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
  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

    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.

    • Evil Empire

      Most feared hitter of the mid 1990′s – early 2000s, should be a HOFer just like Rice!

      • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

        Hehe, that’s for sure.

        • Evil Empire

          And Bernie actually knew how to, y’know, get on base

          • Bo

            Bernie also has 4 rings.

            • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

              Meh. Even w/o 4 rings, Bernie >> Rice.

            • Evil Empire

              And a countless number of soiled undergarments from the pitchers who cowered in his presence which he collected after ballgames, much like how some warriors cut off the ears of their fallen foes.

  • http://thebronxbloggers.wordpress.com Bronx Blogger

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

  • Accent Shallow

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

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      I know. I was surprised at that myself. I have zero recollection of Matsui’s playing that much center.

      • Accent Shallow

        Ok — 46 in 2003, 3 in 2004, 28 in 2005, and none since.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      I remember he played CF in the All-Star game.

  • Evil Empire

    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

  • Rob

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

    But yeah, Bernie was fantastic.

  • Bo

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

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      What would you rather have me do? Pat Melky on the head and tell him “good try.” The numbers don’t lie. To start the decade, the Yanks had the best center fielder in the game at the time. To end the decade, that had some average to below-average players filling the 9th spot in a very good lineup. That’s just the cold, hard truth. I’m sorry Melky wasn’t better than he was on the Yanks. I would have loved to see him become the next Bernie, but that’s just not in the cards.

    • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Posting Melky’s stats = trashing Melky?

      Point out one instance in this post where Ben trashes Melky. Quote him. The post is right there on the page for everyone to see, it shouldn’t be hard for you to find where he trashed Melky and point it out for us.

      • AndrewYF

        Ben should have put little hearts and rainbows around Melky’s putrid statistics.

        • jsbrendog

          this would have made my day

      • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        http://instantcrickets.com/

        Bo? Still waiting…

        • jsbrendog

          and so you shall for all eternity.

          unless he does reply to you to another comment further down the page

        • scooter

          “My health. I came to RAB for the waters”
          “The waters? What waters? We’re in a desert”
          “I was misinformed”

          /Rick Blaine’d

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

      Seriously, why do you come to this site?

  • AndrewYF

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

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

      -30.5 UZR/150 in 77 G.

  • jsbrendog

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

    coincidence?!?!

    i think so!!

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

      Haha, TCWA.

      • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Agreed, golf clap to jsb.

      • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21

        What is TCWA?

        • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

          This Comment Was Awesome.

          • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21

            Nice. Thank you.

  • Chris

    Ugh Mondesi….What trash he was.

    • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      No need for personal insults. Commenting Guidelines!

      • jsbrendog

        well at least he said you were trash.

        so you’re moving on up!

        • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          You’re always looking on the bright side.

        • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

          so you’re moving on up!

          To the East Side? Did he finally get a piece of the pie?

          • jsbrendog

            deluxe apartment in the sky

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Party Switcher!

        • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          I prefer to call myself a pragmatist.

  • Crazy Eyes Killa

    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.

    • Steve H

      I’m a big Grandy fan, but if he hits 80% of Bernie’s stats I will be completely thrilled. Bernie is a borderline HOF, let’s not forget that.

      • Crazy Eyes Killa

        I meant offense and defense

    • Slugger27

      someone with this exact screen name killed me over and over on modern warfare 2 a few days ago

      hmmmm…..

      • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Matt Imbrogno

        The other night, I’m at 1200 points in a free-for-all, winning by a decent margin, and the fucking server craps out. I was pissed.

        • Slugger27

          i have ps3 and that happens far too often… like, every 7 or 8 matches id say

          • jsbrendog

            yeah thats what heppens when it is free.

            • Eddy

              I miss bernie, I can still remember in the late 90′s watching him at a kid.

              but anyone with xbox360 add me for Cod MW 2, name: Businessfeveranyone w

              • Eddy

                BusinessFeverv

  • Rob in CT

    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

      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

        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.

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