Comparing the Yankees to their peers: Outfield

Taking stock of the farm system
On hit No. 3000 and owing taxes

As a unit they’re one of the elite infields in the league, but when we examined how the Yankees infield compared to their peers only Alex Rodriguez stood out. Today we’ll see if any of the outfielders jump out ahead of the competition. Again, we’re using the WAR offensive and defensive components, with Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average for some further defensive context.

LF, Brett Gardner

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Gardner has had a down, then up, and then down again season at the plate. He started off so slowly at the plate that he got dropped from the leadoff spot against righties. While hitting ninth he picked up the pace, leading us to clamor for his return to the top of the lineup. Once he did return there he started to slip a bit.

Offense: 4.1, 8th. This might actually be seventh, since Emilio Bonifacio is on the list and he’s not the Marlins’ starting left fielder. In any case, we knew this was Gardner’s deal. He produces value in many different ways, and his bat is just one aspect of the game. Hey, he’s still well ahead of Carlos Lee on this, so that’s something.

Defense: 15.2, 1st. Not only is Gardner first among left fielders, but he is first by more than a full win — and the second place guy, Carlos Lee, is not a +5-run defender. When discussing Gardner’s value I hear a lot of people say that he can’t be a true talent +25-run fielder, and that he’ll even out as he logs more innings in the field. But I think they’re missing an important point here. The state of left field defense is, to be kind, not good. Gardner is head and shoulders better than his peers. And, since the competition is generally poor, it’s no wonder that he stands out so far from the pack. If he were in center he’d be competing with other very good fielders. But in LF he’s clearly better than the rest. And that’s where much of his value lies: in saving runs that other left fielders do not. FRAA is a bit less generous, giving him 8.7 runs above average. I’m sure he still stands out from the pack, though.

WAR: 3.0, 3rd. Added up, Gardner matches up very well with his peers. Just two players are ahead of him: Ryan Braun, who hits the cover off the ball and has nearly double the batting runs of his next closest competitor, and Alex Gordon, who is that next closest competitor. Gardner is closer to second than fourth, too.

CF, Curtis Granderson

(Mark Humphrey/AP)

It’s tough to say anything original about Granderson’s season, because it’s all been said. Even then, we’ve all seen his accomplishments. His power stroke has really come around this year, and the power he’s displayed doesn’t appear to be a fluke. he has a sweet swing, and balance that affords him quicker reactions to off-speed pitches.

Offense: 25.2, 2nd. If you thought Granderson was having a crazy season, Matt Kemp is nearly a win better on offense alone. He stands out from the pack, but Granderson leads the second group of center fielders, which also includes Andrew McCutchen, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shane Victorino. Everyone else is at least 7 runs behind this pack. All things considered, Granderson is putting together his finest season as a big leaguer, which says a lot when you see his 2007 season.

Defense: 1.6, 8th. This is where Granderson slips a little. He’s not like Kemp, who is -7.6 runs. UZR has him as slightly above average, which seems about right. We might rate him as a bit better, because it does seem like he makes all the plays. But remember, he’s being compared to his peers, and the guys ahead of him are all superb fielders as well. FRAA actually has him at 3.2 runs below average.

WAR: 4.7, 3rd. He’s just 0.1 behind Ellsbury, and 0.4 behind McCutchen for the league lead. Again, the group listed above stands far above the pack. Kemp and Victorino both have 4.4 WAR, and the next closest is 3.2. So even if you think WAR paints a broad stroke — which it does — it’s clear that Granderson is an elite CFer.

RF, Nick Swisher

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Oh, the things that Swisher’s slow start made people say. They’re not going to pick up his option. He should ditch what he’s done his entire career and react to a long slump by batting righty all the time. Really, it got bad. But Swisher recovered well and then some. He ended the first half a bit banged up, but he was a big part of the team’s surge through Jeter’s stay on the DL.

Offense: 7.8, 15th. Yep, that early-season slump certainly hurts. Some of the names above Swisher are expected: Jose Bautista, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Justin Upton. etc. But there are some names that he should certainly be able to pass. For instance, I can see him passing Michael Cuddyer and Brennan Boesch by season’s end, due to them coming down and Swisher rising up. But, as it stands, he’s been behind the pack offensively.

Defense: 5.3, 4th. Now here’s something. Swisher has been quite average most of his days in the outfield, ranging towards the below average side. This year, though, he has been better, both in terms of UZR and the eye test. He has seemingly gotten better at running down fly balls, and it shows in his numbers. The guys ahead of him — Ben Zobrist, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jeff Francoeur — are all known to be quality defenders in one way or another. It’s nice to see Swisher make his way up there. FRAA has been kinder to him in the past, but still has him at 1 run above average this year.

WAR: 1.9, 14th. Without an absolutely standout UZR like Gardner’s, Swisher was bound to be defined by his offensive numbers. Again, they’re on the rise, and while they probably won’t match his previous numbers with the Yankees he still has an opportunity to climb the ranks here — especially if he continues playing quality defense. He is, after all, just 0.2 wins away from 11th place.

Overall the Yankees’ outfielders have produced 9.6 WAR, which ranks third in baseball behind the Cardinals and Rays. They’re 0.7 wins ahead of the fourth place team, the Pirates, and just 0.2 wins behind the Rays for second. The Cardinals are just insane, but an outfield of Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and the huge season that has been Lance Berkman is tough to stop. In terms of defense the Yanks are way ahead of the pack, at 21.9 runs above average, which helps explain their quality pitching performances. Chase down more balls, allow fewer hits. On offense they’re a bit further behind, but even with Gardner’s bat and Swisher’s slump the rank 5th in batting runs. This truly is an elite unit, perhaps the best Yankees outfield we’ve seen since the days of Bernie and O’Neill.

Taking stock of the farm system
On hit No. 3000 and owing taxes
  • YankeesJunkie

    The Yankees OF represents everything good about spending prospects and money wisely.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Pretty much. While we’d all love to still have IPK and AJax (and to a far, far lesser extent, Coke and Betemit) in the system, getting Granderson and Swisher’s solid-to-great OF defense and great-to-amazing offense is well worth the tradeoff.

  •!/Paddock9652 Stratman9652

    But they should of signed Crawford!!!111!!one!!!

    Brett Gardner is the fucking man. And juuuuust a bit cheaper.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    When discussing Gardner’s value I hear a lot of people say that he can’t be a true talent +25-run fielder, and that he’ll even out as he logs more innings in the field. But I think they’re missing an important point here. The state of left field defense is, to be kind, not good. Gardner is head and shoulders better than his peers.

    A very, very, very, very, very important point people often forget to consider.

    UZR does not compare a player to a theoretical baseline “good” or “average” defensive player, it compares a player to the average player at his position in that particular accumulation of data.

    I.E., all the caterwauling about Mark Teixeira being a good defensive first baseman but having a negative UZR misses the more subtle point that Tex can be a good defensive first baseman and still a below-average defensive first baseman simultaneously if the mean/median/mode defensive first baseman is “good”. If the worst first basemen in the game are merely mediocre (and not awful) and the best first basemen in the game are excellent (and not merely good), then the midpoint of the distribution will migrate to levels we would call “good” and good players can be on the right side of the midpoint.

    And, similarly, Gardner can be amazingly better than his peers while himself not being a generational talent at LF if the LF distribution curve is predominated by bad defenders at this particular moment in history.

    • pete

      all of that. Tex is amazing at first, but Youkilis, Barton, Gonzalez, and Lee are all amazing-er, in my opinion.

    • MikeD

      And then there’s that whole issue of defensive ratings and first base. We’re still not there yet. I open to the the idea that there are five or six better first basemen in the league. I’m also open to the idea that Tex is the best defensive 1B’man in the league.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    This truly is an elite unit, perhaps the best Yankees outfield we’ve seen since the days of Bernie and O’Neill.

    Somewhere, while clutching a Bible tightly, Chad Curtis sheds a single tear.

  • Mike c

    Nick swisher is 4th in RF fielding? That’s wild, not even ichiro was higher?

    • CS Yankee

      I was also looking for Hunter

  • El Maestro

    Is kinda hilarious that Gardner is 3rd in WAR when he is still considered by Girardi as a platoon player.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      It would be more hilarious if Girardi actually really did consider him a platoon player.

      He doesn’t, though.

      • Monteroisdinero

        Andruw is working on Girardi-shouldn’t take much longer-even for Joe. Roll an ankle dude!

        • bexarama

          Wishing for injuries on a useful player. Classy.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            It’s Monteroisdinero.

            • bexarama

              Still not okay, really.

              • Monteroisdinero

                Your not being okay, really- with my comment about Andruw Jones’s statement and lack of hustle is really okay with me.

          • Monteroisdinero

            Please you group attackers. I was referring to his not running out a gidp ball and using the excuse that he “rolled an ankle” when, in fact, he was playing LF the next 1/2 inning and played the rest of the game running fine. He dogs it and should be called out for it. He is hitting .195 with a 30%+ strikeout rate. He has given us very little and I don’t like washed up guys on 1 year contracts who don’t hustle.

            I’ll try to keep away from personal attacks which isn’t my style even though I take plenty of hits here. Enjoy yourselves.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    The Yankee outfield is a pleasure to watch. Their ranking of third is deserving and with a little more production in the weaker areas could nudge into second best outfield.

    The remarkable thought about the outfield is the trades for Swish and Curtis. Also the Yankee front office giving Gardner the time to improve and not hastily put him into a platoon role. Gardner will continue to improve both at the plate and stealing bases. His bunting has greatly improved from last year.

    I hope Cashman replaces Arod from within while he’s on the DL.

  • David, Jr.

    Gardner is a very important player, providing plenty of pluses. For some reason, people keep underrating him, like today’s “C” from George King. The “C” is lower than Nunez, Garcia and Nova.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Leftfielders are supposed to be sluggers. That’s the role of a leftfielder. Since Gardner doesn’t do that, he’s a bad leftfielder.


      • CS Yankee

        Our LFer is playing CF…

        not complaining as I think it doesn’t matter much but add those two positions together and they will likely have all the power of any other team. Swish has been bad but really has come through over the last 3-4 weeks.

        I was surprised that the Rays are overall #2. Cards (less Elvis range) I can see easily, but the Rays are really weak with the stick…did Zo’ get calculated as a RF or a 2B?

  • dkidd

    friends of mine who are red sox fans swear ellsbury is a below average center fielder

    /second-hand saw it with my own eyes’d

    • JobaWockeeZ

      It’s funny because this year he has a UZR/150 of 15.8 in CF. That would apply a couple years ago when nobody was saying it.

      • MikeD

        His defensive ratings have fluctated from year to year, and it is interesting that the Red Sox (who probably employ more advanced metrics-types that any team) and who have developed their own defensive rating system went out and signed Cameron with the goal of moving Ellsbury to LF in 2010. Crawford refused to move from LF, so back Ellsbury went to center.

        • CS Yankee

          I would of thought that Crawford would have made a solid CF…getting 140M$ contract and tell them where you’ll play seems out-of-line to me.

          I think Els was playing much too deep to overcome not a tracking the long ball well. He must have gotten that corrected.

          Granderson’s new swing >>>>> Elsbury’s new found range

          • JobaWockeeZ

            And yet Ellsbury is outWARing him by .1 points.

            • bexarama

              Not that it really matters but Granderson does have a slightly higher WAR/PA by a bit

          • bexarama

            I would of thought that Crawford would have made a solid CF…getting 140M$ contract and tell them where you’ll play seems out-of-line to me.

            Do we know if Crawford told the Red Sox “no, I won’t play CF” or if they just never asked him?

            • CS Yankee

              I don’t know, mine is a reply to MikeD.

              The point I was trying to make is that his talent & speed should play well there and a highly paid OF shouldn’t have issue where they need him.

              I’m guessing nothing like that went down…Terry had him batting in like 6 different spots and the media questioned it, but I don’t think CC did.