What’s left to prove after Miguel Andujar finished second in Rookie of the Year voting last year? Avoiding a sophomore slump, sure, but for Andujar, it’s much more than just repeating his impressive offensive performance from last season. After a winter of the fanbase clamoring for Manny Machado in pinstripes and constant questions about Andujar’s defense, the heat is on.
Signing Machado made (and still makes) sense for the Yankees. He could have taken over at third base while Andujar moved elsewhere. Instead, the Yankees have decided to go with Andujar at the hot corner once more. Even if this is a matter of Hal Steinbrenner simply not wanting to open the checkbook, it’s still a vote of confidence for Miggy from the front office. Perhaps the main reason he’s getting another shot is his unparalleled work ethic. Still, hard work won’t make the scrutiny go away. Especially not after the team essentially admitted their concerns about his defense by sitting him in Game Four of the ALDS. Everything he does in the field is going to be under the microscope and he may feel some pressure to prove the Yankees right for passing on Machado.
Can Andujar will his way to improve defensively?
Say what you want about Andujar’s fielding, but there’s no question that he’s trying to get better. It’s not difficult to find an article that quotes someone with or close to the team who lauds his effort. That’s fine and dandy, and I’d rather have that than someone who doesn’t care, but the odds are still against Andujar. I have a piece in the works for Baseball Prospectus that looks at some of the worst defensive fielding seasons for third baseman and how those players did in following years. Spoiler: the vast, vast majority do not get better. Chances are Andujar won’t be the exception, no matter how great his work ethic is.
It’s not as if Andujar doesn’t have the physical tools to play the position. He’s in good shape and seemingly athletic enough. His arm is top notch as well. However, his range has held him back. I wrote about the work he’s put in to improve his first step and a somewhat silly idea for him to add range. He’s got a long way to go whatever the solution may be, if there even is one. Below are his ranks out of 132 third base seasons since Inside Edge data is available, which grades the probability of making certain plays. This is a pretty good proxy for range and first reaction. It’s not pretty:
|Inside Edge Fielding||10 – 40%||40 – 60%||60 – 90%||90 – 100%|
(out of 132 player seasons)
A problem for people like you and me is that we won’t be able to know if Andujar is rangier until the end of the season, when we have enough data. We’ll basically have to take the Yankees word for it if he truly has improved. There’s no real way for us to notice a difference on television.
This is where not signing Machado becomes a huge risk. If Andujar doesn’t improve, the team lost out on getting one of the best defensive third basemen. It’s not like Andujar’s bat couldn’t play elsewhere, albeit it being more valuable at third. Maybe the Yanks get another swing in free agency with Nolan Arenado, but the recent actions of the Steinbrenners aren’t inspiring. The Yankees are basically going all-in with a bad hand.
Will the walks come and is his power for real?
Batted balls need to avoid fielders’ gloves for Andujar to be successful as a hitter because he walks so rarely. Last season, he reached on balls only 4.1 percent of the time. That’s totally fine if he can repeat his .316 BABIP and .527 SLG. However, if he runs into some bad luck with at ‘em balls, suddenly his value craters.
Andujar’s expected batting average was in the 83rd percentile of all hitters last season, which is a good indication that he didn’t have a ton of BABIP luck. It’s why he was able to maintain a respectable on-base percentage (.328) despite a lack of walks. He’ll need that to continue in 2019.
What’s a tad alarming were his exit velocity and hard hit percentage. They were close to middle of the pack last season. I don’t think anyone expected Andujar to hit 47 doubles, 27 homers, and record a .527 slugging percentage, but the underlying data is still surprising. It seemed like he crushed liners left and right based on the eye test. I guess not.
Chances are that Andujar will not repeat his power output from last season. And that’s not a bad thing! It was a pretty awesome season. Nonetheless, drawing a few more walks could help mitigate that, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be a high on-base guy. His likely offensive output is probably a bit more volatile given his reliance on batted ball luck, but he should still be a plus at the dish. After all, it’s not like he came completely out of nowhere. He did this (though with less power) in the minors.
The nice thing about hitting in this lineup is that Andujar has some wiggle room for error. He hit sixth, seventh, or eighth most of the time last season, and I’d expect that to continue in 2019. The offense won’t fall apart if Andujar is unable to repeat last year.
PECOTA: 558 PA, .271/.319/.461 (105 DRC+), 22 HR, -7.1 FRAA, 0.9 WARP
Steamer: 571 PA, .279/.321/.481 (115 wRC+), 24 HR, -9.5 Def, 2.0 WAR
There’s good news and bad news here. The plus is that both projection systems think that Andujar’s defense will improve. They still think he’ll be bad, but not horrific like he was last year (-15.2 FRAA, -15.5 Def). The bad news is that both forecast his power to shrink a fair amount. The home runs are expected to dip slightly, but both don’t think he’ll be a doubles machine again. He’s still an above average hitter by both measures, but not necessarily a superb one.
Projections aren’t gospel so there’s no need to be up in arms if you think they’re low on Andujar. They’re a good reference point for what we should reasonably expect out of him this season. Keep in mind that there’s only one year of major league data to go off of for Miggy. If he proves that he’s an outlier when it comes to hitting for extra bases, he’ll beat the projections.
It’s pretty easy to nitpick Andujar’s game. I know I just pointed out a handful of his flaws, but there are guys who turn out to be exceptions to the rule. Not saying Andujar will be one of them, but maybe he does make significant strides defensively, maybe his aggressive approach is fine, or maybe his power isn’t something he lucked into last season. Those are quite a few ifs, but the talent is there.
I can’t help but think I should be writing this preview as a designated hitter and/or first baseman. If he’s a 128 wRC+ hitter like he was last season, the bat plays at either of those spots. I would get giving Andujar another opportunity to improve defensively at third, but with Machado available, it seems irresponsible not to take advantage of the opportunity. I really hope that Andujar proves me wrong, but I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees will regret this decision pretty quickly in 2019.