With the exception of the infamous intangibles, defense is the hardest aspect of the game to quantify. Defensive metrics are in their infancy, and as a result, there are still many kinks being worked out. While there are inarguably a fair amount of faults, I feel that defensive metrics are, at the very worst, better than most of our opinions on glovework. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to do a monthly series on the Yankees defense - individually and on the team level.
For the purpose of this series, I will be utilizing UZR and DRS (more commonly known as John Dewan's plus-minus). Both are based on play-by-play data and batted ball profiles, which makes them more accurate than fielding percentage and the like.
One of the reasons I included UZR and DRS was to illustrate the point that small sample sizes have a large impact on these metrics. In my mind, the impact of small sample sizes on defense is far greater than its influence on offense or pitching. As such, much of this must be taken with a grain of salt.
Overall, the defense looks fairly solid. With the exception of Jeter, each defender appears to be about average (at worst) - a far cry from years past wherein the Yankees defense ranked among the very worst in the game historically speaking. Cano and Gardner illustrate the issues with both small sample sizes and defensive metrics - whereas the formulas aren't too similar, it is odd to see them in stark contrast in two cases.
Here's how the Yankees shake out as a team:
-6.1 UZR (26th in MLB)
+8 DRS (14th in MLB)
I should add that very few players and teams are terribly negative as rated by DRS thus far, but I do hope that the Yankees defense is performing as reflected by Dewan's formula. The UZR bit leaves something of a bad taste in my mouth...
To wrap things up, here are the best fielders at each position, as rated by a quick and dirty combination of UZR and DRS:
C - Matt Wieters/Joe Mauer
1B - Kendry Morales
2B - David Eckstein
3B - Jose Lopez
SS - J.J. Hardy
LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Austin Jackson
RF - Nelson Cruz