After the Yankee Infield Preview I want to move on to the Outfield where there are some major questions, and hopefully some answers.
Left field is patrolled by gold glove winner and former center-fielder Brett “the Jet’ Gardner. Alright his nickname isn’t really the jet but it rhymes so lets go with it.
Brett Gardner has a big head, and if we’ve learned anything from Entourage have a big head is very very good. Brett has been a career Yankee since he was drafted in 2005. He first got called up in 2008 and really got significant playing time in 2009. He has been an all-star and a gold glove winner and a model Yankee. His best year was 2010 when he hit .277/.383/.379 including exceptional defense leading to a WAR of 6.1. I think that WAR is an overrated statistic but it does give a semblance of what type of player Gardner is.
Last year Brett slashed .261/.351/.362 which is about league average. Despite the power exhibited in 2014/2015 he was only able to hit 7 HR and 22 doubles. His OBP of .351 was good but not great for a lead-off man, which is most likely where he will bat this upcoming year. Bretts walk rate has improved over the last couple years to 11% as his K% has declined, good signs especially for an aging ball-player.
I’m looking for Brett to steal a couple more bags this year but that may be determined by who hits behind him in the lineup and the fact that his SB totals have dropped every year since 2013. Girardi may not want him running if El Gary is up at the plate so the lineup will be something to look once those decisions are made.
The projections above show that Gardner should continue his stead decline in AVG, OBP but a slight uptick in SLG because of the increase in HR.. I think that .333 OBP is a little low for a lead off man and if that does happen a switch at the top of the order may be in store. I do not believe we have a suitable replacement (more on that in a bit) to hit lead off but .333 is unacceptable.
Jacoby Ellsbury, oh my dear Jacoby, why why why did we give you that contract? It’s not Ells’ fault that we overpaid him, that lands on the front office, but I would like to see more of the Ellsbury who could steal a bag or play above-average CF instead of the injury prone liability we have today. I initially was a big fan of the signing when it first was made, I saw the HR in 2011 and said “wow if only he was healthy he could attack the short right porch” and I was wrong. Since signing with the Yanks Ellsbury has had some nagging injuries but has played in 149, 111, 148 games over the last three years. Last year he slashed .263/.330/.374 which does not justify the money he is making. I’m not going to fault Ellsbury for the money he makes, I just wish we could use it on someone more productive.
Last year Ellsbury hit either first or second in 140 games, usually reserved for on base machines, which Ellsbury is not. Offensively there is one positive, Ellsbury took more walks and struck out less last year. He got back to being the career 13-14% K rate player and actually had a BB% of 8.6 compared to his career average of 7.2%. I want to see more of that this season because that means more base-runners for Bird/Carter, El Gary, Didi, Starlin, etc. Even if Girardi keeps Jacoby at the top of the lineup I do not think its the worst thing in the world, as long as he can improve his OBP.
The projections below show a pretty average year for Ellsbury, Im hopeful that OBP% is a lot higher than what is estimated but that is going to have to come from a change in approach at the plate that he started last year.
Defensively I think we need to see Ellsbury playing a little bit deeper this year. Even though he doesn’t have the strongest arm in the OF he still can run down the gappers. I think coming in on balls will also help his momentum toward the infield so he will get that extra step on someone tagging up. Overall Ellsbury’s contract runs through 2020 so seeing improved K% and BB% this year is going to be paramount as he gets older.
This is where it gets interesting in spring training as the Yankees will have a good old fashioned battle for that coveted spot. The match up physically is a little unfair as you have the 6’7 giant Aaron Judge going up against the 6’2 Aaron Hicks.
Hicks was acquired from Minnesota before the start of last season and really disappointed. He was touted as being a five tool player and ended up being a 2 tool player. He lacked pop, speed, and the ability to get a base hit. Last year he was abysmal and really only useful as a defensive replacement (he can play CF or RF). Appearing in 123 games last year was probably not the smartest move as he hit .217/.281/.336. Those are bad numbers and 361 plate appearances were probably 200 too many. The question for hits is what happened? His K rate was up, his BB rate was down, and he had one good month the entire year (august). Lucky for hicks though was the fact that there was no suitable replacement and that Girardi doesn’t know when to cut the cord. Unlucky for Hicks is the fact that Aaron Judge was called up and showed some serious pop but also some serious strikeout tendencies. I don’t even want to get into the projections for Hicks because a) I’m hopeful he doesn’t get the job and b) they are pretty disappointing.
Judge on the other hand has his own faults and his own strengths. Lets start defensively: he is not a great right fielder but is deceptively quick and has a strong arm. Grading out with a 62 on the 20-80 scale for arm strength is the best defensive metric he gets.
The defensive side of the ball: Hicks
Offensively, specifically power, is where Judge shines. He clubbed 19 home runs in AAA in only 93 games in 2016, his second year in AAA. in his second year in AA he clubbed 12 HR in only 63 games. Looking into the numbers it seems that Judge takes awhile to adapt to the higher level, which is a good thing. Every subsequent year Judge has improved based on the level he was at, and it seemed like he was pressing last year in the majors.
Last year in 27 games Judge slashed .179/.263/.345 but in the minors slashed .270/.366/.489. Now the counter-argument is that one is the major and one is the minors. If you look at 2015 data though you see that Judge started slowly in AAA as well before blossoming. Judge has a long swing that needs to be shortened, similar to what Richie Sexson did with this swing. I’m not advocating to change his swing to look like Sexson, just shorten it up like he did.
In the majors Judge has a 44.2% K% which is really bad and a 9.5% BB% which is okay, but looking into his minor league statistics he stuck out only 23-25% of the time and walked above 10%. If he can develop and adapt to the major league game and put up those types of numbers he is going to be the starting RF.
This is going to be the test for the Yankees, can they get Judge to develop into a .270/.350/.500 hitter he will be a stud. Edwin Encarnacion for reference slashed .263/.357/.529 and if Judge can be an Edwin-light then the Yankees will take that every-day.
Here are some projections for Judge, and while that AVG, OBP, and SLG could possibly be low I would gladly take them from a young developing RF.