Cashman Created a Mirage at Shortstop in 2022
By Cary Greene
November 10, 2022
This past March, Yankees GM Brian Cashman went out and traded for 27-year-old Isiah Kiner-Falefa, selling Yankees fans on the idea that he’d keep the position warm until one of the Yankees talented young shortstops were finally ready. Kiner-Falefa turned out to be a mirage. The idea of defense-first shortstop looked and sounded lush and refreshing, but Yankees fans waited all season and got very few sips of cold water and no shade at all from the scorching summer heat. Cashman sold us an oasis of hope and I’m calling him out with my pen today for it!
Cashman has profoundly meaningfully bungled the Yankees beleaguered situation at shortstop for far too long now. After contemplating what the Astros did with Jeremy Peña this season, I had a daydream in which I invented a “Peña Colada,” using mangos instead of coconuts, put a straw in it and invited Brian Cashman over to the house to drink it. Then we sat in very comfy recliners in the den, watching repeating loop of this:
..for 12-straight hours.
After waking up from the daydream, I wondered how a productive shortstop might impact the Yankees.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s batted-ball Stat-Cast numbers were eye-openingly bad. We’d discuss his 30.1 % Hard-Hit percentage first and go over how it was in the bottom 8-percent of the MLB. We’d then cover his wOBA which was .285 - well below the League Average of .316 and I’d ask Cashman how detrimental he thinks this bottom-of-the-barrel performance was to the Yankees lineup both in the regular season and especially in the playoffs.
Kiner-Falefa was basically mostly a dead spot in the lineup, capable of only occasional softly hit singles combined with minimal power. Kiner-Falefa doesn’t get on base well and his OPS+ of 84 tells us he’s just not a valuable offensive player in any regard.
Cashman sold Yankees fans on how great Kiner-Falefa was with the glove and how impactful his defense would be over the course of a season. Yankees Manager Aaron “Bubbles” Boone liked his defense so much he professed to national media that Kiner-Falefa should have been considered for a Gold Glove at shortstop.
While Boone’s comment was borderline laughable, Statcast liked Kiner-Falefa’s defense, rating him 10-Outs Above Average, though the back of his baseball card says he made 15-errors on the season as well. Statcast also rated Kiner-Falefa’s arm as an underwhelming 81.1!
Fangraphs listed Kiner-Falefa’s Fielding Percentage this season at .970 while also crediting him with a +10 DRS. However, they also gave him an UZR rating of 0.0 to go along with a UZR/150 rating of 0.0 and that’s really what we should be focusing on. Those are flat out awful numbers for a supposedly slick fielding, glove first shortstop.
The way this supposedly good defensive player, the one who Bubbles thinks should have received Gold Glove consideration, manned his zone defensively was very pedestrian. He doesn’t play the position remotely like a Gold Glove caliber player, in fact, he’s got very limited range, he doesn’t move side to side or in or back very well and he’s got a wildly inaccurate and fairly weak arm for the position.
Kiner-Falefa’s f-War was only a 1.3 - there was really nothing to see here folks. His Defense isn’t that good and brings very minimal value to what is, by far, the most important position on the diamond. A stellar defensive shortstop with a similar bat would have barely been worth it, unless he could get on base, ignite a running game, hit doubles and triples, and at least hit more than just a paltry-few home runs.
Installing Kiner-Falefa was just another bad Brian Cashman decision in action! Why not save the 50-million, keep Gio Urshela and sign Carlos Correa to a short term deal, instead of taking on Donaldson and thereby freeing up payroll for the Twins so they could turn around and do that?
Which begs the question, if this guy was a “blah” shortstop defensively, why are Yankees fans supposed to feel good about him going forward, considering he’s a complete void offensively. He was very close to being an automatic out this year. Why was it that Brian Cashman traded for Kiner-Falefa and took on Josh Donaldson’t $50-million again?
Does anyone expect me to write that Brian Cashman knows what he’s doing? I’d actually argue that this guy, Cashman, is completely lost - as in, not lost in a simple void, but lost in dark space - which for those of you who aren’t schooled in cosmic void lingo, is a vast space between filaments (the largest scale structures in the universe), which contain very few or no galaxies. Yes, you might find a few defensive runs saved or a single here or there, but there isn’t much else to discover. (You may also find Miss Piggy’s ship, the USS Swinetrek, traversing dark space, but otherwise, not much to be found there.)
Let’s frame this conversation properly. The 2022 recipient of the Fielding Bible Award at shortstop this year was an astoundingly good defensive player by any metric. This year’s winner had 17 Defensive Runs Saved and was 13 outs above average to go along with a .972 Fielding-Percentage, 7.5 UZR and a 5.2 UZR/150. What if he would have been the shortstop?
This player also had an 86.9 Statcast rated bazooka of a throwing arm so with that in mind and considering he played hands down better defense in his defensive zone with far greater range and footspeed, a really good defensive shortstop like that shines much more brightly than the guy Bubbles and Cashman really like.
Personally, I’d be okay with putting a light hitting defensive wizard at shortstop, keeping the position warm until Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe were ready. That sounds like an okay plan, but please Cashman, don’t sell me Isiah Kiner-Falefa and on how smart you think your analytics team is. I ain’t buyin’!
This year’s Fielding Bible winner at shortstop was none other than former Yankees prospect and turned Oriole, Jorge Mateo, who also happened to put up Kiner-Falefa like 81 OPS+ >> but I’d take Mateo’s energy and spark and his overall offensive season any day compared to that of Kiner-Falefa’s. Mateo had 35 stolen bases to go along with 25 Doubles, 7 Triples and 13 Home Runs and a 2.8 f-WAR.
Kiner Falefa had 20 Doubles, 0 Triples and only four measly Home Runs. He stole 22 bases, to his credit, but was far from an electrifying small ball player. Mateo is easily the better and more valuable player and it’s not close.
Mateo batting 9th and playing shortstop for the Yankees last season would have been a lot better than the situation Cashman engineered with Kiner-Falefa. Mateo was traded to the A’s for Sonny Gray back in 2017. Fans can think what they want about that trade, but let’s not get off track.
Cashman is closing the Yankees World Series window with his bungling. He didn’t even accomplish what he set out to do, which was to put a good defensive player on the field for a few seasons.