October 22, 2017 – The Play the Moment Demanded

The latest Penning Bull is a quick but lengthy reflection on ALCS Game 7, and the big play made by Alex Bregman in the fifth inning features prominently. In the name of equal time, though, here’s an excerpt on Aaron Judge’s great catch and the Yankees’ bright future. Subscribe for more on the Yankees, plus the upcoming World Series preview and plenty of offseason content.

Baseball Prospectus keeps Team Defensive Efficiency stats for all batted balls, but they also offer that data split up by batted ball type. On fly balls (not line drives, and not infield pop-ups, but true fly balls), the Yankees had the highest Defensive Efficiency in MLB in 2017. Of the fly balls that didn’t leave the park, the Yankees turned 91.9 percent into outs. Part of that, one might reasonably argue, could be that the dimensions of Yankee Stadium and the juiced ball combined to ensure that hard-hit fly balls mostly went over the fence, injecting bias into the sample and making Yankee outfielders look better than they were. On the other hand, the teams immediately trailing the Yankees in this category (the Angels, Mariners, Rays, and Royals) all have large outfields to cover. To me, what it suggests is that the Yankees were not only great at making the usual catches all over the diamond, but also uniquely good at making plays at the wall. We saw ample anecdotal evidence of that over the course of the season, in fact, with great plays by Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge that stand out.

Judge added to that highlight reel on Saturday night. He made a terrific leaping catch on a line drive by Yuliesky Gurriel, keeping the game scoreless (for a little while). Judge catches some flak for imperfect routes, and he’ll learn to take a different one on balls hit like Gurriel’s in the future: that’s a higher-percentage (if less exciting) play if he goes back more at first and flattens out the route to make the play at the wall. Still, his athleticism and feel for playing the ball are impressive, and probably (until Saturday night, at least) underrated. Like Giancarlo Stanton, he seems too big not to be one-dimensional, but like Stanton, he manages not to be.

There’s a world of talent on this Yankees team, a club Brian Cashman built damn near perfectly (given the various and often contrary edicts a Yankees GM is nearly always receiving from ownership). Cashman doesn’t get enough credit for winning trades both consistently and handily. His eye for distressed and discounted assets might be the best of any GM in baseball. Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman, and even Sonny Gray are examples of that. He’s also devoted himself to having organizational depth, and he’s even tried to time that depth to facilitate getting the Yankees under the luxury-tax threshold without sacrificing competitiveness in any season. They’re going to be able to fill some of their holes with top-tier prospects, and given how little Judge and Sanchez will still cost for the next few years, that leaves them a wealth of options. They also get to bring back as much of their untouchable bullpen as they want, with Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Adam Warren all under control through at least next year. The Yankees are here to stay.


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