Yankees 2023 Infield Report Card
By Sal Maiorana
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Remember all the anticipation at the start of the season about how much better the infield was going to be compared to 2022, not only defensively but in the batters’ box?
Top prospects Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza - whoever won the shortstop job in spring training - figured to be a massive upgrade over Isiah Kiner-Falefa both in the field and at the plate. Josh Donaldson couldn’t possibly be as lousy a hitter as he was in 2022 and his glove would still be well above average. Gleyber Torres would continue to grow at second base and not make as many dumb mistakes in the field or on the bases.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo would keep saving infielders throwing errors with his slick scooping and that .224 average from 2022 would obviously be improved on. Even if Jose Trevino couldn’t replicate his surprisingly good offense, he would still be an expert receiver of the ball. And what a boon it would be to have DJ LeMahieu rotating around the infield and rebounding from his career-worst .261 batting average.
Yeah, not much of that happened.
We know all about the outrageous lack of offense that plagued the entire roster, and I’ll give you a few numbers here to illustrate that. As a team the Yankees hit .227 , better only than the 112-loss Oakland A’s. Their team OPS of .701 tied for 24th with the 106-loss Royals. With runners in scoring position they batted .227 with an OPS of .677, again better than only the A’s in both categories. I could go on and on here, but I won’t, only to say that some of the worst performances came from the infielders.
And in the field, the Yankees made 96 errors as a team which was the sixth-highest total in MLB and they tied for 20th in fielding percentage at .984. Once again, the infielders played a big role in that as 64 of the errors were committed by them and the catchers.
Here are my season grades:
NOTE: In terms of fielding metrics, I’m going to use Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average which is defined as: The cumulative effect of all individual plays a fielder has been credited or debited with, making it a range-based metric of fielding skill that accounts for the number of plays made and the difficulty of them. The scale is simple: Zero is average, anything in plus territory is good, negative not so good.
1B Anthony Rizzo: B-
Rizzo was on the way to what was looking like an outstanding season through the end of May when he was slashing .304/.376/.505 with an .880 OPS. He had 11 homers and 32 RBI in his first 53 games and while his range was declining, the glove was still very good. And then he banged his head into Fernando Tatis’ hip Memorial Day weekend, suffered what was later determined to be a concussion, and his season blew up.
Rizzo kept playing despite admittedly not feeling right, but the Yankees’ medical staff apparently either ignored or missed the symptoms and kept him out there, though Rizzo probably didn’t help his own cause by not admitting he wasn’t feeling right before he did.
Over the next two months he played 46 games and slashed an abysmal .172/.271/.225 with an OPS of .496, just one homer and nine RBI. It was so incredibly bad that he became a black hole in the order, yet Aaron Boone continued to trot him out in the 3 or 4 hole despite the complete lack of production. Nuts is what it was, so I won’t be too harsh on Rizzo because of what might have been had he stayed healthy, plus he ranked second in OAA for first baseman with six, pretty impressive for how much time he missed.
2B Gleyber Torres: B
I was on the trade Torres train all of last offseason and even into spring training and then the trade deadline on Aug. 1 because I thought the Yankees might be able to get a decent return for him. But they stuck with him and let’s face it - with Aaron Judge missing so much of the season, Torres was the most consistent offensive threat on the team.
He played 158 games, hit .273 with 25 homers and 270 total bases, all the second-highest marks of his career, he drove in 68 runs, scored a team-best 90, walked a career-high 67 times and struck out a career-low (not counting the COVID year) 98 times. All of that was good, but Torres continued to be a knucklehead far too often.
He made 15 errors, many of them because of lackluster effort, which tied for eighth-most among all players in MLB regardless of position. Because of crazy generous official scoring, he was probably spared another five or six errors.
His OAA was -3 which was 16th among second basemen who had least 250 chances. That’s just not good enough. By the way, the second baseman who was No. 1 in OAA this season with 20 was ex-Yankee Thairo Estrada of the Giants who the Yankees outright released at the start of 2021. Estrada also slashed .271/.315/.416 with a .731 OPS with 23 stolen bases in 2023. Another nice talent miscalculation by Brian Cashman.
SS Anthony Volpe: C
I gave Volpe a pass for most of the season because he was a 22-year-old rookie taking over as the starting shortstop of the Yankees which is no small responsibility. And for the most part, Volpe was fine. But he has to make some pretty big changes to his game this offseason because if he keeps playing the way he did in 2023, it won’t be acceptable.
Yeah, his 21 homers, 60 RBI and 24 stolen bases were fine, as were his team-high 159 games played. But his .209 average, .283 on-base percentage, 27.8% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate were terrible. Volpe needs to stop swinging for launch angle and home runs and concentrate on hitting gap to gap and getting on base. That’s how the Yankees can tap into his speed, put pressure on the defense and create more runs.
And in the field, sorry, but he really wasn’t all that much better than Kiner-Falefa who we all thought was awful in 2022. Volpe made 17 errors - and Rizzo saved him a few others - which was tied for sixth-most of any player in MLB regardless of position . His OAA was 1 which was tied for 16th among shortstops with at least 250 chances, way behind the Cubs’ Dansby Swanson who was at 20. Volpe was well behind the Giants’ 36-year-old Brandon Crawford (6).
3B Josh Donaldson: F
What a bum. There were very few things the Yankees did this season that pleased me, but releasing this blight on the pinstripes was a true positive. What a complete waste of $50 million for the last two years. Donaldson went to bat 120 times and he managed 15 hits and 12 walks. He hit .142 with an on-base of .225 and no, I do not care that 10 of his 15 hits were homers.
Donaldson remained a good fielder in the 23 games he played at third as he made only one error on 61 chances, but we expected that. Good riddance.
IF D.J. LeMahieu: C+
When the Yankees re-signed LeMahieu to his six-year, $90 million contract before 2021 when he was 32, it was clear that - like most players that age - there was going to be a decline and it would be bad money at some point. Unfortunately, that decline started almost from the moment he signed.
In the shortened 2020 season he led MLB with a .364 average and led the AL with a .421 on-base and 1.011 OPS. Amazing for a player with average power. Then he signed the contract and in the three years since he has played in 411 games and hit just .258 with a barely decent .345 on-base and .720 OPS. In 2023 he hit a career-low .243 and he only got there because he came on strong in the last two months.
As a fielder, LeMahieu remained valuable because of his versatility. He covered 56 games at first base for Rizzo and 69 at third once Donaldson was shipped out, plus stepped in nine times at second. He made only three errors and two of those were at first, his lesser position.
IF Oswald Peraza: C-
Peraza began spring training as the frontrunner to win the shortstop job over Volpe, but it was no contest. So Peraza spent most of the year at Triple-A where he hit pretty well with a .357 on-base, an .836 OPS, 14 homers and 16 steals alongside great glove play.
But in 52 games for the Yankees, Peraza could not hit. In 191 plate appearances his average was .191 with a .539 OPS. If the Yankees trade Torres - which I doubt - Peraza would be in line to be the starting second baseman. He could also be an option at third base and hey, maybe even shortstop with Volpe moving to second, though I don’t think that will happen in 2024. However, unless he starts to hit he’ll be back in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
C Jose Trevino: C+
I thought Trevino’s 2022 bat was a bit of an aberration. He hit 11 homers after hitting just nine total in his previous three years with the Rangers, and while he hit .248, that was thanks to a hot start. In his last 76 games in 2022 he hit .223 with just six homers. That was more in line with his career numbers.
In 2023, the bat was never there, though it was learned that he was battling a wrist injury from back in the spring. By the time his season ended after just 55 games and 168 plate appearances, he was slashing .210/.257/.312 with an OPS of .570.
At least his catching metrics remained strong. His arm is average (he threw out 18% of base stealers which was middle of the pack), but his pitch framing is elite. Framing is the ability to convert pitches on the edges into strikes by how you catch and present the pitch to the ump and Trevino ranked fourth in MLB among catchers who received at least 1,250 pitches with a 49.9% strike rate.
C Kyle Higashioka: C
Like Trevino, Higgy is a very good pitch framer with a below average arm. He ranked 11th in framing with a 48.7% strike rate but he threw out only 13% of base stealers which was near the very bottom.
At the plate, he gives you the occasional moment as he hit 10 home runs which helped him produce a .687 OPS, but his average (.236) and on-base (.274) are poor as is his 5.4% walk rate. He’s got one more year of arbitration before he can become a free agent in 2025, but seriously, Higgy should be the Triple-A veteran next to Ben Rortvedt while Trevino and Austin Wells should share the catching duties in 2024 for the Yankees.
On a team that has a decent offense, you don’t need your catchers to be offensive beasts so long as they play good defense. Unfortunately on this terrible offensive team, the Yankees need more at the plate from their catchers, and neither Trevino or Higgy is really capable, which is why the Yankees need Wells - who looked OK in his brief callup - to step up in 2024.