Finally, a good problem. There are obvious deficiencies at every offensive infield position that’s not second base, and the outfield has grown in to one of the Yankees’ few areas of strength., but with Curtis Granderson‘s return to the Yankees, the organization and manager Joe Girardi will be faced with the obstacle of keeping all four productive outfielders in the mix.
Not only have Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Vernon Wells hit, but they’ve also saved runs with their gloves. Now that Granderson is making his way back, the Yankees get to add his bat and glove to an already excelling trio. His homeruns were undoubtedly missed, but some fans are worried about the strikeouts and questionable defense that Granderson will contribute. From my stand point, the strikeouts mean very little, and are much more favorable to say the ten double plays the current three have grounded into this season. His glove is also a mystery. Some of the more popular defensive metrics have hated his defense in center field, while other metrics actually loved him. The Yankees have given him reps at the corners during his rehab, and it looks like Girardi plans to play him in left field or right field.
Three of the four outfielders are more than capable of playing all three positions, while Wells could also probably play a sub-par center field. This gives the team a ton of options with how they’ll line things up, but we still have a problem with fitting all four bats into a lineup that has four inferior infield bats.
In a normal season, the Yankees would have no problem DHing one of these guys, but Travis Hafner has already claimed that spot, and his bat has prevailed. Against left-handed pitching, Vernon Wells could fit in as right-handed DH, but that then takes Ben Francisco, or any other right-handed bat, out of the lineup in favor of a left-handed outfielder. Knowing Girardi, there’s little chance he’ll play one of his regular left-handed outfielders when he can gain a right-handed platoon advantage. Though Wells will get his reps in the outfield, it’ll be one of Gardner, Ichiro, or Granderson that lose time in the outfield against left-handed pitchers.
That leaves us with what the team will do against right-handed starters. Though they haven’t had a huge problem hitting right-handers, Vernon Wells has been a contributing factor to that success. He’s been more effective in roles against lefties, but his 118 wRC+ against same-side pitchers can’t be overlooked when Ichiro owns a 51 wRC+ and Gardner an 87 wRC+ against them. Obviously Granderson will see every at bat he can against right-handers, assuming he stays healthy, but what do you do with the other three?
A number of questions pop up. Do we pay attention to the small amount of data from their 2013 season? Over their careers, Wells and Gardner have only been league average against right-handers, while Ichiro’s 106 wRC+ is only slightly better. You’d probably take Ichiro and Gardner in this case, since they both add better defense to the team. But Gardner is coming off an injury, Ichiro is 39, and Wells has a new swing that’s working. What do we make of career numbers in these cases? Is the six weeks of data enough to say Wells is worth a start over Ichiro or Gardner despite weaker defense and a clear platoon split?
It’s a question that only time can answer, but I expect Girardi to start resting his outfielders this week. Granderson, Wells, Gardner, and Ichiro will probably all see some time off in the next couple of weeks to give everyone a breather before the dog days of summer open up. Maybe something during that time will indicate who deserves more playing time over another, but we’ll probably just continue to see an outfield rotation between Wells, Gardner, and Ichiro. It’s unfortunate to lose one of these bats when Jayson Nix, Chris Nelson, and Lyle Overbay are playing nearly everyday, but I hope we don’t see Wells starting at third base anytime soon.
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