Originally posted on High Heat Stats.
Back in 2010 the New York Yankees were in possession of a pair of talented minor league catchers by the names of Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Both players were considered top-100 prospects by Baseball America and both players appeared to be on their way to long, prosperous careers. Romine was considered the finer defender of the two, topping out at #86 in Baseball America’s rankings while Montero was thought to be a powerhouse offensive force, ranking among the top 5 minor league players in the game. While Yankee fans spoke well of Romine they positively salivated at the idea of putting Montero’s prodigious power behind the plate as visions of 35 homer seasons danced in their heads.
There was a catch however. Montero’s defense was considered to be so shaky by the Yankees brain trust that rumors of him becoming a full-time DH were already circulating before he could even advance past Double-A Trenton. Scouting reports pegged Montero’s glove work as shoddy and his throw times to 2nd base as well below Major League average.
For the majority of the past four seasons the Yankees have had the luxury of putting a top notch defense on the field anchored by former Gold Glove award winners at almost every position. The fact remains that many of those players were a bit past their prime but for the most part the defense the Yankees have put on the field these past four years has been solid. They didn’t make many mistakes, they hit they cutoff man, and they generally played smart baseball.
Well, during the first five games of this young season, the 2013 Yankees have looked nothing like their predecessors. The infield defense has been sloppy, teams are going 1st-to-3rd on every outfield single, and I don’t think a single New York outfielder has hit a cutoff man to date. And I haven’t even touched the surface on the defense behind the plate, where both Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart appear to be overexposed in full-time duty. Let’s break down some of New York’s issues on defense:
Each year baseball fans everywhere mark a random day in mid-February down on their calenders as one of the best days of the year: the day pitchers and catchers report, aka, the unofficial start of the Major League season. For many players, particularly veterans and All-Stars, Spring Training offers a chance to reconnect with old teammates while meeting new ones and to work the body into shape for the long grind of 162 games. But for many other players, rookies, guys on the fringe, or the 40-year-old looking for one last shot at glory, the start of spring represents the start of the season. These players are fighting for their big league lives, the last spot on the roster, or maybe even a starting position.
One of the most important positions on any baseball team, whether it be Little League, legion ball, or the bigs, is catcher. He’s the backbone of so much of what any baseball team does. There are so many responsibilities behind the plate that it can be difficult for any player to keep track of what to do. A catcher has to manage a pitching staff, call the game, receive pitches, frame pitches, block balls in the dirt, contain the opponent’s running game, and we haven’t even gotten to hitting.
A little age can be a wonderful thing. Take a fine bottle of scotch for example, perhaps a bottle of Lagavulin, aged 16 years. The aging process allows the liquor to mature, thus giving it a mellow, oak-like flavor. It’s warm, delicious and all that tasty flavor is possible because of the oak-barreled aging process.
The New York Yankees are hoping this whole aging thing works just as well for them as it does for that bottle of Lagavulin. Their roster had an average age around 32 or 33 a year ago, which was the oldest in the American League although that didn’t stop them from winning 95 games. GM Brian Cashman has basically doubled down on age for the 2013 season, scooping up all the affordable mid-30’s veterans that he can get his hands on. 40-somethings Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are back for one more go-around. So are 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda and 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, two important vets from last year’s squad. 36-year-old Travis Hafner and 34-year-old Kevin Youkilis have been added to the fray to provide power.
All these maneuverings have everybody asking basically the same question: is this finally the year Father Time catches up with the Yankees? Or will they come together much more like a fine scotch on the way to another 90+ win season? Here’s some of the thoughts rattling around my brain: