AL EastAnalysis

The Yankees Outfield: A Failed Experiment So Far

Before I get into the main content of this article, I just want to say, the Yankees are in fact a great baseball team. Yes, they are very tough to watch at times. At the same time, they’re too good to continue to underperform at this rate. Have faith. However, not mutually exclusive is the fact that they should be looking for upgrades. Primarily, in the outfield, where we’ve seen a trove of players cycle through from the likes of Tyler Wade to Miguel Andujar.

What Was Supposed To Be

The Yankees came into this year with a very good outfield: Aaron Judge in right, Aaron Hicks in the center, and Clint Frazier starting in left with Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman serving as rotational pieces. As silly as it may seem, Judge has been one of the few guys to remain healthy, playing in the vast majority of games. With that amount of playing time has come results; Judge is sporting a 161 wRC+ and has amassed 2.0 fWAR as of today (June 7th). Even further, what if I told you he still has room for improvement? He has a 50 point gap between his wOBA and xwOBA, indicating his actual results may have some room to improve. This all but confirms that a star player is playing like a star player.

Along with Judge, Hicks and Frazier were supposed to be great options as well. Hicks didn’t really seem like himself this year; he had a lower walk rate than last year (11.1% versus 19.4%) and the quality of contact wasn’t the same. Likely, this was a result of a small sample, but for the time he had played, he wasn’t too effective. And, of course, because what’s a Yankees season without injuries, he’s now 99% likely to be out for the year with a wrist injury. On the other hand, Frazier is certainly healthy, outside of some neck issues he overcame. However, he’s struggled. Defensively, his routes are poor and he isn’t getting effective jumps, and it shows in his overall Def of -7.5, per Fangraphs. His bat has started to pick up, as over the last ten games or so he’s hitting around .300, but the power numbers are still lacking, shown in a 0.132 ISO – a common trend for Yankees hitters this year.

Not much to say about Tauchman; he was traded for Wandy Peralta, a reliever who’s been fantastic for the Yankees, and he’s struggled with San Francisco so far, posting a wRC+ in the 80s. So that leaves us with Brett Gardner out of Yankees who *should* have been playing the outfield for us.

A Rough Rotation

In lieu of many injuries, off days, and just wacky baseball, we’ve seen some players who shouldn’t be playing outfield at all find their way into the lineup and playing one of the three spots. Tyler Wade, forever a bench utility guy, was legitimately starting games in the outfield for us, playing right field during Judge’s few absences. The Yankees put this outfield out a few days ago (no, this is not a joke): Aaron Judge, right fielder, Tyler Wade, CENTER FIELDER, and Clint Frazier, left fielder. Tyler Wade. CENTER FIELDER. This feels like a good place to say all we can do is laugh because no baseball team should be resigned to this act.

Does it get worse? Yes. It absolutely does. We’ve stumbled upon Miguel Andujar, who is finding consistent playing time in left field. Andujar is largely known for his 2018 season, where he was an above-average hitter, and I do wish I was exaggerating, but alas, he was the worst third baseman in the league defensively, accruing -21 defensive runs saved. And now, he’s back in the outfield, a spot he was mixed in the past few seasons for reps, and looks lost at times due to a lack of positional familiarity. Together, a combination of Andujar, Gardner (who’s been especially poor), Wade, Frazier, and the one positive, Judge, doesn’t scream playoff outfield, and the stats back it up. Andujar has a 61 wRC+, even with a recent spur of extra-base hits. Gardner has a 63 wRC+ and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon. One of the two is always in the lineup, and neither has much to offer.

Even with Aaron Judge they are 23rd in total fWAR by outfielders, as seen here:

It’s truly impressive that Aaron Judge alone has 2.0 fWAR, yet the Yankees are at 1.6. Gardner, Frazier, and Andujar all have negative fWAR! That’s ridiculous! Even if they were replacement level, we’d be in the teens.

Continuing this horrid trend, the Yankees are 20th in outfielder ISO at 0.148, indicating that they’re really struggling to hit for power like we are so accustomed to. If we expand the scope to the whole team, the Yankees are 23rd in ISO at 0.143, really not ideal. They are the Bronx Bombers after all. But now, due to injuries, the Yankees are forced to consistently play two negative value options in the outfield, taking their pick from the likes of Frazier, Andujar, Gardner, and occasionally, Wade. Whether you want to attribute their struggles to the de-juiced ball or simply poor performance, one thing is for certain: the Yankees should look for better options.

Well, What Are The Options?

At the risk of repeating a lot of what’s become a consensus, I’ll cover this section quickly, listing some players the Yankees could look to trade for and fix their outfield problem. It’s very possible one of these players alone will not fix the issues completely, but improvement is improvement, and the Yankees need it. Nonetheless, here are some options:

Joey Gallo: 119 wRC+, .358 xwOBA, 24 Career DRS, Ability to Play All Three Spots

David Peralta: 7 Career DRS, 92 wRC+, Likely Can Be Had For Cheap

Robbie Grossman: 105 wRC+, 14.9 BB%!, -22 Career DRS (0 in 2021, However)

Ketel Marte: 175!! wRC+, Versatile and Really Good At Baseball, Very Expensive and Likely Not Up For Trade

Mitch Haniger: 129 wRC+, .257 ISO, 15 Career DRS

Even adding one player of the above or another I haven’t mentioned that can provide average defense and decent hitting will be a big improvement for the Yankees. Without any adds, they’ll have to hope the likes of our current options outside of Judge can improve on what’s been a lackluster campaign for each so far.

One option that’s very unrealistic, but we may see in inter-league games, is moving Giancarlo Stanton back to the outfield. This would give us greater flexibility at the DH spot, working Sanchez in and keeping Higashioka’s fantastic defense behind the plate. Stanton in the outfield isn’t exactly a slouch either, as he’s been able to provide average defense at worst thanks to a strong arm. However, the amount of injuries he’s gone through is going to keep him relegated to DH for now.

Regression to the mean will always come, but can the Yankees afford to wait for it? They’ll have to make decisions regarding the outfield soon, and hopefully, we see positive growth from what’s been an uninspiring group outside of Aaron Judge so far.

Featured Photo: @Yankees

Ajay Patel

Heavily invested in sports analytics and a whole lot of other things. Yankees fan, Jazz Chisholm stan, and a statistical man. Follow me on Twitter: @ajaypatell8

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