There was a lineup issued yesterday that mistakenly placed Brett Gardner in left field over Ichiro Suzuki. At this point in the season, it’s hard to justify defensive and offensive changes from what worked throughout the 162 game season, but when you get a player of Gardner’s caliber, you make that change. Not to take anything away from Ichiro, but in 2010 and 2011, Gardner put up WARs of 6.2 and 5.2 respectively. Assuming he’s truly healthy, the Yankees need to find away to get his bat into the lineup and glove on the field.
There is an answer, and one that solves quite a few other problems. If the team placed Gardner in left field, put Suzuki back in right, and placed Swisher at first base, they would vastly improve their outfield defense and rest the still-ailing Teixeira with designated hitting opportunities. There are two drawbacks in this situation, the first being the loss of Teixeira’s defense at first base over Swisher’s.
Over their careers, Teixeira has put up a 6.0 UZR/150, while Swisher is a very average -0.2. Losing 6.2 WAR to Swisher might appear like a big number, but let’s take a look at the difference between a corner outfield platoon of Suzuki/Swisher versus Gardner/Suzuki. With Suzuki in left field (9.1 UZR/150) and Swisher in right field (4.5 UZR/150), the two combine for 13.6 UZR/150. Compare this to a match up of Suzuki in right field (11.4 UZR/150) and Gardner in left field (35.9 UZR/150) and they combine for 47.3 UZR/150. That’s a difference of 33.7 in favor of the Gardner duo, and it’s a huge increase compared to the 6.2 you lose at first base. On top of this, you get to rest and protect Teixeira as a DH while he continues to recover from his strained calf injury.
The second drawback from the switch is losing Raul Ibanez as the DH, who is replaced by Gardner in the new lineup. There is an obvious loss of power with Ibanez moving to the bench, but Gardner is actually not that shabby at creating runs. His high OBP and speed has produced a career wRC+ of 106, while Ibanez sports a career wRC+ of 111 (102 in 2012). Aside from his solid bat, Gardner has much less of a platoon split, with almost no significant difference between hitting right handed or left handed pitchers. For this reason, Gardner is a better starter, someone who can deal with pitching changed throughout the game, while Ibanez lines up as a better pinch hitter against a right handed pitcher.
This is all assumes that Gardner can hit like he has in the past. It’s valid to question his ability after missing nearly the entire season, and the argument is that October is essentially his spring training. But, the 29 year old has been playing since 2005, through 8 professional seasons, and I find it hard to believe that he’s forgotten how to hit. Although he has the ability to square up pitches well, unlike most power and line drive hitters, Gardner relies on beating out plenty of hard hit groundballs, so I don’t think it’ll take long to get that sort of timing back.
With a left handed pitcher going tonight, I think it’s Gardner’s best chance to get a starting spot. There is almost no chance that Ibanez gets a start against a same-side pitcher, and the only other options are Jason Nix and Eduardo Nunez. Of course, I don’t doubt for a second that Joe Girardi will simply pick one of right handed utility players simply because of their handedness.