What Went Right: Gardbrera


Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.


Mid-way through the 2007 season, it became apparent that Johnny Damon was no longer a viable option in centerfield for the Yankees. The team was somewhat up a creek without a paddle, as Damon still had two-and-a-half years left on his contract, and they had to turn to the unproven Melky Cabrera full-time in one of the most important positions on the field.

In 2008, Yankee centerfielders hit just .261-.320-.391, which represented the fifth lowest OBP and seventh lowest IsoP in the league. Furthermore, the group’s defense didn’t make up for their offense shortcomings, as they posted a collective +1.9 UZR/150. Melky got the lion’s share of the work in center (67.5% of the total innings), but he was demoted to the minors in mid-August after a 300 plate appearance stretch of futility in which he hit .227-.277-.280.

After flirting with various trade scenarios in the offseason, the Yankees came into Spring Training this past February with the same cast of centerfield characters as last year. Most (myself included) figured a mid-season trade for a centerfielder was in order. Instead, both Melky and Brett Gardner excelled in camp (Melky hit .349-.408-.508, Gardner .379-.446-.621), and the Yanks started the season with a somewhat unconventional platoon in the middle outfield spot.

Across the board, the performance in centerfield improved in 2009. The Gardbrera duo (plus a two game cameo from Jerry Hairston Jr.) hit .273-.338-.400, as Melky once again carried most of the load. Not only was the offensive upgrade welcome, but the defense also improved immensely thanks to Gardner. The team’s UZR/150 in center jumped to +7.5, third best in the AL. The league average offense and well-above average defense gave the Yankees the most production out of the centerfield position since Bernie Williams was in his heyday.

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

Categories : Analysis


  1. A.D. says:

    Not too shabby overall, figure both still have plenty of potential left if they can find consistency, Gardner tore it up in May & June OPSing over .900 both months, while Melk just needs to continue to stay disciplined.

    Two players that don’t lack talent, just polish.

  2. Yes, we just praised Melky. Someone mark the occasion.

  3. Once again, we’re assuming a short term fix for CF in the off-season. I wonder if we’ll be proved wrong yet again. What, for the Yankees, is the safer roll of the dice–letting these guys continue to develop or bringing in a veteran to man the difficult position, moving one (Melky) to left?

    • “Continue to develop” depends upon what you/I/the Yankees think these two players’ ceilings are. Based on his age and the improvement he showed over 2008, 2010 could be Melky’s break-out season. But then again, despite identical OPS figures, he’s never been as productive as he was during his first full season on the team. (That’s based on the fact that I prefer the .360 OBP and less power to the .336 mark and more power from the 9 slot in the order.)

      I think the Yanks will give Melky (and Gardner) the job in 2010. After that, it depends on at least Austin Jackson and the numbers Gardbrera put up next season.

      • Dare we discuss this again? What do you guys all think their ceilings are? Ben and I are certainly among the group that thinks Melky most likely will not get much better than he is now. Obviously, I hope he does, but I’m not expecting much. However, if he can be a guy who plays decent defense and hits at a league average (or around it) clip, he’s certainly a useful player.

        As for Gardner, I’m not really sure how much more he can grow either. His plate discipline skills are nice and so is his fielding. But with a total lack of power, won’t pitchers just come right at him? His speed is great too, but can he really utilize it if he won’t be on base enough?

        • Chris says:

          I’m curious why you wouldn’t expect Melky to improve. Generally speaking, players peak when they are 27-28 so Melky is still potentially a few years away from his peak.

          • I think that mostly because we’ve seen him get 2000+ PAs without any real consistent improvement.

            • This.

              Even though offensive peak years are 27/28-30/31, Melky’s career so far would suggest that he might be a 105 OPS+ guy during his peak. He hasn’t show the kind of career growth that justifies the number of PA’s he’s received before age 25.

              Take a look at this chart. It’s the first 200 out of the 213 guys who had 2000+ PAs before age 25. Melky’s OPS+ of 88 ranks him 185th. He’s got plenty of company of good players that low, but there are far more duds than studs down there.

              • Chris says:

                There are 32 players on the list with an OPS+ with 5 of Melky (between 83 and 93). Of those 32 players, 8 are in the hall of fame. How does that support the argument that there are far more duds than studs?

                • Because there are 24 not in the Hall of Fame?

                  24 > 8

                  Plus, Bill Mazeroski is the only one of those 8 with an OPS+ lower than Melky’s in the Hall. I’d love for Melky to develop into an Aramis Ramirez type, but history isn’t on his side.

                • Chris says:

                  So your definition of being a stud is making the HOF? I have no such delusions that Melky will be that good. If you told me that Melky had a 25% chance of making the hall of fame, I would be ecstatic (after I stopped laughing)

                  I believe that over the next 3-5 years he is likely to have an OPS+ over 100 (probably between 100 and 110). If he were a 1B or a corner outfielder, then that would be reason to be pessimistic. As a CF, that would make him quite valuable.

                • That’s not my definition. I thought it was yours, but I guess I’m mistaken. At some point, I’ll have to look at Melky’s comp.

                  To further your point, though, he was an above average offensive CFer in 2009. His sOPS+ as a center fielder was 104. That measures how much better he was than the league average center field OPS.

            • Chris says:

              But he’s still 24. Aramis Ramirez had 1838 PA through his age 24 season with an 88 OPS+ – Melky has 2148 PA and an 88 OPS+ through his age 24 season. Since then, Ramirez has put up a 126 OPS+ in roughly 4000PA. I don’t expect Melky to be that good (that would basically make him the best CF in baseball), but I do think it’s reasonable to expect him to post an OPS+ over 100 for the next couple seasons.

  4. The Honorable Congressman Mondesi says:

    “What Went Right: Gardbrera”

    And Team Gelky gasps its last breath as Gardbrera prevails.

    Et tu, Axisa?

    (You’re all leaving out the funniest part of either guys’ name – the “elky!” This is a low-point in RAB history.)

  5. ADam says:

    I have no Issues with a CF Platoon once again in 2010. Would be nice to see a bench next year of Gardy, Hariston, Pena, Cervelli, Miranda….

    • Chris says:

      Why would the Yankees keep Hairston? Sure he’s a veteran, but he’s basically the same player as Pena – and Pena’s better.

      • Before you roll with the “Ramiro Peña is just as good a hitter as Jerry Hairston is” idea, remember that

        A) Peña’s 2009 big league .287/.317/.383 line is easily the best of his career, and screams statistical outlier
        B) hig 2009 BABIP was .340, also far higher than his career norms.

        Jerry Hairston is a career .259/.328/.373 (85+) guy. Ramiro Peña is a career .287/.317/.383 (86+) guy. Problem is, there’s mountains of evidence to suggest it’s not a wise bet to bet that Peña can keep that up. He’ll likely regress to somewhere around a 60-70 OPS+ guy.

        Oh, and Hairston can already play all 8 non-pitcher positions on the field. Peña is a better defensive 2B/3B/SS, but he’s just now learning the OF (while Hairston plays a solid-to-good OF) and is an emergency catcher.

        If I can only have one, I’ll take Hairston over Peña, thanks.

        • Sorry:

          Peña is a better defensive 2B/3B/SS, but he’s just now learning the OF (while Hairston plays a solid-to-good OF) and is is NOT an emergency catcher.

        • Chris says:

          Pena will be 24 next season and is likely to continue improving. Hairston will be 34 and is likely to decline.

          Considering that Pena (or Hairston) will most often be replacing the infielders since we already have a 4th OF in Gardbrera, his edge defensively at those positions is much more important. And I do believe that Pena is an emergency catcher – at least as much as Hairston is (they’ve both caught the same number of innings as pros).

          Finally, I’m not convinced that Pena’s line this season is any more of a fluke than Hariston’s 38 OPS+ was in 2006-2007.

          • Pena will be 24 next season and is likely to continue improving.

            Yes, but from his true skill level.

            An 86 OPS+ is not is true skill level. He was playing above his head in 2009.

          • whozat says:

            Just because a guy is young is not a valid reason to assume that he’ll automatically get better over the next several seasons. If he beat up the minors, and he is young, then there’s valid reason to think that his big-league numbers might begin to approach his minor league stat line.

            Ramiro Pena has never showed real indication that he will be a big-league hitter.

            Also, we’re not talking about signing a guy for multiple seasons. Who cares if Hairston’s 34? He’s a plus defensive OFer in the corners, average in CF, and can not-kill-you in the middle IF. I want that guy on the team for another year or two, no question.

        • Riddering says:

          Yes, thank you!

          I keep shaking my head at people pulling out Peña’s stats as superior to Hairston’s when we’re looking at 121 PAs v. 3622 PAs in the majors.

        • pete says:

          eh, i’d rather have defensive reps at the top of their defensive game (gardner and pena) and a bat than sacrifice defense w/ my utility guy for offense. Plus pena is younger and likely to remain where he is or get better in terms of his most important skill (defense), whereas hairston’s hitting decline years. Throw in the extra money for hairston, and i’ll keep pena. kthxbye

  6. cr1 says:

    Nothing would please me more than seeing a credible outfield stand up in pinstripes next season.

    Please, no more of these fragile mixtures where the best we can look forward to is a sigh of relief at the end of the season that things went better than we feared.

  7. larryf says:

    All cf combo abbreviations are good except Met(t)….

  8. Reggie C. says:

    If Jackson again displays a strong LD rate & above avg BABIP as he’s shown his whole minor league career, the gardbrera mashup will be shortlived in 2010. Fingers crossed!

  9. theyankeewarrior says:

    But no team can win teh World Series without an all-stah in Centa like Nate McLouths!

  10. steve s says:

    Nice to see some support for Melky/Gardner especially after all the recent (misguided IMO) Cameron discussions.

    • Praising Melky/Gardner for 2009 and advocating for signing Mike Cameron for 2010 are not mutually exclusive concepts.

      • steve s says:

        In support of going after Cameron there were several posts that described Gardner, for example, as a “fringe” major leaguer/5th outfielder and Melky as no better than a back-up. No need for a guy like Cameron in CF unless Yanks agreed with those negative Melky/Gardner assessments which I don’t think they do.

        • No need for a guy like Cameron in CF unless Yanks agreed with those negative Melky/Gardner assessments which I don’t think they do.

          Not necessarily.

          A large impetus behind the “Let’s get Cameron” camp is his ability to play LF for Johnny Damon. Cameron provides us with a great deal of flexibility.

          Think about it this way: At the beginning of the year, we were planning on rolling with Damon in left, Swisher in right, and Melky/Gardner in CF, with Xavier Nady aggressively spelling both of the corner outfielders and serving as the bench off the bat.

          Replace 2009 Xavier Nady with 2010 Mike Cameron. Cameron plays some CF in place of Gardbrera, he plays some LF in place of Damon when he’s resting or DHing, he plays some RF when Swisher’s resting or playing 1B.

          He’s our 2010 Xavier Nady (but healthy).

          • He’s our 2010 Xavier Nady (but healthy).

            And with a better track record. And with better on base skills.

          • steve s says:

            If Matsui is gone and Damon is the LF/DH choice then I guess Cameron in a back-up roll is not a killer but the thought of Swisher/Cameron back-to-back over 150 games is too many strikeouts in a row to deal with.

            • That may end up being about 300 strikeouts, but it would also end up being about 165 walks. That’s a .55 BB/K, which is better than the .49 league average. Cameron may strike out a lot, but he also walks a good deal (73 per 162). He also hits homers (23 per 162). The things the Yankees are best at on offense–walking and hitting homers–Mike Cameron does well.

              And, FWIW, I’d stagger the lineup to avoid Swisher and Cameron back-to-back:


            • whozat says:

              THe guy is a better defensive CFer than Melky, has better OBP skills than Melky, and more power than Melky. OMG he strikes out…so? He catches more balls and makes fewer outs. And takes up ONE roster spot instead of two. And can be had on a short commitment.

              I’m still a Brett Gardner skeptic. In the limited sample we got his year, his underlying numbers were very different than his MiLB numbers suggested — lower K rate, a bit more power (propped up by like…one 3B and his inside the parker due to SSS) and AVG.

              If the Yanks got Damon AND Matsui back on 1-year deals, I’d be fine with Gardbrera in CF again. But I’m just not convinced that’s actually best for the team.

        • Well, sure, there isn’t a “need” for Mike Cameron but I do think he represents an upgrade over both Cabrera and Gardner at the plate. Cameron’s a veteran who hits for power and walks. His defense may not be as good as Gardner’s, but it’s still better than Melky’s. Not all Cameron-to-the-Yankees scenarios exclude Melky. If only one of Damon or Matsui is brought back, along with Cameron being acquired, Melky more than likely mans left field. His bat would be below-average there, but his defense would be good. He could also spell Cameron in CF on days when Cameron needs a rest.

    • Care to share why you think the Cameron talks are misguided?

      • steve s says:

        I did in prior posts but glad to summarize it again. He will be 37 opening day, his 2nd half last year showed significant decline (as has his play over the last 3 year period), his ability to steal bases (only 7) was significantly diminished and he would cost much more than what the Yanks will be paying Melky/Gardner combined.

        • And again, your doubts about Cameron are legit.

          But Cameron is not just Melky/Gardner regression insurance. He’s also Damon/Matsui physical breakdown insurance.

        • His second half was ugly, but his last two years (111 OPS+ both times) were better than ’07 so I don’t think he’s in a steep decline or anything. If he were brought in to the Yankees, he definitely wouldn’t be there to steal bases. While his age is obviously a factor, he’d most likely just be on the team for a year, so it would not be a big commitment. And, though his cost may be slightly higher than those two, I think he could out produce them. His bat is still above average for a CF and with good defense, he could easily out-play his contract’s value.

  11. themgmt says:

    Trade Melky.

  12. MatyRuggz says:

    If Ajax still has a shot at being an impact centerfielder, then I say roll with Gardberra for another season and see if the phenom can hack it when he’s ready. If not, then Cameron at this point of his career is an inferior option to Gardberra and should be avoided like the plague. There’s no impact centerfielder on the free agent market and anyone availiable via trade would cost both prospects and money. Not worth it if you ask me.

    • If not, then Cameron at this point of his career is an inferior option to Gardberra and should be avoided like the plague.

      Just because you say it doesn’t make it true. Cameron’s a much better hitter than Gardner, a better hitter than Cabrera, and a better fielder than Cabrera as well. How is he not an upgrade over them?

      • JMK aka The Overshare says:

        Total upgrade. Cameron is nowhere near an inferior option to Gardbrera. There’s not a single thing Gardner does better than Cameron except steal bases. I don’t think he’ll ever be a guy who can hit well enough to justify starting.

        Melky has about 50,000 plate appearances, and is just about the same exact player he was as a rookie. Sure, maybe he’ll improve a tiny bit, but Melky doesn’t excel at anything. He’s average at all kinds of things, but his OBP is poor, his power is average, his speed is average, his defense is good, his arm is strong but wild.

        Cameron plays a better CF, has more power and general hitting skills. He’ll probably be available on a 1-year deal. How can someone be fooled by Melky’s streakiness or Gardner’s total ineptitude with the bat?

    • themgmt says:

      I’d take Cameron over both. I’d prefer trading Melky and letting Gardner roam CF until Jackson is called up (whether that be May, July, September, or 2011). I see little value in having both Melky and Gardner on the roster, with Austin Jackson backing them up.

  13. pete says:

    ideally, the yankees will keep melky as the versatile, startable 4th outfielder and gardner as the pure def rep and pinch runner, acquire cameron, and keep damon and matsui. Under this construction, Matsui is the primary DH, Damon the primary LF, and Cameron the primary CF. Having all 5 of these guys gives us the flexibility to rest matsui frequently, half-rest or full-rest damon, and rest cameron, thus enabling girardi to maximize the production out of all of those guys. My guess is that cameron at 37 is not likely a +10 CFer if he starts 155 games, but if you cut that down to 140, then maybe he is, or maybe he’s even better. Ditto damon. If he starts 4 games a week in LF, he might be able to scratch a -5 UZR and also provide better offense than if he starts 6 games a week in LF. As for Matsui, he’s a remarkably consistent hitter, but he’s so on the brink of shattering into a million pieces that his production might be maximized if he only starts 4/5 games a week at DH, and serves as the primary bench bat on his off days. This team is no longer under torre’s “guidance” – we don’t (and won’t) need to have one starter at each position and everyone else be the backup. Girardi’s great at shuffling guys around, and i think if you’re stuck with old stopgap-type guys, you might as well have enough of them to allow them to take the pressure off one another.

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