Out of Left Field: Volpe, Trevino and Run Prevention

Time for another edition of “Out of Left Field” where we mention a few topics that may not need 800 words of analysis but are worth a quick look. In no particular order:

We’re 19 games into the 2023 season, which we can all agree is a sneeze in baseball time. Yet it’s enough that we can see some interesting things upon which we can keep an eye as the season progresses. (Again – after 19 games there are no prophecies below – just some interesting numbers.)

The team is 12–7, which translates into 102-60 over a full season. That’s obviously great, but when you factor in the almost comical extent of IL visits you must conclude the Yankees have done very well and are in a good place.

One of the aspects of the team I (clearly) find more interesting than most fans is the catcher position. I noted earlier this year that Jose Trevino has been far worse offensively as a Yankee than Yankees fans seem to realize, and if he isn’t going to be elite defensively (as he was last season), they’ll need to give more playing time to Kyle Higashioka (who isn’t elite defensively but is better than average by all measures).

Last season Trevino was well above average at blocking pitches, 100th percentile in framing but threw like Thurman Munson did if Thurman threw left-handed. So far in ’23 Trevino has been only league average in both blocking and framing but a tick better than average in throwing. Meanwhile his 65 wRC+ is his unfortunate but typical status quo and is the second worst on the team among regulars. If you’re curious as I was that maybe he’s been the victim of bad luck at the plate, think again – his xwOBA (based only on quality of contact, strikeouts, and walks) is also second worst on the team.

The combination of average defense, slow on the bases and god-awful offense has led to a negative fWAR for Jose. Higgy hasn’t been much better which is probably the only reason this topic isn’t getting more attention – but again, it is something to keep an eye on.

After 19 games, Anthony Volpe is on pace for 4.3 fWAR. This is interesting for a few reasons.

He hasn’t hit particularly well, although he has raised his wRC+ to 93 which is a tick below league average. His defense has been plus at a premium position, and his baserunning runs above average is fourth best in all of MLB. Which is to say that if you’re a good defensive shortstop, elite baserunner, and anywhere near an average hitter, you’re a valuable player to your team.

So valuable, that a 4.3 fWAR season would be the best from a Yankees shortstop since Derek Jeter put up 6.7 in 2009. In fact, as a rookie and at almost the exact same age as Volpe is now, Jeter put up 2.2 fWAR in 1996 when he won the Rookie of the Year award – Volpe is on pace to almost double that.

It’s hard not to get overly excited about Volpe. It’s very likely he’s going to improve at the plate and unlikely he’s going to regress defensively and on the basepaths. This means of course, he’s likely to be one of the better shortstops in baseball. But even in the off chance this is who he is, he’s already shown he’s a valuable contributor, and it’s been a LONG time since we can say that about a Yankees shortstop.

On the run prevention side, there isn’t too much to complain about on a team scale. 11 of the team’s 13 pitchers have been above average in xwOBA against (only Jhony Brito* and Clarke Schmidt have been below average) and the team ranks seventh in MLB in defensive efficiency. The consistent combination of pitchers avoiding hard contact and fielders turning batted balls into outs has resulted in the second lowest runs allowed per game in MLB thus far in ’23.

(*Which begs the question, has Brito been getting lucky? We may come back to that soon…)

On an individual level, Albert Abreu has the best xwOBA against on the team by a pretty good margin (don’t be shocked if/when you see his role expand) and Anthony Rizzo has found the glove he used in Chicago apparently, as he leads the team in Outs Above Average.

Looking forward to this weekend’s three game set in the Boogie Down against Toronto as Domingo Germán, Gerrit Cole and (…looks upward, sighs…) Clarke Schmidt will look to cool off Matt Chapman, Vlad Jr., and Bo Bichette.

Did I miss something? Let me know. Leave a comment below or yell at me @mybaseballpage1 on Twitter and/or the “My Baseball Page” on Facebook.


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