Platooning the defense

Pitching injuries will test Yankees' depth
A-Rod leads middle of the order turnaround
Cover your eyes. (J. Meric/Getty)

Brett Gardner‘s injury has hurt the Yankees in more ways than one. They miss his productive bat and ability to make pitchers work at the bottom of the lineup, they miss his speed on base paths, and most of all they miss his all-world defense. I give Raul Ibanez an A+ for his effort out there, but the man is a butcher and doesn’t belong anywhere near a glove. Andruw Jones can hold his own in the outfield but is no longer the defender he was during his Atlanta days, and Dewayne Wise is a very good glove man but can’t hit a lick.

With Gardner out anywhere from another two weeks to a full month with a strain muscle in his right (non-throwing) elbow, the Yankees are stuck with sub-optimal left field options for the time being. Ibanez has started each of the last four games and six of the last nine games in left mostly because the DH spot has been rotated around. Even with Eduardo Nunez in Triple-A, the duo of Jayson Nix and Eric Chavez give Joe Girardi a chance to rest Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter somewhat regularly early in the season. Better to rest them now than risk burning them out later, I suppose.

Anyway, the Yankees are stuck with an undesirable left field situation until Gardner comes back. The personnel on the roster is unlikely to change barring injury, but the team can still maximize what they get out of these guys by optimizing their usage. Let’s take a quick look at some batted ball data (2010-present)…

Ivan Nova 30.2% 18.3% 51.6%
CC Sabathia 32.0% 19.2% 48.8%
Hiroki Kuroda 33.0% 19.8% 47.2%
Andy Pettitte 37.0% 18.3% 44.8%
Phil Hughes 47.3% 18.3% 34.4%

You folks are smart, so you probably already know what I’m getting at here: the Yankees should employ their top defensive outfield unit whenever the fly ball pitchers are on the mound. That means Wise on the field and Ibanez at DH whenever Hughes and Pettitte start. We could also add Nova to that mix if his ground ball rate (44.6% this year) doesn’t return to previous levels (52.7% last year). Kuroda’s ground ball rate (48.6% this year), matches his career average after dropping to 43.2% last year. Perhaps reuniting with former battery-mate Russell Martin helped, or maybe it’s just an early-season fluke.

With Wise in the outfield two (potentially three) out of every five days, Girardi will be able to hide Ibanez’s defense a bit while still being able to rotate that DH spot. It’s not ideal; in a perfect world Ibanez never plays the field, but it’s going to happen until Gardner is healthy, so the Yankees should stick him out there when their top ground-ballers are on the bump to minimize the damage. It also goes without saying that Wise should replace Ibanez in the field in the late innings of close games.

Nunez is in Triple-A now, but the Yankees can also employ a similar defensive platoon on the infield. Nix is not exactly a stellar glove man, but he can spell Jeter at shortstop whenever one of the fly ball guys is on the hill with the thinking that he’ll have fewer tough plays to make. Sure enough, Nix’s only start at short so far this year came with Hughes on the mound this past Saturday. Perhaps the defensive platoon is already in place, at least on the infield. The difference may only be two or three plays a game, but every little bit counts.

Pitching injuries will test Yankees' depth
A-Rod leads middle of the order turnaround
  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    Obligatory Golson comment.

    • mike_h

      Carl Crawford hasnt been the same since he got thrown out by Golson at 3B in Tampa…..jus sayin

  • Ted Nelson

    I can see Wise occasionally for Hughes (or maybe Nova) where you have a really pronounced difference. 4%, though, is maybe one or two fly balls per 9 IP total… of which only so many end up in LF.

    How about Jones? You get better defense than Ibanez while still getting some offense. He hasn’t faced a ton of RHP (and maybe the sample is tilted away from RH studs), but Jones still seems to hit RHP better than Wise.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Some of the platoon details will no doubt be based on the opposing pitcher’s handedness (for better or worse), so I’m sure we’ll se Jones out there. He’s a better option than Ibanez, so we can only hope that the Yankees face a lot of left handed pitchers in the near future.

      It really is a shame that Girardi doesn’t seem to embrace “out-of-the-box” thinking in situations like this (even for a short time). It would be interesting to see how some of the ideas thrown out around here (many based on actual facts and statistical evidence) would play out. Then again, it is his job and paycheck, so I guess he’d have to be convinced.

      • Ted Nelson

        I’m not so sure what he’d do out of the box, though… at some point you’re just experimenting for the fun of it without actually expecting to make the team better.

        Mike’s point reads to me as “play Wise 40%+ of the time and Ibanez 60% of the time minus late innings.” I think playing Jones and Ibanez probably makes more sense. I don’t think Wise’s defensive value makes up for the offensive fall-off.

  • Cuso

    Problem with this theorem is that the pitchers with the high FB% are also the pitchers on the staff that would most benefit from the additional run support. In other words, putting Nix or Wise out there during a Hughes start isn’t really doing Phil any favors either in the Yankees scoring runs for him department.

    I’m guessing he’d also place more value on Ibanez’ bat than DeWayne’s glove in any one of his starts…..but like I said, that’s a “guess” by me.

  • AJavierkei Pavagawnett

    The Yankees are missing Gardner’s bat?

    • LiterallyFigurative

      And his speed on the bases.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Ibanez isn’t good in LF, but can we stop crying about it every chance we get? How many games has he really cost the team?

    Considering we not so long ago had Abreu, Matsui, Sheffield, Damon, etc. in corner outfield spots for WHOLE SEASONS, I can live with Ibanez playing for a month or so, especially if he continues to drive in runs and give good at-bats. Is it an optimal situation? No. But when is it ever optimal?

    You’d be the same ones yelling about Dewayne Wise not hitting when he plays everyday, or how horrible Andruw Jones looks versus RHP.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    Ibanez in LF is asking for trouble especially at home since left field is so vast in YS3. With the short porch, you can get away with a weak right fielder similar to LF in Fenway.

    If Girardi is going to play Ibanez in the outfield at home, I wonder if he’d consider playing Swisher in LF and Ibanez in RF.

  • ThatstheMelkyMesaWaysa