters.
Offensively, Bader has not been particularly “deadly” in his young career. However, his 2021 campaign as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals could be viewed as a blueprint for success in 2023. He collected a career-best 16 home runs and 21 doubles two years ago. Bader will not be asked to play as a pure power hitter next season, but any bit of juice he could bring will go a long way towards providing momentum and setting up other hitters such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton with opportunities. In the 2022 postseason, Bader showed an ability to hit for both contact and power. His five home runs and 10 total hits added a jolt of electricity that was much needed.
It’s unknown if Bader, DJ LeMahieu, or another player will hit leadoff for the Yankees next season, but if manager Aaron Boone selects Bader to fulfill this role, he will almost certainly be hoping for Chuck Knoblauch-esque production. One area where Bader can improve and become more like Knoblauch is in the strikeout department. Bader’s K% in 2022 was 19.8%. To put this in perspective, Jeff McNeil’s mark sat at 10.4%, and placed him in the 99th percentile. For most of his tenure in New York, Knoblauch was the kind of batter who grinded out tough at-bats and did not strike out a ton compared to the team’s power hitters. This is a skill that Bader can learn from, especially if he hits leadoff this upcoming season.
Of course the game has pivoted towards a more “all or nothing” approach, but there’s undoubtedly still a place for some gritty old-school tendencies.