Archive for Brett Gardner
Yesterday afternoon, we looked at the mess that was the Yankees’ infield defense this past season. It wasn’t a mess all year, just most of the year. Things got substantially better once Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, and Martin Prado were acquired at the trade deadline. By then it was too late though. The damage had already been done the first four months of the season.
The outfield defense is another matter. The Yankees built a strong defensive outfield by pairing Jacoby Ellsbury with Brett Gardner, two of the best outfield glovemen in baseball. The generally immobile Carlos Beltran was slated for right field but the plan was to replace him with the still solid Ichiro Suzuki in the late innings, so the damage would be minimized. Ellsbury and Gardner were going to be the stars of the outfield show.
Because of injuries and ineffectiveness and all that, the Yankees had three players (Beltran, Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano) start at least 20 games in right field in 2014. Gardner was the only player to start 20+ games in left field (Chris Young started 16) and Gardner and Ellsbury were the only players to start 20+ games in center — Gardner started exactly 20 and Ellsbury started 138. Gardner and Ellsbury started in the outfield together in 120 of the team’s 162 games.
Overall, the Yankees’ outfield ranked 20th in baseball at -11 DRS and 18th with -7.1 UZR, which doesn’t pass the sniff test. Ellsbury was hit with -5 DRS and +0.5 UZR this year — one-year sample, yadda yadda yadda — continuing a recent trend of Yankees’ center fielders grading out poorly while playing alongside Gardner. It happened with Curtis Granderson a few years ago as well. I don’t buy Ellsbury being an average defender (per UZR) and certainly not a below-average one (per DRS). He was excellent. Right? I’m not the crazy one. DRS and UZR are.
For the hell of it, here are Gardner’s (left field only) and Ellsbury’s defensive spray charts from this past season:
One of these days commoners like me will be able to put together defensive heat maps that compare players — or entire outfield units — to the league average defensively. Something like this. Alas.
Anyway, those big blobs of green and spots of red doesn’t really tell us much. They look kinda cool if you know what you’re looking at, but that’s about it. Here are some more straight forward numbers on balls hit to the outfield. This table includes routine pop-ups, scalded line drive, and regular ol’ fly balls. If it made it to the outfield in the air, it’s included here.
|Total Plays||NYY BABIP||MLB BABIP||MLB Rank|
More balls fall in for hits in right and left field than center because those are the pull fields — hitters tend to hit for the most authority when they pull the ball, not when they go back up the middle. More batters are right-handed — there were 1.27 plate appearances by a righty for every one plate appearance by a lefty in 2014, including switch hitters — and that’s why hitters around the league had a higher BABIP to left field than right. Make sense? Good.
Ellsbury ran down almost everything so it makes sense the Yankees had the second lowest BABIP on balls hit to center in baseball this year. Only the Desmond Jennings-led Rays were better (.3159). Beltran and Soriano and almost everyone else they ran out there in right field stunk defensively this summer, so it’s no surprise the team had the third highest BABIP on balls hit to right. Left field is where it gets a little weird, because the Yankees are only middle of the pack there in terms of BABIP even though Gardner manned the position.
We’re used to Gardner being a top notch defender. One of the best in baseball. The numbers have said so for years and our eyes agreed. That wasn’t so much the case this year though. Gardner was good, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t as good as he has been the last few years. There were a few more balls hit over his head in particular, and the spray chart above reflects that. Maybe it was just an adjustment period as Gardner moved back to left field after playing center last year. Maybe he’s just slipping in the field. Maybe he’s mad at the team for signing Ellsbury and displacing him. Who knows? Whatever it was, Gardner’s glove wasn’t as good as we’re used to seeing.
There’s more to being an outfielder than simply catching fly balls, of course. Not every ball will be caught, and that’s when the throwing arm comes into play. This postseason has exposed all baseball fans to Alex Gordon, who shuts the running game down even when he doesn’t make a throw. Opponents know his arm is strong and accurate, so they don’t even bother testing him. Throwing runners out is both sexy and just one piece of the outfielder arm puzzle. Here’s how the team’s outfielders did at holding and throwing out runners:
|Opp.||Hold Rate||Throw-Out Rate||MLB Hold Rate||MLB Throw-Out Rate|
|All NYY LF||204||64.7%||1.5%||63.5%||2.2%|
|All NYY CF||203||45.8%||0.5%||43.5%||1.9%|
|All NYY RF||176||42.0%||2.3%||46.0%||2.4%|
Gardner was more or less league average at holding and throwing out runners this year. Left field isn’t a big throwing position anyway. The only real throws are to home plate, not the other bases. Ichiro has a strong arm in right but he takes for-frickin-ever to get rid of the ball, limiting its effectiveness. He was still roughly a league average-ish thrower while the team’s other right fielders were below-average. Blame Beltran and Soriano, mostly.
Ellsbury, on the other hand, was actually a bit above-average at preventing runners from taking the extra base but he rarely threw anyone out. In fact, he threw out exactly one runner trying to advance on a base hit this season. Just one. Here’s the play, which happened in early-September:
Ellsbury threw out two other runners on bases this year — he doubled Nelson Cruz off first when Cruz forgot how many outs there were, and he threw Dustin Pedroia out trying to stretch a single into a double. Saying Ellsbury’s arm is not strong would be an understatement. It’s one of the weakest outfield arms in baseball. He compensates for it by getting to the ball quickly and with a quick release, sorta like Hideki Matsui back in the day. Throwing is clearly Ellsbury’s biggest weakness as a player. That’s life.
The Yankees received three different levels of defense in the three outfield spots this year. They got good defense in left field, the bigger of the two corners in Yankee Stadium. They received excellent defense in center, and right field was pretty terrible despite the cozy dimensions in the Bronx. Throwing was an issue in all three spots though it was hardly a disaster. The outfield was clearly the strength of the team’s defense this year, and fly ball pitchers like Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Chris Capuano, and Vidal Nuno benefited the most.
Brett Gardner has been named the Yankees’ finalist for the AL Hank Aaron Award, the team announced. The award is given annually to the top offensive player in each league, so Gardner doesn’t really have much of a chance of winning, but every team needs a nominee. There is a fan voting component, so cast your vote right here. The last Yankee to win the AL Hank Aaron Award was Derek Jeter in 2009.
The Yankees wasted no time jumping into the offseason this year. Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference on Monday afternoon, the day after the team closed out its regular season. Usually they wait two or three days. Not this year though.
There was no major news announced during Monday’s televised press conference — no coaching staff changes or surprise injuries, etc. — though Girardi did talk at length about all sorts of stuff. Especially Alex Rodriguez. People love talking about A-Rod. Here’s a recap of Girardi’s state of the team address.
- “We’ve gotta see where he’s at. That’s the thing we have to do,” said the skipper when asked what he expects from Alex next year. “We have to see where he’s physically at. If he can play the field, how many days will he DH, play the field … I don’t think any of us know about him until we get him in games in Spring Training.”
- “I thought our guys handled it pretty well (when A-Rod returned in 2013),” added Girardi while acknowledging the first few days of Spring Training will be hectic. “Will there be a number of new guys in there? I’m sure … We’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s not a distraction, but until we get into it we don’t really know. My personal opinion is it won’t be.”
- “I have a good relationship with Alex. Our team enjoys Alex (in the clubhouse),” said Girardi. “I don’t think that will be an issue. Will he have to deal with some angry fans? Yeah, but we’ll help him get through that.” (Girardi also joked that fans have been hating on A-Rod for years and he’s used to it by now.)
- Girardi said the Yankees “absolutely” expect Rodriguez to be on the team next year. “He hasn’t played in a year. That’s not easy to do, to sit out a year … Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely.”
- Girardi also confirmed they have not discussed having A-Rod work out at first base. “We expect him to be our third baseman,” he said. They’ve stayed in touch via text message over the summer.
The regular season ends six days from now, which means the voting for the various league awards will soon end as well. The voting ends after the regular season but before the postseason — what happens in October has no bearing on anything. These are regular season awards, as it should be.
The Yankees are an extreme long shot to make the postseason and teams that don’t make the playoffs tend not to have major awards winners. That’s not always the case — Alex Rodriguez was the 2003 AL MVP on the last place Rangers, for example — just most of the time. Don’t get mad at me. That’s the way the voters vote. The Yankees do still have some candidates for each of the major awards this season, however. Let’s run them down.
Most Valuable Player
There is an excellent chance the Yankees will not have a player finish in the top ten of the AL MVP voting this year for the first time since 1996, when Mariano Rivera finished in 12th place. The lack of a truly elite player, a Robinson Cano or prime-age A-Rod or Derek Jeter, combined with their second straight postseason-less year all but eliminates anyone on the team from serious MVP consideration. The BBWAA has shown time and time again they prefer to vote for players on contending teams.
Now, that said, the MVP ballot is ten players deep and those last two or three slots are like the Twilight Zone. A lot of weird stuff happens there. Raul Ibanez received a tenth place MVP vote in 2012, remember. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been the team’s two best players all year and I’m guessing they’ll combine for at least one down-ballot vote this year. Same with Dellin Betances and maybe David Robertson. The Yankees don’t have any serious MVP candidates this season but I feel comfortable saying someone on the roster will appear on a ballot.
Had he not gotten hurt, Masahiro Tanaka would have been an excellent Cy Young candidate alongside Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber (and Chris Sale). The injury takes him right out of the running for the award, unfortunately. The Cy Young ballot is one five players deep and it would surprise me if Tanaka even managed to sneak on and grab one fifth place vote at this point. He simply missed too much time and there are too many good pitchers in the AL. Maybe Betances will grab a fifth place vote like Robertson did in 2011. Maybe. He is the club’s only real shot at being included in the Cy Young conversation this season.
Rookie of the Year
Believe it or not, the Yankees have never had two players receive Rookie of the Year votes in the same season. That is all but certain to change this year thanks to Tanaka and Betances. There are a lot of good rookies in the AL this year but Jose Abreu has lapped the field — I think he should win unanimously, this is a no-brainer in my opinion — so neither Tanaka nor Betances will win. I do think both are safe bets to garner multiple second and third place votes though. (The ballot is only three players deep.)
Shane Greene has had a nice year but I would be very surprised if he received any votes. There are too many other good rookies in the league (Collin McHugh, Matt Shoemaker, George Springer, Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, etc.) for him to get serious consideration. That doesn’t take away from what he’s done this year. This just isn’t a good year to be a good but not great rookie in the so-called Junior Circuit.
Manager of the Year
The Manager of the Year award has morphed into the “manager whose team most exceeded expectations” award, so Joe Girardi won’t win. I’m guessing the award will go to either Ned Yost of the Royals or Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, depending on which non-Athletics team wins a wildcard spot.
The Manager of the Year ballot is only three names deep and it’ll be tough for Girardi to get even a third place vote this year given his competition. I’m guessing at least one BBWAA member will give him a vote based on the team’s ability to linger in the wildcard race until the final week of the season though. After all, nine of 15 AL managers received at least one Manager of the Year vote last season.
Comeback Player of the Year
This one will be interesting. If Jeter put together nothing more than a decent season, say hitting .280 with a .340 OBP and no power, I think he would have won the Comeback Player of the Year award easily. Mariano Rivera won last year and deservingly so, but, even if he had been merely good instead of excellent, I think he would have won anyway for sentimental reasons.
Jeter’s brutal August and pre-current homestand September really dragged down his season numbers (.256/.304/.313) and it will be hard for voters to look the other way. Melky Cabrera and Albert Pujols stand out as two deserving Comeback Player of the Year candidates, so there is no lack of competition. Maybe Jeter will win on the strength of sentimental votes, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk at all.
A sabermetric component was added to the Gold Glove voting a few years ago, but it only counts as 25% of the vote. The other 75% is still based on the league’s managers and coaches. Whether they admit it or not, offense still has some impact on the voting, though it has gotten better in recent years.
Right off the bat, we can completely eliminate the entire infield. I mean, maybe Jeter will get a sentimental vote, but I can’t see it at this point. Gardner is a good left field Gold Glove candidate — they used to hand out three general outfield Gold Gloves, but they are position specific now — but Alex Gordon has this one in the bag. He’s outstanding in left and his offense won’t hurt his case either. Yoenis Cespedes might also get more votes than Gardner because of his throwing arm.
Ellsbury has been stellar in center field all season though the numbers hate him for whatever reason: -6 DRS, +1.1 UZR, and +0 Total Zone. I don’t get it. That doesn’t match up with the eye test at all. The various defensive stats always seem to hate Yankees center fielders. Maybe because Gardner takes plays away from them. Anyway, Ellsbury has some stiff Gold Glove competition in Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Jones, Leonys Martin, and Desmond Jennings. I think the chances of Ellsbury winning the Gold Glove are better than the chances of any Yankee winning any other award, but I would bet on the field with this many qualified candidates.
Yeah, no. You actually have to hit to win a Silver Slugger and not many Yankees did that this year. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best hitters and they aren’t beating out Gordon or Trout, respectively. Nevermind the other candidates around the league. As far as the Yankees are concerned this year, the most exciting part of the awards voting will be seeing where Tanaka and Betances finish behind Abreu for the Rookie of the Year award. Jeter’s possible Comeback Player of the Year and Ellsbury’s possible Gold Glove are the only other items of note.
The Yankees continue to fade out of the postseason race, but at least there is some good news on the injury front. Also some bad news, but whatever. Here are a few injury updates, courtesy of Bryan Hoch, Chad Jennings, George King, and Mark Feinsand.
- Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) threw 45 pitches across three simulated innings yesterday, saying afterwards that everything went fine and he feels strong. He will throw a bullpen session in the coming days, and after that the Yankees will decide whether Tanaka will throw another simulated game or pitch in an Instructional League game in Tampa. It’s entirely possible he will rejoin the rotation after that. “I think he wants to feel that he can go home and have a normal offseason and he can be healthy and come back,” said Joe Girardi. “I do believe it’s important to him.”
- Brett Gardner (abdomen) underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a mild strain. There is no timetable for his return right now and it’s possible his season is over. “We’re not sure exactly when we’ll get him back,” said Girardi. “He does feel better. He’ll see the doctor again tonight and then we’ll try to make some decisions on when he’ll start doing some baseball activities … I’m not sure when we’ll get him back. It is a concern of mine. We’ll continue to talk to the doctors, measure how he feels and how he’s improving and go from there.”
- Martin Prado (hamstring) is not improving. His mild strain hasn’t gotten any worse — he did play two games over the weekend — but it just isn’t getting any better right now. “There’s concern about him playing on that, where he could really make it worse in his hamstring to where it becomes a serious issue,” said Girardi. “It’s still bothering him. Even though I told him to guard it — and he did a good job — there’s concern.”
- David Phelps (elbow) will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday and is likely to be activated on Friday, in advance of the team’s doubleheader against the Orioles. He feels great and is ready to go. The Yankees are bringing Phelps back as a reliever.
- Frankie Cervelli (migraines) is on medication and resumed working out Monday. He should be available soon. “I got treatment and I’m back. Doctors say we have to make sure it doesn’t come back, but I feel good so I think I am going to play soon,” he said.
Brett Gardner is day-to-day with some kind of stomach irritation, Joe Girardi told reporters. It sounds more like a muscle strain than an illness. He was not available for today’s game and might not be available tomorrow either. Apparently Gardner had the same problem earlier in the season, right before the All-Star break, so they’re confident he won’t be out very long.
Got a nice and big nine-question, seven-answer mailbag for you this week after skipping it last week. Blame the trade deadline. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, complaints, whatever. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if yours is not picked.
nycsportzfan asks: Do you think Joe Girardi could win Manager of the Year even if they don’t make the postseason?
Joe asks: Where is Brett Gardner in the AL MVP voting? No way he wins the award itself but he has to get some votes, no?
Might as well lump these two together. I think Girardi would have a serious chance to win Manager of the Year if they make it to the postseason, but he’ll probably be an afterthought if they miss again. Bob Melvin and Mike Scioscia seem to be the front-runners at the moment, and I’m sure Buck Showalter will get a ton of love if the Orioles win the AL East. John Gibbons would also get plenty of votes if the Blue Jays sneak into the postseason. If Girardi carries this team into the postseason after all the injuries, I have to think he’ll get a ton of consideration for the award.
As for Gardner, I doubt he’ll finish top ten in the MVP voting, maybe not even top 20, but there are always weird down ballot votes every year and he seems like a prime candidate to receive a few. Gardner has not only been the team’s best player this year, he’s also been one of the most productive outfielders in the league. Unless the Yankees completely flop and fall way out of the race these next few weeks, I definitely expect Gardner to get a handful of MVP votes. He’ll never win, but hey, just getting votes is cool.
Joel asks: Can you tell us what percentage of his at-bats Gardner gets to two strikes? I think it’s very high, and I think his batting average with two strikes is close to his batting average.
Prior to yesterday’s game — I’m not waiting around for Baseball Reference to update overnight, sorry — Gardner had gone to a two-strike count in 288 of his 475 plate appearances, or 60.6%. The AL average is 50.4%. In fact, Gardner leads baseball in two-strike plate appearances. Matt Carpenter is second at 287 and Mike Trout is third at 285. No one else is over 280. Gardner has hit .188/.278/.290 in two strike counts this year, and while that sounds terrible, it works out to a 124 OPS+ because the league as a whole has hit .180/.249/.267 with two strikes. Hitting in those situations is mighty tough.
Mark asks: In the simplest terms possible, could you explain the difference between the July and August trade deadlines? I think I have a grasp, but I would like clarification. Thanks in advance
John asks: I’ve been thinking – with the trade waivers period starting up – what would happen if a guy with a no-trade clause was claimed on waivers? Would he have to go to that team? E.g. what if Matt Thornton had a no-trade? Could the Yankees have just let the Nats take him?
Combining two more questions again. After July 31st, any player on the 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers in order to be traded. Trade waivers are completely revocable — if a player is claimed, he can be pulled him back and nothing happens. The player can be traded anywhere if he clears waivers, but if he is claimed, he can only be traded to the team that claimed him (within 48 hours). If a team tries to slip a player through trade waivers a second time, they are irrevocable. A team can also dump the player on the other team if he is claimed, like the Yankees did with Thornton. Players have to be in an organization on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster. No exceptions. That makes August 31st almost like a second trade deadline.
The no-trade clause stuff is interesting because there really isn’t an answer. MLB and the union have been arguing about this for years. A no-trade clause is technically a no-assignment clause, and both trades and waiver claims are assignments (as are demotions to Triple-A, etc.). The union says a no-trade clause should allow a player to block going to another team on waivers while MLB argues otherwise. The only time I can remember this even remotely being an issue was when the White Sox claimed Alex Rios from the Blue Jays a few years ago, but Rios agreed to go to Chicago and it was a non-issue. Most guys who have no-trade clauses have contracts other teams don’t want, so they are rarely claimed off waivers anyway.
Ryan asks: If you take a few of those early blowout losses out, what is their run differential? Probably closer to a slightly above .500 team?
The Yankees are currently 60-54 despite a -23 run differential, which says they should be something closer to 54-60. It seems like they win nothing but close games these days. In a one week stretch from April 18th through April 25th, the Yankees lost games by the score of 11-5, 16-1, and 13-1. That’s a -33 run differential right there, so in the other 111 games of the season, the Yankees are at +10. It doesn’t really work like that though, we can’t just ignore select games because they don’t fit a narrative. For example, if we remove their biggest blowout wins (7-0, 14-5, 10-2), they have a -47 run differential on the season. I believe the Yankees’ win-loss record better reflects their talent level than their run differential, but the numbers don’t lie. They are the record of what actually happened on the field.
Leigh asks: I know he has only thrown a handful of innings (and he isn’t on the 40-man roster), but do you think there is a chance we see Jacob Lindgren contribute as a LOOGY in September?
Yes, definitely. I was on the fence up until the Thornton deal (this question was sent in before that), but now I think it’s pretty much a lock as long as Lindgren doesn’t get hurt or completely blow up the rest of the month. I don’t think you draft a pure reliever in the second round and pay him a seven-figure bonus to not get him to the big leagues as quickly as possible. You take him because you think he can help very soon, and Lindgren has done everything he’s needed to do in the minors. I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t up in September at this point.
Greg asks: What can we expect from this year’s class of September call-ups?
In addition to Lindgren, pretty much everyone who is on the 40-man roster and has already been up at some point this year will be back in September. A third catcher is standard and the Yankees will probably call up both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine, so make it four catchers. Extra arms like Bryan Mitchell and Matt Daley are a given, ditto Preston Claiborne if he returns from his shoulder injury in time. Zoilo Almonte and Zelous Wheeler are other obvious call-up candidates. My hunch is Manny Banuelos will be called up but Gary Sanchez will not.
Tyler Austin, Danny Burawa, Mason Williams, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, and Nick Goody are among the prospects who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, though I would be surprised if the Yankees got a head start on things and called any of them up in September. The only time they’ve done that in recent years was with Murphy and Romine, and only because they needed to get a third catcher on the roster. Lindgren, Murphy, Romine, Mitchell, Daley, Almonte, Wheeler, Banuelos, and Claiborne (if healthy) seem likely to join the club when rosters expand in September. There always seems to be a surprise call-up or two every year, both those are the guys I expect to see brought back.
Mike asks: Who do you see the Yankees sending to the Arizona Fall League?
Teams send either six or seven players to the AzFL each year, usually three position players and either three or four pitchers. All Double-A and Triple-A players are eligible and each team can only send one Single-A player. No players with a full year of service time are allowed, though the league has granted exemptions for young players coming off injury. The AzFL rosters are officially announced at the end of August, so not too far off now.
Players who missed time with injury during the regular season are the standard AzFL fodder, so I think Ramon Flores (ankle) and Goody (coming back from Tommy John surgery) are prime candidates to go to the desert. Banuelos is another as long as he feels well and his innings total is not an issue. Aaron Judge would make sense as the Single-A player if he’s physically up to it. It’s a long season and he might be worn down come October. If not, Eric Jagielo could go after missing more than a month with an oblique injury. The last two or three spots are usually fringe prospects for the taxi squad — they are only eligible to play Wednesday and Saturday, so they are never top prospects — the team wants to see a bit more. Taylor Dugas, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow, and Jaron Long could fit that bill.
Via Jon Heyman: Brett Gardner, Martin Prado, and Stephen Drew all cleared trade waivers this month. That means they can all now be traded to any team. It doesn’t mean the Yankees want to move them, of course, but they can if they want. The Nationals claimed Matt Thornton off trade waivers the other day and the club let him go for nothing.
As a reminder, teams will pass almost all of their players through trade waivers this month. They are completely revocable, so players can be pulled back if claimed. Most of the time they try to hide a player they’re looking to move by putting a whole bunch of players on waivers on the same time. The Yankees figure to claim a player or three this month if for no other reason than to block them from going to one of the teams they’re trying to catch in the standings. I’m surprised no one claimed Gardner.
Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. We’ve already covered the catchers and infielders, so now let’s move on to the outfielders.
Brett Gardner — Grade A
Through the first 94 games of the 2014 season, Gardner has been the Yankees’ best position player. The team got out ahead of his impending free agency by signing him to a four-year extension worth $52M in Spring Training, a deal that looked sensible at the time and looks like a bargain now given his production and the lack of quality outfielders in the upcoming free agent classes.
Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Gardner leads the team in one-base percentage (.353) and total bases (146), ranks second in batting average (.279), slugging percentage (.424), stolen bases (15), OPS+ (116), and wRC+ (116), and first in both bWAR (2.9) and fWAR (2.7). He’s already set a career-high with nine homers. Gardner actually started the season in a funk, going 15-for-62 (.242) in the team’s first 18 games, but he’s hit .286/.366/.447 (126 wRC+) in the 76 games since. That’ll do just fine.
Gardner’s defense continues to be excellent as well. He slid back into left field seamlessly and has performed up to his usually defensive standards, which are rather high. Inside Edge data rates his glovework very well. The Yankees tried shuffling things around and actually started Gardner in right field during a game at Fenway Park in April, but that was a disaster. It looked like he had never played the outfield before. Left field is where he remains and whenever the need has arisen for whatever reason, he’s slid over and filled in at center without missing a beat.
The only negatives in Gardner’s game are his career-high 21.7% strikeout rate and career-low 11.6% stolen base attempt rate. The strikeout issue seems to have to do with him being a little more aggressive in certain counts and swinging for a fences, hence the homers. The stolen base this is weird — he ran in 14.3% of his opportunities last year and in 25.0% of his opportunities from 2010-12. Gardner is still on pace for 26 steals (in 33 attempts), but it appears his days of 45+ stolen bases are over. That’s a shame. Either way, he’s having an unreal season.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Grade B
As the story goes, it became clear to the Yankees they were going to lose Robinson Cano on a Friday, so they acted quickly to sign Ellsbury before a bidding way broke out. The two sides were in agreement the following Tuesday, and the Friday after that, Cano hooked on with the Mariners. The Yankees replaced Cano with the second best free agent in Ellsbury even though he wasn’t a great fit for the roster — they already had a perfectly capable speedy leadoff hitter and strong defensive center fielder in Gardner.
Ellsbury has been very good through his first season in pinstripes, hitting .282/.346/.400 (105 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 29 chances. That’s right in line with the .289/.341/.407 (103 wRC+) batting line he put up from 2012-13 following his outlier 2011 campaign. Ellsbury’s power has not ticked up despite the move into lefty friendly Yankee Stadium and that makes total sense — almost all of his hits are line drives to left and center field. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not conducive to taking advantage of the short porch.
As expected, Ellsbury has had an impact both on the bases and in the field. He’s on pace for 41 steals with an 82.8% success rate, which would make him the team’s first 40-steal guy since Gardner in 2011. The defensive stats hate Ellsbury this year and I don’t get it — it’s a Gardner thing, it happened with Curtis Granderson too, he must be stealing outs and hurting the center fielder’s defensive numbers — but based on the eye test he’s been phenomenal in center. Better than Gardner last season and Gardner was awesome.
Because of injuries and underperformance and all that, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have had to improvise with their lineup. That means Ellsbury has been miscast as a three-hole hitter for most of the year while Gardner bats leadoff. They really don’t have an alternative at this point. Ellsbury lacks the traditional three-hole hitter skills in that he can’t create a run with one swing, but that’s not his fault. He’s a leadoff hitter the team is asking to hit third. Either way, Ellsbury was pretty awesome in the first half.
Carlos Beltran — Grade F
Worst case scenario? Possibly. The Yankees signed the 37-year-old Beltran (for three years!) to be the middle of the order hitter they lost in Cano, but so far all they’ve gotten is a broken down former star who has struggled to both be productive and stay on the field. This is the position player version of Randy Johnson — the right player, only nine years too late.
Beltran has hit .216/.271/.401 (78 wRC+) with nine homers in 228 plate appearances this year while missing time with elbow, knee, and concussion problems. He has a bone spur in his elbow that cost him a month and will require offseason surgery. It has relegated him to full-time DH duty because he can’t throw. (He tried a throwing program but had to shut it down due to discomfort.) The concussion was a fluke injury that occurred when he lined a ball off the cage and back into his face during batting practice. It’s that kinda year.
It’s easy to forget Beltran actually mashed at the start of the season. He was hitting .298/.339/.614 (151 wRC+) with four homers through the team’s first 16 games, then he flipped over the short wall in Tropicana Field while trying to catch a foul pop-up, and has hit .189/.249/.331 (56 wRC+) in 193 plate appearances since. I don’t know it it’s just a coincidence or if he hurt himself flipping over the wall, but he hasn’t hit for nearly 200 plate appearances now. Clutch hits? Beltran hit that walk-off homer against Zach Britton but otherwise has a .156/.216/.297 (25 wRC+) batting line with men in scoring position and a .130/.241/.391 (55 wRC+) batting line in high-leverage situations.
Because he’s not hitting and can’t play the field — not that his defense was a positive, he hurts the team less as the DH, to be honest — Beltran has very little value to the Yankees right now. He could start hitting at any moment and it would be a huge help if he did, but the combination of injuries and age are working against him. Beltran’s first three and a half months in pinstripes couldn’t have gone much worse.
Alfonso Soriano — Grade F
Man, this sucks. Soriano was one of the most fun to watch players when he on a roll and having a full season of him was supposed to give the Yankees a big offensive shot in the arm. Instead, he put up a .221/.244/.367 (60 wRC+) line with six homers and an unsightly 71/6 K/BB in 238 plate appearances before being dropped from the roster roughly two weeks ago. He wasn’t even hitting lefties anymore (80 wRC+). That’s it. Without warning he went from 34 homers and a 121 wRC+ in 2013 to being done in 2014. Like done done.
Soriano started the year as the full-time DH in deference to Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran in the outfield. He eventually moved to right — he had never played the position before (other than Spring Training) and I thought he did about as well as he could have realistically been expected to perform defensively — once Beltran got hurt, but eventually he lost playing time to Ichiro and was pushed into the light half of a platoon. The Yankees released Soriano earlier this week and he told Marly Rivera he might simply retire rather than continue playing. It was not a pretty end.
Ichiro Suzuki — Grade C
The Yankees relegated Ichiro to fifth outfielder status with their offseason spending spree, and even that was only after they were unable to trade him. And yet, through the traditional first half, he has batted 220 times and appeared in 81 games, the sixth most on the team. He took over as the most of the time right fielder a few weeks ago thanks to both his strong performance and the underwhelming performance of others.
Ichiro is hitting .297/.347/.337 (90 wRC+) with six stolen bases on the season, though his bat predictably cooled once pressed into everyday duty. He went 25-for-37 (.373) with a 142 wRC+ as a reserve player during the first 47 team games of the season but has managed only a .259/.308/.289 (63 wRC+) line as a regular in the 47 team games since. Ichiro’s defense has been fine and he’ll still steal the occasional base, but that’s pretty much it. He’s a very good extra outfielder and a pretty terrible regular outfielder at this point of his career.
Zoilo Almonte — incomplete
I get the feeling the Yankees are not going to give Almonte an opportunity to show whether he can be of some use at the MLB level, even as a nothing more than a fourth outfielder. He’s been up and down a few times this year thanks mostly to Beltran’s injuries, getting into ten games and going 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer. Even with Soriano gone, the Yankees have opted to play Ichiro everyday and sub in Zelous Wheeler on occasion. Meh
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Coming into the season, the outfield was expected to be the strength of the team, and it has been. It just hasn’t been as strong as expected due to Beltran’s struggles and Soriano’s brutal ineffectiveness. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best players all season and have lived up to expectations in my opinion. Everyone else in the outfield has kinda stunk. Getting Beltran back and producing at an above-average rate will be imperative in the second half. The Yankees will only be able to acquire so much offense in trades.