With each passing day, new game and Yankees injury, Tyler Wade inches closer to a postseason role.
Despite spending most of the season in Triple-A, the superutility man could be a dynamic 25th man in October. Wade’s torrid September has boosted his profile while showcasing his obvious talents as a pinch runner and defensive replacement.
As of now, he’s likely 13th in line of Yankees’ position players for the postseason roster. Since the team will probably carry only 12 relievers for the Division Series, he should sneak onto the postseason roster. Injuries to Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman just about sealed that.
But what can he do once he’s there? Funny enough, Wade benefits from the log jam in front of him.
The Yankees have an overcrowded infield with six players for five spots including designated hitter. All of Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius, Gio Urshela and Edwin Encarnación are locks for October if healthy. That means one of them will be on the bench at all times, giving the team an overqualified pinch hitter.
Of those players, only Didi has an above-average sprint speed according to Baseball Savant. LeMahieu is an effective baserunner, as is Encarnacion despite his slow footspeed.
Wade, meanwhile, leads the Yankees in sprint speed (29.0 ft/s) and is 7-for-7 on stolen base attempts at the MLB level. He’s 20-for-25 including Triple-A, a still impressive 80 percent. Wade is not just fast but also smart on the bases.
Meanwhile, the team’s other pinch running candidate, Cameron Maybin, is just 10-for-18 across MLB and Triple-A this year. Maybin, though, has a long pedigree as a successful baserunner in the Majors. Still, his lack of success this year leaves plenty of baserunning opportunities for Wade while Maybin backs up the outfield.
Despite his 170 wRC+ in September, Wade is mostly beating up on a non-playoff teams and non-postseason pitchers. The Yankees don’t want him batting in a key spot. In October, he won’t have to.
Wade will be able to pinch run late in games for any of the starting infielders or Gary Sánchez (or Austin Romine, if Sánchez isn’t healthy). For the most part, I’d expect Sánchez, Encarnación, Voit and Urshela to be the targets for whom the Yankees would pinch run, as well as perhaps Giancarlo Stanton. With a sixth starting quality player ready to go, the team won’t need him to actually bat. The team would always have a pinch hitter or replacement for him.
For example, let’s say the Yankees are down by a run in the eighth inning and Urshela is the odd man out in the lineup. Voit walks to put a runner on. The Yankees can pinch run for him with Wade, have Wade run the bases and then either take over at third or be replaced right away by Urshela as LeMahieu shifts to first. In that way, the Yankees gain an edge on the bases without a dropoff at the plate.
However, Wade can do more than just run. He’s started at second, short, third and all three outfield spots in his recent professional career. Naturally a shortstop, he’s above-average at second and short and still developing in the outfield. The Yankees have felt comfortable enough starting him in the corner outfield this month and he could be a viable backup behind Maybin there.
Is this an efficient use of the 25th roster spot? Yes, actually, at least for the Division Series. Rostering Wade means the Yankees would go with 12 pitchers (or cut Maybin, an unlikely move). It would prevent them from putting a third catcher on the roster. However, if the team is that hesitant about Sanchez’s health, it may be best to sit him for a round.
In the ALDS, the Yankees have two built-in off-days after four days of rest going in. That means they could theoretically use each of their top relievers in every game without pitching them on three straight nights. The Bombers won’t need all three of Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga and Cory Gearrin, nor have those three proven themselves capable of high leverage spots as of yet.
If all goes to plan for the Yankees, they wouldn’t even need Wade since they’d be ahead. He’s only on the roster as an emergency option or a pinch runner while tied or behind. That’s the life at the back of the roster. But Wade does have a role, potentially a key one, in October and he could give the Yankees tremendous value in short, 90-foot bursts.