Projecting the 2011 Yankees – Part 2: The Outfield

Left Field – Brett Gardner
2010 Season – .277/.383/.379, .358 wOBA, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 45 SB, 21.9 UZR, 5.4 WAR
2011 Projection – .267/.350/.371, .336 wOBA, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 45 SB, 12.5 UZR, 3.1 WAR
Marcel Projection – .269/.357/.378, .345 wOBA, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 37 SB
Bill James Projection – .275/.377/.371, .349 wOBA, 5 HR, 46 RBI, 50 SB

Brett Gardner was spectacular in his first season as a full-time outfielder with the Yankees. Really…for what more could the Yankees have asked? Not a whole lot. With the exception of power, Gardner provided the whole package on route to one of the quietest 5 WAR seasons in recent memory.

Stolen bases? Check!

Solid OBP? Check!

Defense? Double Check!

Still, as great as he was last season, is it fair for us to expect an encore performance in 2011? Absolutely not. Offensively, Gardner benefitted from an unusually high .340 BABIP that inflated his batting average and on-base percentage. While a hitter producing a BABIP at that level is by no means unheard of, it’s not one that’s in line with his current batted ball profile. As a result, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see his performance regress back toward his statistical mean.
Defensively, Gardner was absolutely spectacular by pretty much any measure. UZR, Total Zone, and Defensive Runs Saved rated him as +21.9, +22, and +16 last season respectively. The fact that he didn’t win a Gold Glove only proves to me that GGs are the Grammy Awards of baseball. They’re completely and totally meaningless. While I’m projecting his defense to regress somewhat next season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him exceed those expectations.

Center Field – Curtis Granderson
2010 Season – .247/.324/.468, .346 wOBA, 24 HR, 67 RBI, 12 SB, 5.3 UZR, 3.6 WAR
2011 Projection – .257/.335/.459, .349 wOBA, 25 RBI, 70 RBI, 14 SB, 2.4 UZR, 3.8 WAR
Marcel Projection – .253/.329/.448, .341 wOBA, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 12 SB
Bill James Projection – .264/.341/.471, .355 wOBA, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 14 SB

For a player with so many talents, I’m always surprised to see how many fans and writers are underwhelmed by Curtis Granderson as a player.  While he’s unlikely to hit for a high average, Granderson draws walks, exhibits solid power, has great speed, and plays solid defense at a premium pitching.  For 2011, I expect his performance to mirror that of his 2008 and 2009 seasons.  Yes, I am fully aware that he made some mechanical adjustments to his swing late last season that resulted in a huge September.  Still, it’d be irresponsible of me as an analyst to assume that those adjustments Will Carry over to the upcoming season.  When given the option, I will always take the 2000+ PA sample size spanning a three year period over the 100+ PA sample spanning a single month of performance.   While Granderson may not ever repeat his unbelievable 7 WAR campaign from 2007, he’s still talented enough to be a solid 4 WAR, All-Star caliber player for the foreseeable future.

Right Field – Nick Swisher
2010 Season – .288/.359/.511, .377 wOBA, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 1 SB, -1.6 UZR, 4.1 WAR
2011 Projection – .261/.360/.486, .369 wOBA, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 1 SB, -2.2 UZR, 3.4 WAR
Marcel Projection – .254/.345/.462, .352 wOBA, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 2 SB
Bill James Projection – .257/.359/.472, .362 wOBA, 27 HR, 83 RBI, 1 SB

Nick Swisher is one of my all-time favorite baseball players.  He’s so versatile.  Swisher’s talented enough to not only hit out of pretty much any spot in the lineup, but also play a multitude of positions including all three outfield spots and first base.  He has the plate discipline of a saint; works counts and draws walks; and produces 25 home runs per season like clockwork.  What’s not to like?  I suppose he could play better defense and run the bases a little better, but it’s not like he’s hurting the team in either realm.

Last season, Swisher put together his best all around season to date.  Surprisingly, it came during a season in which he eschewed his disciplined approach in favor of a more aggressive one.  As I mentioned last week with regards to Teixeira, his new approach appears to be part of a league-wide trend to combat pitchers from taking advantage of extreme pitch selectivity.  For that reason, I don’t think Swisher’s plate discipline rates from 2010 are an aberration.  That said, old habits die hard; and I would not be the least bit surprised to see Swisher roll back his approach a bit this season.  As a result, I expect to see Swisher’s walk rate increase and batting average drop (as a result of fewer balls being put in play and BABIP regression) this season.  In terms of power, Swisher has been remarkably consistent throughout his career.  As a hitter who plays half of his games in a stadium that greatly favors left-handed power, I see any reason why Swisher can’t maintain his 25-30 home run power for the foreseeable future.

Designated Hitter – Jorge Posada
2010 Season – .248/.357/.454, .357 wOBA, 18 HR, 57 RBI, 3 SB, -6.0 UZR, 2.4 WAR
2011 Projection – .260/.355/.436, .352 wOBA, 16 HR, 51 RBI, 1 SB, -2.0 UZR, 1.6 WAR
Marcel Projection – .252/.340/.440, .341 wOBA, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 3 SB
Bill James Projection – .260/.363/.454, .357 wOBA, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 2 SB

At 39 years old and with only one year remaining on his four year contract, it seems pretty likely this will be Jorge Posada’s final year in a Yankee uniform. While I won’t make any predictions as to whether or not he’ll retire after the season, I can’t imagine the Yankees agreeing to bring him back for 2012 without a receiving major discount. While Posada is past his prime, his offensive output is still more than acceptable for someone encumbering the position of starting catcher. The only problem is that Posada is no longer a full-time catcher. In fact, outside of an emergency situation, it’s unlikely he’d ever be asked to put on his gear. Instead, he’ll be supplying that production out of the DH position. While his offense is certainly welcome production, it’s by no means enough to justify giving him 500-600 plate appearances in that role. In order for a player to truly justify receiving regular playing time out of the DH spot, he really has to hit. While Posada is still a good hitter, he’s nowhere near the kind of hitter he needs to be to make up the -17.5 run positional value (per 162 games), and still produce 2 WAR. Luckily for the Yankees, they don’t need Posada to be a superstar. They’ll receive more than enough value elsewhere to make up for what they lose out of the DH spot.

Next up, I’ll tackle the Yankee starting pitching!

7 thoughts on “Projecting the 2011 Yankees – Part 2: The Outfield

  1. That's a total loss of four wins among the outfielders and DH. That seems like a very cynical outlook. Especially with regards to Gardner. Didn't he play the 2nd half with a bad wrist? Now that he's healthy we should expect him to regress? When was the last time he posted declining numbers in his career? His numbers graph seems to go steadily upward once he gets to a new level. Also, the defensive expectation posted here shows a severe decline with no reason given.

    If Gardner is healthy all year, he'll post at least a 5 WAR. Bank on it!

  2. Chip: I wonder if you rely too much on xBABIP as determined by types of contact. Note that Gardner, through the minor leagues, had ~.355 BABIP (this is from eyeballing the numbers at fangraphs, btw, and is not precise). The only point he had a BABIP below .324 was during an 11 AB stint at AAA in 2009 (he walked 5 times in that span).

    Gardner's abilities are *really* tied up in his speed. I'd guess that's why his BABIP is higher than expected, and I would actually expect him to, if anything, show a *higher* BABIP on average, just because he has in the past (over a pretty reasonable sample, as well).

  3. And Matt's point about his injury is very astute as well. Unless you're drawing in expected injury allowances (which would be understandable, given his "balls to the wall" style of play) it's really difficult to expect him to regress quite so far (if at all).

  4. In typical me fashion, I will continue to chip away at Chip, as more interesting points come to mind.

    In 2008, Gardner was worth 1.1 fWAR over 141 plate appearances.
    In 2009, Gardner was worth 2.1 fWAR over 284 plate appearances.
    In 2010, Gardner was worth 5.4 fWAR over 569 plate appearances.

    That's a pretty steady ratio–it popped up a bit in 2010, but not to a degree out of the realm of believability. I could see the suggestion that he should only be worth, say, 4.4 WAR over 580 plate appearances or so (which would match his prior two years ratio)…but 2.8 is a large drop. Just because you saw Gardner's doppleganger (Ellsbury) fall by the wayside for a season doesn't mean we should expect Gardner to, as well!

  5. Anyone slightly concerned over the OFs' BA? BA certainly doesn't rank high when it comes to importance, but a .270 BA or better from one of the four would be nice.

  6. @Will – Gardner's loss in WAR comes from three areas: (1) BABIP regression (I have him him projected for .320 for next season which is a big more reasonable); (2) a slight drop in his walk rate to 11.9%; and (3) defensive regression, which actually removes 0.9 WAR from his total. I don't think that's too unreasonable. That said, I did say that I wouldn't be surprised to see him outperform the UZR I projected for him. I think he's a fantastic outfielder, but my point in this whole exercise was to determine his true talent level. While he does have a steady ratio, I don't think it's appropriate to assume that ratio will continue.

    Also, I don't think Ellsbury is an appropriate comp for Gardner. Honestly, I think Gardner is a much better player. Gardner has a better eye, better plate discipline, draws walks, and plays significantly better defense. Ellsbury has better power and slightly better stolen base speed. I would never compare the two.

    Lastly, I went back into my projections, and found that I inadvertantly shorted Gardner by 0.3 WAR. He should be at 3.1. I will go back and fix that.

  7. @Matt – A four total win loss isn't really that big of a deal when you figure that the Yankees are going to gain wins elsewhere. The starting rotation, for all of its flaws, should be better this year in terms of value. Burnett is probably good for 3 WAR, and Nova should be a 2 WAR improvement over Vazquez. The bullpen could very easily provide an extra win or two as well with Soriano now in the mix.

    Also, keep in mind that the Yankees are projected to go from 95 to 92 wins (per PECOTA), so it's not unreasonable to assume such a loss in outfield WAR.