Looking at the ’09 defense to think about this year’s D…

Yankees defense

Outfield Defensive Analysis:

Brett Gardner wins not only the ’09 “Best Outfield Range” award, but also the “’09 Best Outfield Arm” title in the (maybe that should be renamed “’09 Best Defensive Metric Arm”). Gardner doesn’t have a cannon, but this information would at least lead us to believe that he is at accurate and makes good decisions about where to throw. He posted a higher ARM value in 2008 in a fourth of the innings, so his 2009 performance likely isn’t a fluke. It helps that Gardner isn’t forced to make too many throws because of his ability to run down so many balls. If his bat keeps him in the lineup full-time this year, he’s going to put up some gaudy defensive numbers.

Something that stands out is Nick Swishers UZR-killing ARM rating. I think this has more to do with lapses in judgment than anything else, as his actual velocity on throws seemed to be good this past season. Unfortunately, skipping too many cut-off men, or just throwing to the wrong base in general probably led to this poor performance. Nick had his worst ARM value ever last year, so we can expect that to bounce back with some better luck and decision making on his part. His range has been consistently positive throughout his career, so an improvement on throws would probably push his UZR back into the positive.

Curtis Granderson’s arrival instantly removes a terrible defender in Johnny Damon and replaces him with an above average one. The exact position Granderson plays in the outfield isn’t really an issue. The increase in runs saved with Granderson instead of Damon in the outfield is going to be substantial.

Randy Winn is a more than capable 4th outfielder, posting a +33.9 UZR in the outfield over the past two seasons. No complaints here.

Infield Defensive Analysis:

Derek Jeter is obviously the star here, as a resurgent defensive campaign in 2009 was a large factor in making him a 7-win player. His ability to move to his left was considerably better than in recent years and it resulted with him leading the everyday players in “Range”. By now we all know about the increased attention and effort Jeter paid to his defense after a talk from Brian Cashman. Let’s hope Jeter produces similar results this season.

Ramiro Pena, Jeter’s primary replacement, has all the makings of a great utility infielder. That big ugly negative Error runs value will probably regress faster than his range value, so we can expect some improvement at short. For some context, TotalZone loved Pena and rated him as a +2.3 defender in his limited time at SS in ‘09 (+19.0 for a full season). His numbers at third base stand for themselves. To put it more simply: Ramiro Pena is good at defense. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a Gold Glover fielding his throws over at first base.

While Mark Teixeira endeared himself to New York City like Kelly Kapowski to Zach Morris, UZR has more of a love/hate relationship with him. In 2008, it went bananas for him (+10.6) but wasn’t as fond this past year (-4.1). His true production is likely somewhere in between those two values. Tex’s reputation as a stellar defender can’t just be a widely held misconception.

Robinson Cano is a case similar to Teixeira, in that I truly believe UZR is just missing something with him. Totalzone and UZR agree that 2007 was a great defensive year for Robbie (+15.3 and +11.3 respectively), after that they completely diverge. In ’08 and ’09, Cano’s combined UZR was -13.2 while his TZ was +13.0. Given the state of complete opposition these two numbers are in, the truth, as we’ve seen before, lies somewhere in the middle. Anecdotal evidence would suggest he’s not as bad as his metrics claim he is.

A-Rod’s surgery to repair to his hip last year will probably improve his range at the hot corner, not to mention he’ll be even further removed from said procedure, which should help as well. It’s safe to say that Alex outperforms his -11.7 in 2010.

Posada had a pretty standard-for-him season defensively in ‘09. He allowed past balls at a normal rate and was essentially league average in caught stealing rate last year (27.9% vs. 27.6%) and while that seems all well and nice, the Yankees allowed the fifth most stolen bases in the MLB (125). Posada allowed 62.5% of steals against the Yankees in 54.1% of the catching time. As it stands, Posada is a below-average defender. We can probably expect him to slip a little more in 2010 as his age wears on him.

A backup catcher should provide good defense and Francisco Cervelli does exactly that. Combining his ’08 and ’09 numbers from the majors and minors finds his caught stealing rate at an impressive 41.3%. Cervelli should do an admirable job replacing Jose Molina.

Defensive Assessment:

Gardner and Granderson (and to a lesser extent Winn), coupled with the removal of Johnny Damon, are unquestionably going to increase defensive efficiency. Improving the defense overall hinges on whether the older players (Jeter, Posada, A-Rod) can stave off or mitigate the inevitable decline. Considering the caliber of those players, I’d bet the 2009 Yankees’ -18.5 UZR is just that: a thing of the past.

Notes:

* Big ups to Fangraphs (Hi Matty!) and Baseball-Reference .

* Small sample size disclaimers go to the young part-timers, Gardner and Pena.

* The UZR/150 numbers here are slightly different from those found on FanGraphs. The Range/Error/Double Play/Arm runs listed on FG are only shown to the tenth of a run, while they are likely more precise than that. The calculations these numbers are derived from deal in the hundredths of a run (possibly even the thousandths). When these slight differences are extrapolated out over the course of 150 defensive games, some inconsistencies become apparent. Most are only a few tenths of a run and aren’t substantially different from the UZR/150 values found on FanGraphs.