Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner believes that New York's trade with the Twins last spring, remodeling the left side of the infield with third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, was a success.
Steinbrenner spoke about the deal with reporters at the MLB Owners Meetings earlier this week, explaining that the new faces who came over from Minnesota played a key role in improving New York's overall defense in 2022.
“Yes, I think that trade was a success, especially from a defense standpoint,” Steinbrenner told reporters, like Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. “We had issues. If there’s one thing we definitely did successfully in the offseason is improve defensively. That’s not the only thing but I don’t think anyone can argue with that.”
This is true. The Yankees were one of the worst teams in baseball on defense in 2021, producing minus-41 defensive runs saved. Only the Phillies were worse last year in that defensive category. This season, the Yankees led the league by a significant margin with plus-129 DRS. The Dodgers were second with plus-84.
Donaldson was one of New York's best defenders all season long. Even as the 36-year-old struggled on offense—hitting .222/.308/.374 with 148 strikeouts in 132 games—he had plus-8 defensive runs saved, tied for the second-highest mark among all American League third basemen. Donaldson was responsible for plus-6 Outs Above Average as well, also second among third basemen in the AL.
“Donaldson, one of the big reasons we wanted him was defense,” Steinbrenner explained. “We were trying to improve our defense, especially in the infield. He’s an unbelievable defender. Obviously, he had an off year offensively. I don’t think that’ll last. The other thing we liked out of him that we heard about but hadn’t seen but his work ethic is second to none. It’s good for the young players to see that work ethic and he’s not the only one. Most of our young guys have a really good work ethic. I don’t think there’s anybody who has a better work ethic. Isiah is exactly what we thought. I think he batted .260, which is exactly what he normally does. He had good defense, some bad plays, but the really good, above-average plays don’t tend to get noticed as much or talked about. That’s something we’ve talked about throughout the course of the year. We were happy with what he gave us for the most part.”
Beyond the advanced numbers, Donaldson passed the eye test with ease. From routine plays to diving stops at the hot corner, the veteran was exemplary. It was a different story with Kiner-Falefa at shortstop. "IKF" made 15 errors, accounting for minus-4 Outs Above Average (ranked 28th among qualifying shortstops). FanGraphs viewed Kiner-Falefa's defense differently, crediting him with plus-10 DRS, tied for sixth-best at shortstop in 2022.
Kiner-Falefa often fell into lengthy slumps on defense, failing to convert on simple plays, visibly affected when his performance would impact the results of an inning or a game. Eventually, after some key misplays in the postseason, Kiner-Falefa was benched during the American League Division Series.
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