It’s tough to find controversy when a team goes 4-2 in its first two series, defeating both of its toughest division rivals. It becomes even tougher when the team scores 36 runs in those six games and has won convincingly in the two latest contests. Still, there is one issue that seems to have some Yanks fans wondering. It’s a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless. It appears, at least for the time being, that Joe Girardi will platoon Brett Gardner and Marcus Thames.
When we heard about the possibility earlier this month I didn’t think much of it. Why, I wondered, would the Yankees sacrifice so much on defense just to get Thames’s bat into the lineup? Yet when they faced their first lefty of the season, Jon Lester on Tuesday evening, Thames’s name was on the lineup card. It appeared again on Friday night when David Price took the mound for the Rays. The decision came back to bite them that evening, as Thames couldn’t run down a Jason Bartlett liner to center, which allowed two more Rays to score in an abhorrent fourth inning.
So will the Yankees continue to employ this platoon?
For now, I imagine the team wants to see if they can get anything out of Thames. The only way to do that, so they think, is to play up Thames’s skills. Well, we can really make that singular, since Thames has one skill, power, and he flashes it most proficiently against left-handed pitching. If Thames, then, is going to be of any use to this team, he’s going to have to hit against lefties. Hence the early season trial. I suspect, however, that it won’t last too long.
I don’t love the math in Greg Fertel’s analysis. It uses MLE stats, which don’t necessarily correlate to major league numbers, and it uses defensive projections. While these are better methods than pulling numbers out of thin air, they also leave plenty of room for error. Those issues aside, I think Greg has a good overall point, and one that I tried to make in Friday’s recap. Thames would have to hit a ton off lefties in order to justify his playing time.
Gardner saves runs with his glove, many more than Thames. He will also produce a non-zero average against lefties. Thames will allow many more balls to drop, balls which Gardner would catch. At the plate he might produce better, but in order to determine his value we have to look at his production over Gardner’s, and then look at his production under Gardner’s in the field. Without running through projection numbers, I’m fairly certain that the runs Gardner saves will be worth more than the runs Thames creates, even if Thames actually starts hitting lefties.
Still, Thames figures to get a few more shots against lefties. It’s tough to just on just a few plate appearances, especially early in the year. I understand where the Yankees are coming from in wanting to see if Thames can provide value to the team. The ultimate answer, I believe, will involve Thames being reduced to a pinch-hitting role — and an eventual ouster from the team once they can find a more productive player for his roster spot.