Friday, June 2, 2023
HomeSportMLBGuardians-Yankees position-by-position breakdown

Guardians-Yankees position-by-position breakdown

Guardians-Yankees position-by-position breakdown

The Guardians and Yankees just can’t quit each other.

When these two clubs meet in the American League Division Series beginning Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, it will be their first October date since Cleveland’s nickname change, but it’s the continuation of what has become an extensive postseason history against each other in the Wild Card era. They previously met in the 1997 ALDS, the 1998 AL Championship Series, the 2007 ALDS, the 2017 ALDS and the 2020 AL Wild Card Series.

• ALDS Game 1: Tuesday on TBS

New York claimed three of those previous five series. Who has the edge this time, as the big-budget Yanks and their 62-homer hero Aaron Judge take on the pesky Guardians club with the youngest roster in MLB?

Let’s take a look, position by position!


The Yankees made a big change at catcher prior to the 2022 season when they dealt Gary Sanchez to the Twins and acquired Jose Trevino from the Rangers. Trevino responded with an All-Star season in which he slashed .355/.396/.505 with runners in scoring position and provided fantastic defense behind the dish. Between Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka, the Yanks had the eighth-best catching WAR in MLB this season, per Baseball Reference.

While the Guardians also get reliable defense and game-calling from Austin Hedges and backup Luke Maile, their .533 OPS from the catching spot was the second worst in MLB.

Advantage: Yankees

_• Postseason ticket information: Guardians | Yankees _

First base

Anthony Rizzo returned to the Yankees on a two-year deal for 2022-23 and had his best season since ’19. His 32 homers tied a career high, and his 132 weighted runs created plus was the second only to Judge among qualifiers on the Yanks.

Josh Naylor and Owen Miller essentially split the starts at first base. Naylor’s return this year from a terrible right ankle and calf injury gave Cleveland a big boost, as he contributed a 117 wRC+ and big energy. Miller, though, was a below-average offensive contributor.

Advantage: Yankees

• Guardians-Yankees Game 1 FAQ (Tuesday, TBS)

Second base

With a .257/.310/.451 slash line, Gleyber Torres gave the Yanks his best overall season since 2019. Though his offensive impact was weighted toward the first half, he did finish the year strong, with a .959 OPS in September. If versatile veteran DJ LeMahieu, who has dealt with a toe issue, is rostered, he’s also an option here.

In Cleveland, Andrés Giménez’s All-Star breakout was one of the great stories of the season. Among all qualified AL second basemen, his 140 weighted runs created plus and 6.1 fWAR ranked behind only the Astros’ Jose Altuve. He was 1-for-8 with six strikeouts in the Wild Card Series, but we won’t hold that against him.

Advantage: Guardians


The Yankees surprisingly abstained from the deep free-agent shortstop market, instead prioritizing defense by trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who slashed .261/.314/.327. The advanced metrics were mixed on his defensive contribution, with outs above average rating him at minus-2 (25th among shortstops) while defensive runs saved had him at plus-10 (tied for sixth best among shortstops).

The metrics are also mixed on Cleveland’s Amed Rosario, who was plus-6 in defensive runs saved at shortstop but minus-7 in outs above average. Regardless, he hustled his way to a respectable .283/.312/.403 slash line and an MLB-high nine triples, with 18 stolen bases.

Advantage: Guardians

Third base

Josh Donaldson’s first season in the Bronx after an offseason trade was statistically his worst healthy season since his rookie year with Oakland in 2012. He slashed .222/.308/.374, though his defense, per outs above average, still graded out well at plus-7.

As if we needed more reminders of what José Ramírez means to the Guardians in the Wild Card round, he hit the go-ahead two-run homer in Game 1 and made a game-saving defensive gem in Game 2. Going back to 2016, the only players with a higher FanGraphs WAR than Ramírez’s 39.4 mark are Mookie Betts and Mike Trout (both 43.5).

Advantage: Guardians

Left field

This position has been a mess for the Yankees this season. Joey Gallo hit (or, rather, didn’t hit) his way out of the Bronx. Andrew Benintendi was acquired at the Trade Deadline only to break his right hamate bone 33 games into his tenure, leaving the recent starts to struggling veteran Aaron Hicks and rookie Oswaldo Cabrera. The latter has made an instant impact (1.5 fWAR in 44 games) but is obviously still getting settled.

Rookie leadoff man Steven Kwan is another big reason why the Guardians are where they are. He hit .298 with a .373 on-base percentage, provided defense that is likely to win him a Gold Glove (95th percentile in outs above average) and swiped 19 bags.

Advantage: Guardians

Center field

Only recently have the Yankees begun to pencil trade acquisition Harrison Bader into the lineup in center field. He made his debut in pinstripes on Sept. 20 after dealing with plantar fasciitis. He only played 86 games this season for the Cardinals and Yanks, but over the last three years he’s paired an MLB-best 24 outs above average with league-average offense, which is a nice package.

Tying Bader in that tally for outs above average is Myles Straw. He, too, is a game-changing defender. Alas, league-average offense eluded Straw this year, as he had the lowest OPS (.564) of any qualifier.

Advantage: Yankees

Right field

Do we really need to do this? Do we really need to compare Judge, who just hit an AL-record 62 homers while amassing a .311/.425/.686 slash line and 207 wRC+, to any other hitter in baseball right now?

Didn’t think so. But credit to baby-faced Oscar Gonzalez for following up a strong rookie season (.788 OPS) with the game-winning homer in the Wild Card Series clincher.

Advantage: Yankees

Designated hitter

Giancarlo Stanton slumped badly from mid-June to late September and has only played DH since returning from the injured list with left Achilles tendinitis in August. But he’s obviously a huge power threat, as evidenced by him hitting three home runs in his last three games of the regular season. For the year, he had a career-worst .759 OPS in 452 plate appearances.

Even if Stanton is not up to his usual standards, the Yankees get the edge at DH because … the Guardians don’t really have one. Sometimes it’s Naylor there, sometimes it’s Miller, while in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series, it was speedy rookie Will Brennan, who just debuted on Sept. 21.

Advantage: Yankees

Starting pitching

Keep in mind that because of the unusual extra off-day between Games 1 and 2 in the ALDS schedule (and Cleveland’s sweep in the first round), neither team needs a fourth starter on regular rest unless the series goes to a decisive Game 5 on Oct. 17.

The Yankees’ rotation has big talent with a big question in the form of Gerrit Cole. He is one of the most prominent pitchers in the sport, but his 111 ERA+ in 33 starts this year was pedestrian, by his standards, and his rate of 1.48 homers per nine was fifth worst among qualifiers. The better numbers wound up coming from Nestor Cortes (2.44 ERA, 159 ERA+) and injury returnee Luis Severino (3.18, 123 ERA+), both of whom have long since blown past their 2021 innings totals. Jameson Taillon was inconsistent en route to an ERA+ that, for the second straight year, rated as exactly league average.

Cleveland’s rotation has been a big strength for some time, even as the cast evolves. Cal Quantrill can go in Game 1 on the heels of his 3.38 ERA and 113 ERA+ in the regular season. The ace is Shane Bieber, who came back from a right shoulder injury this year and has gradually evolved back into 2020 AL Cy Young form. Including a Wild Card Series gem against the Rays, Bieber has a 1.97 ERA and a .208 opponents’ average in his last 14 starts. Triston McKenzie backed up his breakout 2022 (2.96 ERA, 129 ERA+) with six scoreless innings and two hits allowed in the Wild Card Series. The fourth option would be Aaron Civale, whose season numbers aren’t pretty but who had a 3.35 ERA and a .186 opponents’ average in the second half.

Both of these clubs had a top 10 rotation in terms of ERA, but Cleveland’s was top five (3.41) in the second half, while the Yankees ranked 17th (3.94). Even though Bieber is limited to a single start, we’ll go with the Guards for now. But if the electric version of Cole comes out to play (always a possibility), that would change in a hurry.

Slight advantage: Guardians


More — and bigger — questions here for the Yankees, who don’t have a clear top option for the highest-leverage opportunities. In the first half, it was Clay Holmes, but his 4.48 ERA and right shoulder strain in the second half were concerning. Ron Marinaccio was in the midst of a terrific rookie year before suffering a right shin injury that will hold him out this round. And Aroldis Chapman is not the Aroldis Chapman we once knew. That leaves Jonathan Loáisiga, Scott Effross, Wandy Peralta and Lou Trivino as the healthiest and most viable options for Aaron Boone.

It’s more clear-cut for Cleveland. Emmanuel Clase, who led the Majors with 42 saves and 67 games finished, is at the top of the closer class and is capable of giving the Guards multiple innings. James Karinchak (2.08 ERA), Trevor Stephan (2.73) and lefty Sam Hentges (2.32) are the top setup options in a bullpen that had MLB’s best ERA in the second half, fewest innings pitched in the full season and didn’t allow any runs in 10 1/3 innings in the Wild Card Series.

Advantage: Guardians


Look, the Yankees ought to win this series, if for no other reason than the fact that power has an outsized impact on how postseason series play out, and they absolutely destroy the Guards in the power department. This is the hardest time of year to string hits together (as if the crazy pitching arsenals and smart — and not-yet-restricted — shifting in today’s game doesn’t make stringing hits together hard enough).

But October will surprise you, and the Guardians’ run to this round qualifies as one of the biggest surprises in baseball. The Yankees did not play particularly well in the second half, and their bullpen, in particular, is not a source of enormous confidence at the moment.

So here’s predicting another crazy surprise for Terry Francona and the kids.

Guardians in five.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Featured NEWS