One of the various reasons given when people pick the Yankees to finish out of the money in 2009 is that their defense is bad. Like the claim that the Yankees bullpen is weak, this claim has no factual or statistical support. ESPN posted two articles on defense today, with the first touching on the importance of defense and how the lack of it has hurt the Yankees for the last 8 seasons:
There are a variety of reasons the Yankees have not won a World Series since 2000, but it’s clear that the demise of their defense has been a major factor. As a team, they didn’t crack the top 20 in defensive efficiency (percentage of batted balls in play converted into outs) from 2001 to 2005, and a look at their rosters from this era can’t help but leave you with the feeling that the front office was ignoring defense…..
It’s not uncommon to see a one-dimensional team of sluggers — like the early 2000s Yankees — mash its way to the postseason. But once those Bronx Bombers reached October, they had nothing to fall back on at the first sign of a slump. Everyone always thought they were going to simply overpower their playoff competition, but it always seems to be forgotten that much of their regular season record was based upon pounding teams like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Baltimore Orioles into submission. The pitching and defenses the Yankees faced in the postseason were always a lot tougher.
Defense is vital to a club against better teams, as it is harder to cover up mistakes in the field when you cannot slug the opposition into submission. In the second article, Nate Silver uses PECOTA to project an improvement in defense for the Yankees in 2009:
Yankees (2008 FRAA: –26 | 2009 Projection: +9)
First basemen are rarely impact defenders, but two-time Gold Glove winner Mark Teixeira is a significant exception. Plus he replaces Jason Giambi, who had only slightly less range than the Miller Huggins monument at Yankee Stadium. If Jorge Posada has trouble coming back from right shoulder surgery, take note: Backup José Molina, one of the best defensive catchers in the game, threw out 44% of potential basestealers last year.
The Yankees defense projects to be on the positive side of the ledger in 2009. Replacing Giambi with Teixeira, Cabrera with Gardner, and Abreu with Nady/Swisher should have a huge effect, such that the Yankees will be, at worst, a slightly below average defensive team even if players like Cano and Posada do not bounce back in the field. The Yankees being a poor defensive team is a thing of the past.
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