The Yankees are off to one of the best starts fans have ever seen at 26-9 with the best record in baseball.
This might be surprising to many because a team formed of essentially the same roster won 91 games and lost in the Wild Card game in 2021. They didn’t make the big moves nearly everyone wanted like signing Carlos Correa or trading for Matt Olson. They also did not add anyone to the starting rotation. So what is the difference with this year’s team? Why are they so dramatically better?
It isn’t one singular aspect, but arguably the biggest difference between the 2021 and 2022 teams is the defense.
Here are the team defensive runs saved statistics for 2021 and the 2022 season so far.
2021: -41 DRS (29th in MLB)
2022: 8 DRA (15th in MLB)
Since DRS is a counting stat, it would be reasonable to expect the 2022 number to keep going up throughout the season.
There is a multitude of reasons for the Yankees dramatically improving defensively this season. Let’s start with the left side of the infield.
The Yankees’ big move of the offseason was acquiring Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Minnesota Twins. Gleyber Torres’ struggles were well-documented at shortstop, and while Kiner-Falefa currently has 0 DRS and is not elite by any means, he is still a big upgrade from what the Yankees had at the position last year. Donaldson has been great at third with 4 DRS so far, and while Gio Urshela made flashy plays, he did not have the best range so the metrics were not as high on him as the eye test.
Speaking of Torres, he has transitioned back to where he is comfortable at second base and it has improved his defense as well. He is at 4 DRS at second base right now, which is very good. Add in a full year of Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMahieu’s ability to play second base and third base well and you get an infield that is way better than it was in 2021.
The outfield is better just simply due to health. A rotation of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks is a lot better than what the Yankees ran out there for the majority of 2021. Before the trade deadline the Yankees’ best lineup included Judge playing center field with Clint Frazier in right field and Miguel Andujar in left field. With all due respect to Frazier and Andujar, I was always nervous when a ball was hit in their direction in 2021.
Lastly, we have the catcher position. I was a Gary Sanchez supporter, but mainly for his bat. The Yankees have sacrificed offense for defense at the catcher position. Jose Trevino is first in the league for Framing Runs at 3.0, while Higashioka is at 0.9. Sanchez is at 0 still. So the catchers are stealing more strikes this year, which makes it easier for a pitching staff that is one of the best in the league.
Part of the hot start has to do with bounce-backs from players offensively, the Yankees improvements on defense have been a huge part of their success so far in 2022.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement