First Half Review: Outfielders and DH

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Baseball America's Top 20 Rookies

At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. We already looked at the starting pitchers, relievers, corner infielders, catchers, and middle infielders, so now it’s time to take a look at the outfielders and designated hitter.

The expectations

Coming into the season with no fewer than five outfielders on their projected Opening Day roster, the Yanks figured to sport a solid but relatively unspectacular outfield in 2009. Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady figured to man the corner outfield spots and work in some kind of harmonious rotation where everyone stayed rested and productive. Centerfield was going to be occupied by Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner, whichever one happened to be hitting at the moment. Hideki Matsui was expected to contribute nothing beyond DH duty, which was fine.

After posting a .765 OPS as a unit in 2008 (20th best in baseball), the team figured to see an improvement in its outfield production this year given their depth. Damon was expected to produce at a similar pace to his first three years in pinstripes, while everyone assumed that a rebound for Nick Swisher and slight step back from Nady would combine to produce at the very least average production. Gardbrera was a bit of a crapshoot, and in most circles it was believed the team would probably need to go out and get someone at some point. Matsui just had to be Matsui, or close to it.

The results

Aside from a season-ending elbow injury to Nady just eight games into the season, everything has gone better than expected. Swisher has rebounded from his down year in Chicago while Cabredner has been better than anyone could have expected. Johnny Damon is enjoying the best season of his long career, just in time for his contract year. As a unit, the Yanks rank third in AL with an .815 OPS, trailing two of their AL East counterparts. You get one guess who those two teams are. Hideki Matsui has stayed relatively healthy and is having his best season since 2005.

It’s hard not to be pleased with the production the Yankees have gotten out of the outfield and DH this year. Aside from Nady everyone’s been able to stay on the field, and there’s more bodies than spots so there should be enough opportunity to keep the seemingly ageless Damon fresh.

Johnny Damon

Amazingly, Damon is having the best season of his career at age 35. However, it looks like the New Yankee Stadium has contributed greatly to his resurgence, as his home OPS is more than 200 points greater than his road OPS. He’s taken to the two-spot in the order like he’s been hitting there his entire career, which I think is what most of us figured would happen.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news for Johnny, because his defense in left field has been downright dreadful in 2009. Whether you trust newfangled defensive metrics or just judge defense with your eyes, it’s easy to see the Damon went from an above-average left fielder to one that’s shaky at best. In the team’s final two wins of the first half up in Minnesota, Joe Girardi replaced Damon with Melky Cabrera in the late innings for defense. More than likely we’ll see that continue in the second half.

Melky Cabrera & Brett Gardner

After winning the centerfield job outright in Spring Training, it took only 15 games or so for Melky Cabrera to reclaim the job. In what looks like an annual occurrence, Melky started the year on fire (.326-.394-.517 through May 13th) but trailed off afterward (.261-.320-.395 since). Gardner did pretty much the opposite, starting slow (.214-.273-.257 through May 12th) before picking up the pace (.322-.398-.492 since). The two have combined for a .293-.361-.439 batting line, fourth best among centerfielders in the AL and behind only the Orioles in the AL East.

Gardner has been a hero on defense, putting up an ungodly 20.1 UZR/150, trailing only Colby Rasmus and Franklin Gutierrez. Melky’s been solid, but as usual he tends to get overrated because of his arm. As a whole, the Gardbrera tandem has given the Yanks everything they could have wanted and more.

Nick Swisher & Xavier Nady

We weren’t sure how Girardi was going to get both Swisher and Nady regular at-bats this year, but that problem took care of itself barely a week into the season. Swisher has handled the everyday job with aplomb, doing his usual schtick of getting on base (.360 OBP) and hitting for power (.464 SLG). While he’s prone to the occasional botched play, overall he’s been slightly above average in right field with a 1.8 UZR/150. While it would be nice to have Nady healthy for the depth, Swisher has held down the fort just fine.

Hideki Matsui

It’ll be easy to talk about Matsui’s first half since all he’s done is hit, and hit he has. His .264-.367-.517 batting line is his best in years, and while the common perception might be that the New Stadium is artificially beefing up his numbers, Godzilla’s road OPS is more than 60 points higher than his home effort. While his knees look ready to explode whenever he has to run, Matsui’s a hitting savant that produces in all situations against any kind of pitcher regardless of what arm they throw with.

Expectations for the second half

Brian Cashman added some insurance in Eric Hinske not long before the break, which helps mitigate what would have been a disaster should another outfielder go down with injury. It’s tough to expect Damon to continue his career year, but a regression to his previous performance would be acceptable. The real question is whether or not Melky and Gardner can keep it up in center, because the Yanks have less than three weeks to decide if they need an upgrade.

I guess the expectation for the second half is what it was coming into the season, rock solid production but far from spectacular. Anything else is gravy.

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Giving up something to get something
Baseball America's Top 20 Rookies
  • RAB poster

    Cabredner?

    How about Melkner or Gardbrera?

    I like them both more than “Cabredner”.

    • jim p

      Melgard

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Melgard?

        What is this, Lord of the Rings?

        • jim p

          Easier to say than anything else I’ve heard. And after all, we are in the Yankee Universe.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            And after all, we are in the Yankee Universe.

            Empire. Yankee Empire.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bzWSJG93P8

            • RAB poster

              Actually, I believe that the official name is Evil Empire.

              And Yankee Universe is now our fan club.

            • Andy in Sunny Daytona

              You’re just trying to keep all of your teams under the umbrella of The Imperial March.

      • RAB poster

        How about Garky?

    • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Gelky.

      Alas, it seems “Gardbrera” has been most widely adopted. Shame… It tosses out the funniest and most unique part (the “elky”) of either guy’s name.

      • RAB poster

        Garky is the way to go, I’m telling you.

      • The Lodge

        Brelky

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Brellky Gardbrera.

        Go all out.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    I’m very happy with the OF production at the plate thus far and 2/3 of the OF defense has been pretty solid. Gardner’s defense this year has just been absolutely unreal and I hope it continues. I think that BG’s defense is much more likely to continue at a high level than his current “high level” (for him that is) hitting.

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      I’m definitely pretty surprised at how well Gardner has been playing defense. I thought he’d be good, but not this good.

      And I’d agree it definitely seems more likely his defense continues at a high level over his bat. But I’ve been doubting Gardner all along. I’d love to be wrong some more…

      • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

        I’d love to be wrong some more…

        Haha, ditto.

  • Mattingly’s Love Child

    Am I alone in fearing that Damon and Matsui are like a used car that you’re planning to trade in? I feel like all the greatness they continue to give is a bonus on top of what they’ve already given, and I’m constantly worried they will break down before the season ends (time to trade in for the Carl Crawford model?).

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      If Matsui continues to perform as he has been, I’ll be incredibly happy.

      • RAB poster

        I agree.

        Don’t be so sold on Crawford.

        http://pinstripedbible.mlblogs.com/

        • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

          I’m not huge on Crawford either but considering the other COF options, I’d prefer him. He’s youngest, plays the best defense, and would probably requite the shortest/cheapest commitment. Regardless, I don’t see Tampa not picking up his option so his presence in the Bronx in ’10 is doubtful anyway.

          • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

            Also, I think if Crawford is acquired, the Yankees will have a “defensively supreme” (H/T Jamal G.) outfield of Crawford, Gardbrerajax, and Swisher. It won’t be the best hitting OF there is, but that could be offset by acquiring a power bat for the DH spot (Dunn? Manny? Abreu?) if it’s clear Posada can catch a good amount of games. If Posada won’t be able to catch a bunch of games, someone like Gregg Zaun or Benjie Molina (H/T TSJC) who isn’t an automatic out could be had to catch while Jorge DHs and Pasta Fagiole (again H/T TSJC)would be the back up.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              How many hats are you wearing right now?

              • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

                Two, apparently.

        • Mattingly’s Love Child

          I think Crawford would hit for more power in the Bronx with the porch. But besides that, yeah, he’s got considerable risk.

          Honestly, to me he’s the best option of a bunch that scare me. Damon’s defense this year doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Holliday is a disaster, don’t want any piece of him. Ankiel seems to be a flash in the pan to me. Vlad looks like one of the monsters from the Thriller video, before they start dancing. It is just not a good batch.

          The best of the bunch would be Bay. And I’m pretty confident the Sawx resign Bay because they see what’s out there and know they can’t get any better than what they got.

          • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

            If it’s gonna be anyone, I guess I’d prefer Holliday. He’s younger than Bay and plays better defense. He also isn’t as bad as he looks this year, IMO, and Bay isn’t as good as he looks. I guess I’d just prefer Damon on a 1-1 really.

            • Mattingly’s Love Child

              I could do the 1-1 deal for Damon, but if his defense next year is as bad as this year (and I don’t see why it would improve much), he better hit the shit outta the ball.

          • Reggie C.

            Yankees certainly aren’t trading for a corner OF. I guess we can assume that much. In lieu of needs in the rotation and ‘pen, its safe to assume Cash isn’t going to part with any prospect for a corner not named … Braun. (keep talking dude!!)

            Crawford hitting the market just seems too good a scenario to actually play out. We’re not gonna be that lucky.

            • Mattingly’s Love Child

              Yeah, it’s doubtful that Crawford hits the market, and if the Rays take the option to trade, I doubt they trade within the division. A man can dream though!

            • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

              Crawford hitting the market just seems too good a scenario to actually play out. We’re not gonna be that lucky.

              Probably not.

              • Andy in Sunny Daytona

                The Rays are going to have to make room for Desmond Jennings eventually.

                • Thomas

                  Jennings is in AA, so that probably makes it more likely they keep pick up Crawford’s option. That would give Jennings a full year in AAA before starting in the majors.

                • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

                  True; but I doubt they’ll just let Crawford walk.

                • Mattingly’s Love Child

                  They pick up the option and trade him to another division if they think Jennings is ready. If Jennings isn’t ready they hold on to Crawford for another year, possibly deadline trade or take the draft picks.

                  Me, I’d trade Montero, Hughes, and Jackson for Crawford. ;)

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Me, I’d trade Montero, Hughes, and Jackson for Crawford.

                  You’re crazy, Joba is clearly the worse pitcher, as evidenced by the fact that he’s worse RIGHT NOW AT THIS VERY SECOND, so we should deal him and keep Hughes.

                  You’re right on one topic, though: We absolutely, positively, must make a trade for someone immediately, because this team as presently constructed can’t possibly win a title, because everybody who’s currently not performing well sucks and is only going to get worse each day of their lives going forward.

                  Sincerely,
                  Yankee fans who are panicking even though we have more wins and fewer losses than 90% of all teams in baseball

                • Mattingly’s Love Child

                  I’m glad ya’ll (all of you Yankee fans) feel me there.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    Clutchy McClutchbrera

    • RAB poster

      +50

  • Zach

    But I was told that Swisher is a 4th OF?
    I dont think anyone can be disappointed in how the OF has been so far this year (minus Damon’s defense). Remembering that we only gave up Betemit and that kid who’s doing pretty bad in the minors makes the Swisher move even better.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    Also, from a post I’m working on, speaking of the McClutchersons,

    “In 21 plate appearances when coming into a game as a sub, Gardner is batting an insane .556/.600/.889/1.489. Small sample size all you want, but this is more than three at bats we’re talking about.”

    • RAB poster

      Small sample size.

      • RAB poster

        It’s his rookie season. We’re going to conclude that he’s a magically wonderful sub?

        • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

          *giggles*

          Of course not, but it is highly amusing.

          • RAB poster

            It was cool to see him replace Damon and go have a monster day.

            • RAB poster

              I’m referring to the first “Walkoff Weekend” game.

              • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

                I saw it in person.

                • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

                  I was at A-Rod’s walk off. I’ll also be at the game Monday (anyone else?).

                • Mattingly’s Love Child

                  No, but I’m goin to the Natinals game on Saturday….closest MLB game to me….

                • Rob H.

                  The natinals are an MLB team?

                • Rob H.

                  and I didn’t mean that post in reference to spelling. lol

                • Mattingly’s Love Child

                  LOL. Well they are playing the Cubs, and it isn’t an exhibition, so I guess technically the Nats are a major league team.

                  Mostly going to see the stadium and watch a ballgame. Any game in person is a good game to be at.

                • RAB poster

                  Just wear Cubs gear. The majority of fans’ll be Cubs fans anyway.

                • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

                  MLC: give Adam Dunn an extra loud cheer for me, huh?

                • Mattingly’s Love Child

                  You bet. I’m a fan of the Big Donkey. Part of it is the nickname, I must admit, I love awesome nicknames.

                  RAB poster- I don’t own any other MLB apparel other than the Yankees, so I will proudly wear my Posada bp jersey and my Yankee hat. Let the Cub fans bring it!

                • RAB poster

                  MLC-Nice. Chant “Let’s go Yankees” whenever the Cubs score.

        • Ed

          Small sample size.

          It’s his rookie season. We’re going to conclude that he’s a magically wonderful sub?

          Says the guy who thinks ~50 IP of out the bullpen from a rookie proves he’s a great reliever.

          • RAB poster

            And this coming from the same guy who thought that he had “a great season” in 2008 as a strting pitcher…in 12 starts.

            Guess what, relievers pitch less innings than starters.

            Congratualtions, you just stooped low enough to pick a fight with a poster on a Yankee blog.

            • RAB poster

              On a seperate thread, no less.

            • Ed

              And this coming from the same guy who thought that he had “a great season” in 2008 as a strting pitcher…in 12 starts.

              That’s what you got out of that last thread? Wow…

              Guess what, relievers pitch less innings than starters.

              Yeah, but repeating that doesn’t turn Joba’s relief work into a large sample. Pitch hitters get less at bats than starters, but that doesn’t make Gardner’s 21 PH AB’s significant.

              Congratualtions, you just stooped low enough to pick a fight with a poster on a Yankee blog.

              If you want to take things as personal insults, you can. I’m just pointing out flaws in your reasoning.

              • RAB poster

                It doesn’t turn it into a large sample, but since relievers pitch less innings it’s a more accurate sample of how he’d probably do than the same amount of innings as a starter.

                Anyway, whether I’m right about that or not that doesn’t make the point I made to Rebecca any less valid. Despitewhat I said in a previous thread.

                Yes, I’ll take offense when you bring up a seperate arguement from a previous thread solely to make me look foolish. There was nothing to be gained by posting that other than your attempt to make me look bad.

                • Ed

                  Sorry you see it that way, but judging Joba the reliever based on a 3 stints of about 20 IP each isn’t a whole hell of a lot better than judging Gardner based on 21 PH appearances.

      • toad

        OK. How about a .385 OBP? (2 SE’s below .600)

    • A.D.

      BG OPSes 114 points higher in High Leverage situations then in Low Leverage, and has actually hit the best in High Leverage this year.

      clutch mcclutch

  • Reggie C.

    We gotta see how Gard-brera works out the rest of the season. I would not be shocked if Cashman made no move to upgrade the spot so to accomodate Jackson at some point next season.

    What do you guys think of pursuing Rick Ankiel to take over RF ?? Move Swisher to LF. I dont think Crawford hits FA. I dont think the Yanks are interested in a reclamation project (i.e. Chris Young). And i dont think the Yanks are going to spend a shitload on a Bay or Holliday.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      Eh, I’m not much of an Ankiel fan. He hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy and he’s sort of fallen off the table this year. I think he’s basically a left handed Xavier Nady with a little more power, except he’s not getting better, he’s getting worse with each year.

      • Reggie C.

        Its not too late for Ankiel to put together a respectable 2nd and salvage the season on a team likely headed to the playoffs.

        Shit.. his stats are mind-boggling. Is he even starting over at St. Louis. I knew he was having a bad season. I didnt realize till i actually checked how bad it’d gotten.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Is he even starting over at St. Louis?

          No, he’s not. Rasmus, Ludwick, and Duncan start over him. And Duncan’s only slightly less shitty than Ankiel is at the moment, that’s the only thing that keeps him getting any plate appearances at all.

          He’s singlehandedly trying to disprove the “contract year” theory.

        • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

          I think it’s time for Ankiel to think about switching back to pitching again …

          Speaking of pitching, why are we talking about outfielders when the 3rd through 5th starters are horrendous?!?!!?!?!?

          /mryankee’d

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Speaking of pitching, why are we talking about outfielders when the 3rd through 5th starters are horrendous?!?!!?!?!?

            /mryankee’d

            It’s good to know that even as we lose such supergems as Robert Goulet, Axl, and DBHOF, there will always be a steady stream of new commenters willing to make themselves memes thanks to their repetitive asshattery.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I had previously been interested in Ankiel as a better, less costly and shorter contract option over Bay and Holliday, but he’s fallen off a cliff.

      ’07 – .285/.328/.535
      ’08 – .264/.337/.506
      ’09 – .215/.278/.359

      That’s brutal. He didn’t really have great OBP skills before, but now he looks like a trainwreck.

      I can’t in good conscience give that man a starting OF spot. If he wants to take a 1yr/3M deal to be a reserve OF, sure. Anything else is probably too risky.

      • A.D.

        I could see the Yankees going with veteran scrap heap tryouts for an outfield spot next year. Something like Ankiel & Nady, both for low money, figure one of them puts together a good year, if they both pan out the other gets DH time.

      • Chris

        And who said HGH doesn’t help.

      • Paul

        Do you think AJax would be starting for another team. The young O/F’s seem to work for the Rays.What do I know? the bunch we have now will not get us to the W/S.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    “In the team’s final two wins of the first half up in Minnesota, Joe Girardi replaced Damon with Melky Cabrera in the late innings for defense. More than likely we’ll see that continue in the second half.”

    Which is why I don’t get how often Girardi would sub in Gardner or Melky for Swisher as a LIDR and leave Damon in the game.

    Damon should be getting lifted for defense, not Swisher. The best defensive outfield we have is some combination of Melky, Gardner, and Swisher. I never understood that repeated move Girardi made. Maybe the Minnesota series is a good harbinger that he’s going to handle LIDR’s more typically.

    • A.D.

      Guess he kept checking the 2008 UZR numbers on fangraphs.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        He thought 09 was a small sample size….now they’ve reached the halfway point, he realized it is now a trend.

        • A.D.

          Yeah, plus its gotten uglier, the fall in Florida, then followed up with something similar the next week.

          I think originally it was to get Melky’s arm in right, along with some more range, now its getting the weakest outfielder out of there.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    On the Gardner/Cabrera nickname thing…

    Can we just call them the McClutchersons?

    • A.D.

      Pretty much, they both hit better or as well in high leverage compared to low and medium

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      …can we just call them NICK SWISHER or would that be sacrilegious?

  • JGS

    I think the weirdest development for any player in the first half is Nick Swisher playing in the best hitter’s park in the league and doing far far better on the road (.266/.359/.571/.931 with 11 home runs) than at home (.200/.362/.325/.687 with 3 home runs)

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      It is pretty freaky.

      He does seem to be pretty snakebit, though: .283 road BABIP against a .239 home BABIP.

      Career number is .274

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  • YankeeScribe

    Hopefully the Yanks are smart enough to start training Montero on playing rightfield. I can’t take another season of watching Nick Swisher’s-.230/.360 more strikeouts than hits-ass in RF everyday…

  • melkyfan53

    Brett Cabrera, or Melky Gardner….I need to think of a good nickname