Dec
28

By the Decade: From a strength to a weakness in center

By

For the seventh installment of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts, we land in center field. For the Yankees of the 2000s, center field represents quite the dichotomy. The position peaked early and never regained the luster of the Bernie Williams Era.

  AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K GDP BA OBP SLG
Bernie Williams 2919 854 167 11 114 469 395 45 20 431 88 .293 .378 .474
Melky Cabrera 1226 326 55 9 23 149 95 8 11 165 30 .266 .321 .382
Johnny Damon 843 232 43 6 35 111 107 1 6 125 7 .275 .358 .465
Brett Gardner 311 85 8 8 3 32 30 0 4 52 3 .273 .344 .379
Hideki Matsui 287 92 26 1 7 54 28 2 3 44 8 .321 .381 .491
Kenny Lofton 239 65 10 7 2 15 26 0 0 23 3 .272 .338 .397
Bubba Crosby 109 24 3 0 3 11 6 0 1 24 1 .220 .267 .330
Clay Bellinger 79 14 4 0 2 8 12 0 0 23 1 .177 .280 .304
Tony Womack 64 17 4 0 0 3 0 0 0 11 3 .266 .266 .328
Raul Mondesi 42 10 4 0 2 9 3 0 0 7 0 .238 .289 .476
Gerald Williams 28 6 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 4 2 .214 .267 .250
Totals 6261 1754 331 42 195 880 706 56 46 936 148 .280 .355 .440

Bernie Williams retired — or was forced off the Yanks when he opted against accepting a Spring Training invite in 2007 — in 2006. Yet, he remains the center fielder of the decade. Despite a late-career swoon, he still hit .293/.378/.474 as the Yanks’ center fielder this decade, and his early-00 numbers are, as we’ll see soon, stellar.

After Bernie became too old and too slow to adequately man center field, the Yankees simply could not find an adequate replacement. For one year in 2006, Johnny Damon‘s offense was well above-average, but his defense in center was anything but. He turned in a -11.6 UZR that year and sported his trademark awful arm. The man hired to replace Bernie had all over 843 at-bats at center over his four years with the Yanks.

Melky Cabrera and then Brett Gardner followed Damon in center. Although Gardner flashed some speed and Melky an arm, the two weren’t impact offensive players. For the decade, the tale of center field is one of decline. Bernie started off strong, but by 2009, the Yanks were content to live through average or below-average center field production. It’s been a long, hard fall:

  AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K GDP BA OBP SLUG
Bernie Williams 2919 854 167 11 114 469 395 45 20 431 88 .293 .378 .474
2000-2002 1643 523 107 8 74 311 226 29 14 243 47 .318 .402 .528
2003-2004 803 216 38 2 31 108 124 12 4 112 29 .269 .368 .437
2005-2006 473 115 22 1 9 50 45 4 2 76 12 .243 .309 .351
Yanks CF Overall                            
2000-2002 1865 572 119 8 81 341 243 29 15 296 51 .307 .388 .509
2003-2004 1266 356 65 9 42 170 173 13 7 171 39 .281 .368 .446
2005 617 149 31 2 7 59 50 2 1 99 16 .241 .296 .332
2006 670 183 40 6 26 84 70 4 6 104 6 .273 .345 .461
2007-2009 1843 494 76 19 39 226 170 8 17 266 36 .268 .333 .393

With this table, we can track that fall. For three years, Bernie was a beast. He put up a combined OPS+ of 140, and Yanks’ center fielders hit a combined .308/.388/.509. The vast majority of the team’s overall counting stats in center came during those three years. The 81 home runs and 340 home runs were nearly 40 percent of the decade’s totals. The slugging outpaced the rest of the decade by over .060 points.

In 2003, though, Bernie fell to Earth, and for the next two seasons, the Yanks tried to move a proud aging ballplayer to lesser position. In 2004, the team brought in Kenny Lofton, but Joe Torre stuck with his man. Bernie still made nearly two-thirds of all center field at-bats, and his OPS+ over that span was a good-but-not-great 108. Still, the combined .281/.368/.446 line was not too shabby.

In 2005, it all fell apart. Bernie couldn’t hit, and his legs were gone. A cameo by Melky Cabrera was worse, and the Yanks’ center fielders hit .241/.296/.332. It was truly a low point of the decade. Johnny Damon provided some pop in 2006, but he couldn’t man the position. The combined .273/.345/.461 line was a breath of fresh air amidst some offensive woes later in the decade.

When Melky Cabrera took over in 2007 and enjoyed approximately 80 percent of the center field playing time for the next three seasons, the Yankees were seemingly content to let the offense in center slide. Since 2007, Yanks’ center fielders have hit .268/.333/.393. That .726 OPS is a far cry from the .897 mark that started the decade. Melky’s combined UZR in center over the last three seasons has been -8.4. He was well below average in 2007 and at or slightly above average in 2008 and 2009. Melky had an average 2009 with the stick, but now he’s gone, sent to Atlanta in the deal that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx.

As the Yankees head into 2010, they will begin a new era in center field. Curtis Granderson is under contract through 2013, and the club holds an option for 2014. Hopefully, the new decade will begin as the previous one did — with some top offensive and some solid defense out of center field. It’s been a while.

Categories : Analysis

56 Comments»

  1. From ’97-’02, Bernie was straight pussytubing at the plate:

    .326/.411/.538/.949/146+; 162 game average of 28 homers, a nearly equal K/BB ratio. Goddamn, he was nasty.

  2. Bernie was always my favorite player when I was younger, it’s nice to see him and the Yankees slowly making up.

  3. Accent Shallow says:

    I knew Matsui played CF, but I didn’t realize it was a half-season’s worth of ABs. Wow.

  4. Evil Empire says:

    Here’s to Granderson! He should make the spreadsheet look nice for at least most of the first half of the upcoming decade, useful for when RAB does these posts again in late 2019

  5. Rob says:

    Granderson’s going to rake and it’s going to be very fun to watch.

    But yeah, Bernie was fantastic.

  6. Bo says:

    Didnt think we could end the yr without Kabak throwing up a trashing Melky post. He’s going to miss him.

  7. AndrewYF says:

    I never knew Matsui ever played CF. I wonder how awful he was?

  8. jsbrendog says:

    and as the cf-ers got worse, the team won a ws.

    coincidence?!?!

    i think so!!

  9. Chris says:

    Ugh Mondesi….What trash he was.

  10. Crazy Eyes Killa says:

    Granderson is going to be so ridiculous with this lineup and stadium. In Bernie’s monster ’02 campaign, he was a 4.5 win player, I grew up loving Bernie like the next guy on this blog, but I sense very big things, perhaps much better stats, coming out of Granderson.

  11. Rob in CT says:

    IMO, Bernie was never the same after he hurt his knee in 2002. He opened the season hitting like he did in his prime (better, actually, he got off to a great start). Then he ran into a wall (in Toronto? I can’t remember). He then went 0-fer-like-19 or something before calling it quits and having “minor” knee surgery.

    He came back and just wasn’t the same guy. A lot of his power was gone. It took the pitchers a little while to figure that out. Add some natural age-related decline and you get the Bernie of 2005 (aka the Corpse of Bernie Williams).

    Since I didn’t really pay attention to baseball until 1998, all I’d known was Bernie in his prime. Watching the end was painful.

    • Rob in CT says:

      Hah. Gotta love memory. It wasn’t 2002. It was 2003:

      “23-May-03 Left knee injury, 15-day DL.”
      “09-Jul-03 Missed 41 games (left knee injury).”

      • Rob in CT says:

        Found the post that convinced me (from RLYW):

        “The Bernie Williams we know and love died in May of 2003, when he suffered a knee injury — IIRC, from running into a wall making a nice catch, but don’t quote me on that — which he then had to have surgery on. He never bounced back from that surgery.

        Bernie was in an 0-21 slide when he left the team to have surgery, before that point, his batting line for 2003 was .325/.439/.519 — a great line, period, a fantastic line for a player with a reputation of starting slow.

        At that point, his career batting line was .308/.393/.499, since it has been .251/.339/.393 (in 1337 ABs)…”

        Goddamned wall.

  12. [...] Soriano SS: Derek Jeter 3B: Alex Rodriguez LF: Hideki Matsui, co-starring Johnny Damon CF: Early-decade Bernie Williams RF: Gary Sheffield DH: Unimpressively Jason Giambi SP: Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina CL: Mariano [...]

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