2010 Season Preview: Sacrificing offense for defense in left


Every so often we see an organization get stuck looking to fill one position for an extended period of time. The Red Sox have been searching for a shortstop ever since they traded away Nomar Garciaparra, and the Twins are still trying to find a solid third baseman to replace Corey Koskie. For a while the Yankees had their own positional problem, using a different Opening Day leftfielder every season from 1994 to 2003. That problem was solved when Hideki Matsui came aboard in ’03, and in recent years Johnny Damon had taken over the position, but with both of those stalwarts now playing elsewhere, the Yankees once again are left searching for a long-term leftfield solution.

Typically considered a power position, the Yanks have instead decided to focus on defense in left. The tremendous offensive production they receive from the four up-the-middle positions allows them to take a bit of a hit in one of the corner outfield spot. With the speedy Brett Gardner already in-house, the team opted to complement him with free agent signing Randy Winn, who managed to be close to a two win player in 2009 despite a .302 wOBA because of his superlative defense. Add in Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann, and it’s clear the Yankees made a conscious effort to improve their defense when replacing Damon in left.

Gardner played nothing but centerfield last year, saving 7.2 runs in 628.2 defensive innings. Winn, on the other hand, saved 16.6 runs in just under 1,200 defensive innings for the Giants. Unlike Gardner, he shifted around and spent time at all three outfield spots. Looking at three-year UZR, we’re talking about 55.2 runs saved in just over 4,700 defensive innings combined between these two, so clearly the defensive ability is there. Jeff Zimmerman’s age-adjusted UZR projections peg Winn as a +2.0 UZR defender in left next year, and Brett Gardner as perfectly average at the position. Both players project to be better defenders at different positions (Winn in right, Gardner in center), but the Yankees aren’t about to shift Curtis Granderson and/or Nick Swisher around for marginal improvements with the glove. These projections seem a little light, but let’s roll with them.

Aside from defense, the other aspect of the game where these guys excel is on the bases. Gardner stole 26 bases last year (83.9% success rate), and according to EqBRR he was worth 4.9 runs in all baserunning situations, 11th best in baseball despite being a part-time player. Believe it or not, Winn is just as much of a threat on the basepaths, having stolen 16 bases with an 88.9% success rate in 2009, and his 4.8 EqBRR was a tenth of a run behind Gardner for the 12th best in the game. No matter which player the Yankees have patrolling leftfield next season, they’re guaranteed of getting solid (or better) defense with top of the line baserunning.

Offensively, we have a different story. Let’s review some projections, starting with Gardner…

After posting a .270-.345-.379 batting line with a slightly above average .337 wOBA in 2009, the five freely available projection systems see Gardner basically repeating that performance. It’s slightly above league average overall but generally below average for a corner outfielder. Combine the offense with the +0.0 UZR projection and say another +5.0 runs on the bases, and Gardner’s looking at a 1.4 WAR season. The shift from center to left decreases Gardner’s value more than anything. It wouldn’t take much to get him over the two win plateau, just a slightly better than league average UZR and another 50 or so plate appearances of similar production.

Now for the grizzled vet…

Winn’s offense doesn’t project to be as good as Gardner’s because of a 20 point difference in on-base percentage, but the good news is that they see an improvement over his .262-.318-.353 (.302 wOBA) performance from last year. Granted, the .316 wOBA projection is nothing to brag about, and when combined with a +2.0 UZR and say +5.0 runs on the bases, you get a one win player. Nothing to get excited over, but not a bad return on a minimal investment ($1.1M) at all.

Of course, figuring out the actual production the Yanks will get out of leftfield is slightly more complicated because Gardner and Winn will presumably split playing time. If Gardner gets say, two-thirds of the playing time, Joe Girardi‘s club is probably looking at two wins total for the position, which for all intents and purposes is league average. That doesn’t account for Marcus Thames and/or Jamie Hoffmann, both of whom are trying to state their case for a job this spring. Since both players are projected to perform at replacement level next year, we really don’t have to worry about them. Anything the Yanks get from either is gravy.

For the most part, whoever the Yankees send out to leftfield on a given day will be their weakest player on the field. However, given their strength up-the-middle and two .400 wOBA corner infielders, they can afford to add another to dimension to the team in the form of strong defense and elite baserunning. I don’t expect them to have nine different Opening Day leftfielders in the next nine years like they did a decade ago, but what the Yankees have right now isn’t anything more than a stopgap.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Categories : Players


  1. Steve H says:

    The Phillies would be able to overcome this problem due to the greatest infield of all time, but the Yankees infield and their .900 OPS might not be able to carry one below average hitter in the lineup.

    In all seriousness, when 8 of 9 offensive positions project to be well above average, there is no reason to think that LF will cost the Yankees much this year, considering the expected well above average defense. I also think while none of Girardi’s options are All-Stars the fact that all 3 of them are plus defenders, Girardi will be able to (attempt) to play matchups and ride the hot bat if necessary. If LF is the biggest problem for the Yankees, the rest of baseball is in for a world of hurt.

  2. jack says:

    fantastic article mike……such a pleasure to read sensible articles in relation to the yankees……..speaking of left field who would you rather see get the majority of playing time….gardner or winn? i think it’s gardner easily for a number of reasons but who knows.

    • Steve H says:

      Personally I prefer Gardner, as he’s the player here for the long term, and is cheap. If Gardner outperforms Winn, he gets more PT, and if he performs well enough to be considered a full time starter, we have an inexpensive starting LF for the next few years.

      • A.D. says:

        Agreed, nothing against Winn, but its to the greatest benefit to the Yanks if Gardner can perform at a decent clip.

      • Not disagreeing but just a different way to look at it… If Gardner hits well enough to be considered a full-time starter, you might instead have an inexpensive centerfielder for the next few years, with Granderson shifting over to LF. (Obviously this is for naught if Gardner’s SSS fielding metrics don’t prove to be accurate and Granderson is actually the better defensive centerfielder.)

        At the very least, Gardner’s success will give the Yankees some added flexibility if they seek to add players in the FA/trade market. I don’t think there’s any valid reason to not prefer to see Gardner earn the playing time in LF this season.

        • Steve H says:

          Good point as far as LF/CF goes, and I think you’re spot on. If two things were known, that #1 Brett is truly as good in CF as his SSS UZR has shown, and #2 Brett can hit at the major league level, he would already be the starting CF with Granderson shifting over.

    • fantastic article mike……such a pleasure to read sensible articles in relation to the yankees……..speaking of left field who would you rather see get the majority of playing time….gardner or winn? i think it’s gardner easily for a number of reasons but who knows.;sr=8-1

    • Mike HC says:

      It will be whoever performs better. Will Winn hold off age and will Gardner continue to improve? Who knows.

      I am personally rooting for Gardner. His defense seems for real to me. He is so ridiculous fast and his baserunning is also obviously for real. If he can hit, it will be a great dimension to have in the lineup. As Mike pointed out, Winn does similar things, but he is much older and has less of a possible future with the team.

  3. A.D. says:

    Not shabby when the big question mark in the lineup is having a couple of decent players battling it out for the 9 spot.

    • jack says:

      my hope is that garnder plays well enough this yr to claim the job sothe yanks dont spend money on crawford and use that money for cliff lee

  4. Tbord says:

    Losing Matsui and Damon is a big hit. The silent killer is the loss of Melky Cabrera. He was young, good defensively, and cheap. I doubt whether Hoffmann or Winn will be around by the end of the season.

  5. mryankee says:

    Edited by RAB: Completely and utterly off-topic.

  6. Tbord says:

    He’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Damon.

  7. mryankee says:

    Ok to the editors what happened to the game threads? I would ask in the open thread but I did not see one for today.

  8. Rose says:

    The Red Sox have been doing this a lot since their 2003 team. Their 2003 team was absolutely ridiculous…head and shoulders better than their 2004 team, offensively anyway. All but 3 players had 20+ home runs…and only ONE player had under 85 RBI and that was their lead-off hitter Johnny Damon with 67.

    Since then they’ve weeded out the one-dimensional offensive machines and opted for less offense but more defense and pitching.

    Little do they know…so did the Yankees though. : )

    • Not disagreeing, but another way to look at the change in the composition of the Red Sox roster… Guys like Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller and Todd Walker (obviously I don’t mean those guys in particular, but players of that ilk) aren’t putting up big HR seasons (by their standards) anymore, for some reason. The game and the players have changed… The Sox certainly have changed their philosophy a bit, as have the Yankees and probably every team in baseball, I’m not saying they haven’t… But I think it was probably due, at least somewhat and possibly substantially, to reacting to external changes outside their control, as opposed to purposefully weeding them out due to a philosophical change.

      • Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

        summation: steroids witch hunts happened. dingers by journeyman 3b, 2b, and lf dropped. system must shift to keep up

      • Rose says:

        That’s a very good point.

        People were also saying how the Sox had pitching and defense in their minds the whole time and not much else this offseason. Which isn’t entirely true because they were looking at Jason Bay and signed Marco Scutaro who isn’t that great…especially when there were others who were better defensively out there. So their plans changed even in a smaller sample size this off season due to things beyond their control again (players they wanted signing elsewhere).

      • Guys like Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller and Todd Walker (obviously I don’t mean those guys in particular, but players of that ilk) aren’t putting up big HR seasons (by their standards) anymore, for some reason. The game and the players have changed…

        That’s an interesting observation. I have literally no idea what at all could cause something like the phenomenon you describe there (generally marginal offensive players on the Boston Red Sox suddenly hitting more homers and increasing their offensive value and then just as suddenly reverting back to their previous levels of mediocrity), but it seems like something that someone should investigate.

        Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-MA)

        • YankeesJunkie says:

          Change in mechanics obviously. It worked for Papi and it worked for these guys. However, this change just wrecks players after a couple years. Now, that is the big mysterey.

        • CS Yankee says:

          Hey Mitchell would of investigated the Red Sox too, but ran out budget (paper, time, etc) to do so.


  9. Riddering says:

    Considering the production the Yankees are projected to get from their starters at every other position, I applaud the cost-cutting defensive-improving GardWinn solution. Actually, I’m excited to see what a non-adventurous left field will look like this season.

  10. paul says:

    cashmans plan is all about setting up for next year free agents: carl crawford and cliff lee…

  11. king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

    could we see something along the lines of:



    Then somewhere around the 7th-8th inning, especially in the next half after Jorgie or Nick batted:



    I’d love to see Jorgie get more rest, improved outfield defense especially if we don’t lose any offensive punch.

    Thoughts or variations?

  12. Andrew Brotherton says:

    I think Cashman is setting up for a race towards Carl Crawford this offseason. I think Cliff Lee would be the pitching target as well. Maybe Brandon Webb if we can’t get Lee. I would avoid Jayson Werth like the plague.

  13. themgmt says:

    How does a 0.0 UZR projection in LF make sense for Gardner/why use it in the analysis?. That projection is from a lack of a sample. You’d be better off taking his CF projection and doing a positional adjustment. Zimmerman would probably tell you the same himself.

  14. Tim says:

    I think trying to make any kind of rational guess at performance based on these silly projections is a losing proposition, especially for guys like Gardner and Winn. Really, would anyone be surprised if Gardner hit .270 and stole 65 bases? Would anyone be surprised if he hit .200 and was in Scranton by July? And Winn mashed lefties his entire career before last season. What does that mean? Probably nothing. As far as I am concerned, you can keep these projections. I’ll just worry about what actually happens on the field.

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