In an interview with WEEI, while discussing left field for his ballclub in 2010 and stressing the importance of defense at that position, Red Sox architect, Theo Epstein, inadvertently made the case for starting Brett Gardner in left field for the Yankees as well. And, though it pains me to give any Red Sox fan credit, his argument was rather effective.
Here’s what Epstein had to say via a WEEI transcript (the interviewer’s words are in bold, Epstein’s are not):
We knew Julio Lugo stunk and Lowell was hurt. But we never thought Bay was less than average or Ellsbury was less than good.
What you will see this year, contrast with Carl Crawford’s left field defense for example, with what we’ve typically see in left field. We’ve had bat-first left fielders. If you don’t see a left fielder making an egregious mistake, that doesn’t mean he’s doing a great job. Look at how hard it is to hit doubles when we play Tampa Bay. We’ll hit balls that would doubles that turn into outs, that’s a huge swing. If that happens once a game, once a series, you take a ball that would be a two-base hit and zero outs recorded and turn it to zero on base and an out recorded, that is a monumental swing. If you add that up over the course of a season and add that into a player’s offensive value, it changes the whole nature of what the player contributes. Again, those players who contribute offensively and turn those balls into outs that others wouldn’t defensively that makes a really valuable player.
That’s basically the reasoning behind playing Brett Gardner in left field, right? Although his bat may not be the typical weapon wielded by most left fielders in the baseball, Gardner does excel at run prevention – more so than the average left fielder – and that has real, tangible value, value that can be measured and then translated into wins (WAR).
Long-term, I’m not a big fan of Gardner as the Yankees’ everyday left fielder, but, this season, he can be a very useful player in the left corner at Yankee Stadium. His defense alone will make it worthwhile for Joe Girardi to deploy him. As said by Epstein, such fielding can provide a big impact, and alter the “whole nature” of a player’s contributions.
Photo by the AP