March 18th Camp Notes: Ellsbury, Cuts, Rotation, Ryan

The Yankees pummeled the Braves 12-5 on Wednesday night. Masahiro Tanaka made his second start of the spring and was fantastic, allowing two hits in 3.2 scoreless innings, striking out three. He looked as strong as ever. Andrew Bailey made his spring debut — it was his first game action since July 2013 — and allowed an unearned run on two hits in an inning of work. The television gun had him at 92-93, which would be amazing after a torn shoulder capsule if true. His curveball was all over the place though. “Rusty” is the word I would use to describe how Bailey looked.

Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann led the way offensively. Didi went 3-for-3 with a triple and McCann went 2-for-2 with two walks and a two-run homer. Stephen Drew also mashed a two-run tater. Brett Gardner went 1-for-3 with a walk, Chase Headley went 1-for-2 with a walk, both Mark Teixeira and Garrett Jones went 1-for-3 with a double, and Chris Young went 1-for-3. Also, the Braves are going to be bad this year. Very, very bad. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury went for an MRI and has been diagnosed with a low grade oblique strain, the Yankees announced. He’ll be shut down for the next seven days. Opening Day is 18 days away now, so there’s still time for Ellsbury to rest, heal up, and get ready for the start of the season. Any sort of setback might force him to start the regular season on the DL, however.
  • The Yankees announced another round of roster cuts following last night’s game. Branden Pinder was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, Gary Sanchez was optioned to Double-A Trenton, and Domingo German was optioned to High-A Tampa. Don’t ready anything into the level assignments, those are just the player’s workout group for the rest of spring. Greg Bird and Kyle Roller was both reassigned to minor league camp as well. I unofficially count 53 players still in big league camp.
  • The upcoming rotation: Esmil Rogers (Thursday), Adam Warren (Friday), Michael Pineda (Saturday), and CC Sabathia (Sunday). I assume Nathan Eovaldi will either throw a simulated game or pitch out of the bullpen one of those days. Also, Joe Girardi said Bryan Mitchell will make at least one more start this spring. One of the split squad games on April 2nd seems like a good guess. [Chad Jennings]
  • Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is on track to return to game action on Friday. Some of the position players who didn’t make the trip for tonight’s game took batting practice back in Tampa, but there were no bullpens or throwing sessions scheduled. [Jennings, Brendan Kuty]
  • Lefty Jose DePaula is heading for an MRI on his shoulder after dealing with continued soreness. He’s had a ton of arm problems over the years, including shoulder tendinitis in 2013. DePaula has only thrown two innings during Grapefruit League play but had been throwing regular bullpen sessions. [Jennings, Kuty]

In case you missed it earlier, tonight’s game against the Braves will be replayed on MLB Network at 11pm ET. Tune in for Tanaka, if nothing else.

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March 17th Camp Notes: Ellsbury, Bailey, Ryan, A-Rod

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are playing the Blue Jays later tonight and CC Sabathia will be making his Grapefruit League debut. It will be the big man’s first game action since last May. That makes it a pretty important game by Spring Training standards. The regular game thread will be a long a little closer to first pitch. Until then, here are the day’s notes from camp:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a “mild, mild, mild, mild” right abdominal strain according to Joe Girardi, who isn’t too concerned. Ellsbury won’t play tonight or tomorrow. It’s the middle of March. No reason to push anything. Give Ellsbury whatever rest he needs plus an extra day for good measure [Dan Barbarisi]
  • Andrew Bailey is scheduled to make his spring debut tomorrow night. He hasn’t pitched in an actual game — Spring Training or otherwise — since July 2013. Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game, and others set to make the trip are Brett Gardner, Jacob Lindgren, and the entire projected starting infield. [Mark Feinsand, Brendan Kuty]
  • Bryan Mitchell and Andrew Miller both threw simulated games today. Esmil Rogers, Adam Warren, Nathan Eovaldi, David Carpenter, Ivan Nova, Chase Whitley, Vicente Campos, and Jose DePaula were among the small army of pitchers to throw bullpen sessions. Nova threw curveballs for the first time as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. [Chad Jennings, Kuty, Pete Caldera]
  • During yesterday’s off-day, Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) took ground balls and did all sorts of hitting, including full batting practice. He’ll do the same today and is on track to play in a game later this week. [Feinsand, Jennings]
  • Girardi doesn’t seem to be in a rush to play Alex Rodriguez at first base this spring. “I am not sure, it’s something we will talk about,” Girardi said. “It is something we can do if we want. (Garrett) Jones is more than capable of playing there and we have to get him reps but I might throw (A-Rod) in there one or two games just to see.’’ [George King]

The Full Realization of Jacoby Ellsbury [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baseball’s free agent system is mostly backwards. Instead of paying for players in the primes of their careers, free agency forces teams to generally pay for past performance. While teams remain hopeful that these late-prime players can sustain performance and then decline gracefully, reality rarely complies.

Yet with Jacoby Ellsbury the Yankees paid $153 million not just for past performance, but for the hopes of improvement. All last winter we heard about Ellsbury’s potential to increase his power at Yankee Stadium.

He did exactly that, producing his best power numbers, including a .148 ISO, sixth-most among qualified center fielders, aside from his 2011 season.

Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to expectations in a few other ways. For instance, 2014 was his only full season with a BABIP below .300 (his previous low was .312, and that was in 2008). That meant fewer times on base. Combine that with his frequent appearances in the No. 3 lineup spot and it’s a recipe for somewhat fewer stolen bases than expected.

With a more defined role, and perhaps a twinge more luck, this could be the season that Ellsbury puts it all together.

Yankees Need: Consistency Atop the Lineup

In every scenario other than the one the 2014 Yankees faced, Ellsbury and Brett Gardner would have led off. But out of respect for Derek Jeter, the Yankees willfully made the lineup worse. His combination of .304 OBP and 15 GIDP left little for the middle of the lineup.

It took a Carlos Beltran injury to get both Ellsbury and Gardner into the top three lineup spots. Given the way Beltran was hitting when he got hurt, this was no boon. No matter how you view it, the Yankees harmed the team by batting Jeter second. They needed that consistency atop the order to give the depleted middle of the lineup a chance to drive in some runs.

Ellsbury Can: Provide Consistency Atop the Lineup

By the numbers, Ellsbury might not have been an ideal leadoff man last year. His .328 OBP was the lowest of any full season in his career. But that had more to do with a low BABIP than it did anything else — his walk rate was actually the highest in his career by a tick.

Looking through his full seasons in the leadoff spot, it’s pretty clear that he’s comfortable batting there. Joe Girardi moved him around out of necessity last year. Indeed, even with the Beltran injury he probably wouldn’t have moved out of the leadoff spot if Gardner had opened the season hitting second.

Having two fast guys who can get on base atop the lineup will help the Yankees in many ways that betrayed the 2014 team. I’m confident in Ellsbury’s ability to produce an OBP above .350 if he hits leadoff in 145 games. It’s what he’s done his whole career.

Yankees Need: Elite Outfield Defense

The 2015 Yankees are, by design, a run prevention team. While there’s hope that they’ll get more out of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira than they did in 2014, the offense still figures to be league average, perhaps a tick above, in even the best-case scenario.

Success will come and go based on the pitching staff and the defense behind it. Brian Cashman fortified his infield defense, adding Didi Gregorius‘s slick glove at short, an astronomical upgrade over Derek Jeter’s. Bringing back Chase Headley should help the offense, but will certainly help keep balls from reaching the outfield. Stephen Drew, too, should provide quality defense at second.

That leaves the outfield, where the Yankees equally need to prevent hits and runs. We learned that they pursued Jason Heyward, which would have given them, presumably, the best outfield defense in the league. With Carlos Beltran patrolling right, defense in left and, particularly, center become more important.

Ellsbury Can: Play Elite Defense

The eye test suggests Ellsbury played very good, if not elite, defense in center field last year. He’s smooth out there, which might make him look a bit better than he actually performs, but to my eye there were no noticeable deficiencies in his game.

The numbers had him in decline: UZR rated him as just above average while DR had him five runs below average. Both were his worst marks since 2009, and again I saw nothing to indicate that he was any worse. For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA, which does not use stringer-biased data, gave Ellsbury his best marks since 2008.

Once we start to get some of the Statcast data, I think it will bear out that Ellsbury is one of the league’s better defenders.

Yankees Need: Speed on the Bases

If you’re going to have two similarly profiled speedsters in the outfield, you better get some stolen bases out of them. Moreover, when you have a slow lineup like the Yankees, which lost its third and fourth highest stolen base producers from 2014, you need the guys atop the order to swipe some bags. And by some, I mean a ton.

No one in the infield is stealing any bases. Stephen Drew has a career high of 10, and that was in 2010. Chase Headley stole 17 in 2012, but hasn’t stolen that many total since. Gregorius cannot steal bases. I don’t need mention anyone else.

That leaves the base swiping to Gardner and Ellsbury.

Ellsbury Can: Lead the League in Stolen Bases

No, seriously. Ellsbury has thrice led the Al in stolen bases, including 2013. Despite sliding back to third in the order for much of 2014, he still swiped 39 bags, good for fifth-most in the majors.

If he bats leadoff every day, which he should, and improves his OBP from 2014, which he also should, it’s not difficult to imagine Ellsbury vying with Jose Altuve for the AL stolen bases crown.

The advantage of having Ellsbury and Gardner bat first and second is wreaking havoc with speed. Given Ellsbury’s history, I think he’ll hold up his end of the bargain.

Yankees Need: A Little Pop

Are the Yankees relying on Ellsbury to produce power numbers? No, not in the way they’re relying on the three questionable guys — Teixeira, Beltran, McCann — to hit some dingers. But this is a team that finished 10th in the AL in ISO last season. They’ll need pop wherever they can get it.

Ellsbury Can: Sock a Few Dingers

To repeat, part of the reason the Yankees paid Ellsbury is that they could project better power numbers at Yankee Stadium. He came through and produced the second-best ISO of his career, including 16 home runs. That’s more than the previous two seasons combined (though only half of his career year of 32 homers in 2011).

Settled into his spot, I think Ellsbury can hit 20 this year. At the very least I think he’ll hit 15, which is just fine for the Yankees. If they end up relying on Ellsbury to produce power numbers, many other things have gone wrong. In an ideal situation, he has more than enough power to help the team.

Only wrong answer at top of the lineup is one that doesn’t include Ellsbury and Gardner

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

On the very first day of camp last week, Joe Girardi held his annual start of Spring Training press conference and discussed the importance of settling on a lineup, among other things. “Figuring out our batting order I think is something important, because there are some people we don’t know exactly where they are at, and there are obviously some new people in camp,” he said.

The middle of the lineup is where the most questions exist. Figuring out the best way to align the three through seven spots with Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez will be Girardi’s toughest challenge, and he needs to see those guys in games before making a decision. The top and bottom of the lineup should be relatively easy. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top, Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew at the bottom. Boom, done.

Here’s where it gets interesting: is it better for the Yankees to bat Ellsbury leadoff and Gardner second, or vice versa? They are two extremely similar offensive players. If you don’t believe me, look:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR BB% K% SB/CS wRC+ RHP wRC+ LHP
2014 Ellsbury 635 .271/.328/.419 107 16 7.7% 14.6% 39/5 97 130
2014 Gardner 636 .256/.327/.422 110 17 8.8% 21.1% 21/5 116 96
2012-14 Ellsbury
1,594 .282/.336/.412 104 29 7.2% 14.3% 105/12 109 96
2012-14 Gardner
1,283 .266/.338/.418 110 25 8.8% 20.9% 47/15 111 106

Like I said, they’re almost the same damn player. Ellsbury hits more singles, strikes out less, and steals more bases. Gardner draws more walks and hits for more power. Neither has a crippling platoon split either. (Girardi has said he has no problem batting them back-to-back even though they’re both lefties.) The end result is two players with almost identical offensive value overall.

Over the years, all sorts of statistical analyses have shown the best hitter should bat second, but when you have two guys this similar, deciding whether to bat Ellsbury leadoff and Gardner second or vice versa comes down to a matter of preference. We have to start nitpicking. They’ve both gotten on base at the same rate, so the default “he has a higher OBP so he should bat leadoff” tiebreaker doesn’t even apply.

I see it this way: Ellsbury not only steals more bases, he’s also the more aggressive base-stealer. We’ve all seen Gardner sit around and wait until the third or fourth or fifth pitch of the at-bat to take off. It’s annoying. Ellsbury gets on and goes. Ellsbury and Gardner get on base at the same rate, but Ellsbury will get himself to second base quicker, and that’s who I want leading off.

In addition to that, Gardner has a bit more power — he had a higher ISO than Ellsbury last year (.166 vs. .148) and over the last three years (.152 vs. .130) — and batting him second means there should be a few additional runners on base when he bats. That will help turn some of those solo homers — Gardner hit 17 homers last year and 14 were solo shots because he batted leadoff and the eight/nine hitters (Ichiro Suzuki, Brian Roberts, etc.) weren’t getting on — into multi-run blasts.

On the other side of the argument, we could say Ellsbury strikes out less than Gardner, meaning Girardi could be a little more creative with the better bat control guy hitting second. More hit-and-runs, that sort of thing. It’s an old school mentality but the Yankees are going to have to manufacture more runs that way this year. The three-run homers aren’t coming like they used to and Ellsbury’s contact skills (and both his and Gardner’s speed) is a weapon they can use.

Ellsbury was forced to hit third last year due injuries and whatnot, but he is totally miscast in that role. He’s at his best creating havoc in a table-setting role. Same with Gardner to slightly lesser degree. Unless the season gets underway and one guy is drastically outproducing the other, there’s no clear cut answer as to whether Ellsbury or Gardner should bat leadoff. The only wrong answer is the one where someone other than these guys hits first or second.

Ranking The 40-Man Roster: No. 2

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’ll inevitably disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 3-5, 6-10, 11-14, 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re down to the final two players in our 40-man roster rankings. The actual process of ranking the players was pretty difficult — tougher than I thought it would be when I came up with the idea for the series — though I felt the top two spots were pretty easy. When you have two guys only one year into massive nine-figure contracts, of course they’re the most important players on the roster.

No. 2 in our rankings is the Yankees’ de facto star position player. The Derek Jeter era is now over and the Robinson Cano era ended last year, so the team has neither an iconic ex-star nor a bonafide present day star. Someone has to take over as the face of the franchise though, and our next player seems most likely to do that, at least on the position player side. On to the next player in our rankings.

No. 2: Jacoby Ellsbury

2015 Role: Everyday center fielder and upper-third of the order hitter. Ellsbury is a leadoff hitter by trade and I expect him to start this coming season atop the lineup, but, as we saw last year, Joe Girardi is open to using him as his number three hitter if no better options exist. Ellsbury is greatly miscast as a number three hitter but that’s the way it goes.

Either way, Ellsbury is going to hit in the top three spots of the lineup. He is arguably the best hitter on the team, at least in the sense that he’s an above-average hitter and his performance is fairly predictable. This isn’t Brian McCann trying to come back from a down year or Carlos Beltran coming back from a bone spur in his elbow. Ellsbury has no such questions. Last year was a typical Ellsbury year (107 wRC+ in 2014 and 109 wRC+ career) and it’s easy to forecast the same thing for 2015.

In the field, Ellsbury is an impact player thanks to his good reads and incredible range. He’s a game-changer in center even though the defensive stats weren’t a fan of his work in 2014. (That seems to happen with all Yankees’ center fielders whenever Brett Gardner is in left.) Ellsbury’s arm is laughably weak but he makes up for it with superior ball-hawking skills. He’s a key component in the team’s renewed emphasis on defense.

Simply put, the Yankees will count on Ellsbury to be a two-way impact player. Someone who drives the offense and leads the up the middle defense. The Yankees lack a true star-caliber performer and Ellsbury is the closest thing they have to one.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Long-Term Role: Considering the Yankees signed Ellsbury to a seven-year contract worth $153M just last offseason, it better be “two-way impact player” for the next several years. I thought the contract was way out line with his value as a player at the time of the signing — Gardner is the same damn player and look at his deal — and nothing I saw in year one has changed my opinion. But what’s done is done.

There are six years left on Ellsbury’s contract and that guarantees he will remain a focal point in the offense going forward. Just look at Mark Teixeira. His offense has been steadily declining for years yet he remains in the middle of the order because that’s what he was signed to do. Ellsbury will inevitably wind up hitting in the top third of the batting order longer than he deserves. He’s signed through age 36. At some point the skills will start to erode.

I think the best case scenario for the rest of Ellsbury’s contract is Johnny Damon. They’re similar players but not exactly the same — Ellsbury steals more bases and is better in the field, Damon had more pop and pure on-base ability, plus he was much more durable — but they had similar roles. They were the top of the order table-setters and center fielders. Damon was an above-average hitter from age 31-36 (114 wRC+) and it wasn’t until his age 33 season that he had to start the transition over into left field.

Hopefully Ellsbury follows the same career path as Damon and remains a solid, above-average contributor for the bulk of his contract. That would make it all worth it for the Yankees. His long-term importance to the team is created by that contract — Ellsbury is under contract longer than any other position player on the roster (by two years!) and at premium dollars. When you make that sort of commitment to a player, you need him to be a difference-maker.

Coming Friday: No. 1. You know who it is. You’ve known since the start.

2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.

2014 Season Review: The Outfield Defense

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

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:


Source: FanGraphs

Source: FanGraphs

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
Left Field 566 .4629 .4528 16th
Center Field 656 .3247 .3671 2nd
Right Field 536 .4683 .4284 28th
All Fields 1,758 .4310 .4315 16th

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
Gardner 160 64.4% 1.9%
All NYY LF 204 64.7% 1.5% 63.5% 2.2%
Ellsbury 165 44.8% 0.6%
All NYY CF 203 45.8% 0.5% 43.5% 1.9%
Ichiro 98 45.9% 2.0%
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.