Could the Yankees Platoon Left Field?
by EJ Fagan
January 7, 2023
NOTE - This article is also published on EJ Fagan's substack page and is used with permission.
As the offseason rolls on and the Yankees don’t have a left fielder, it’s time to start thinking more creatively. Ken Rosenthal reports that most teams don’t expect Bryan Reynolds to be traded this offseason. While we can speculate about other names, none have been rumored. Right now, the starting left fielder for the Yankees is probably Aaron Hicks with support from Oswaldo Peraza.
The Rays have long shown that a good platoon can piece together a pretty good roster spot. Could we find two outfielders that the Yankees could platoon, at least at the beginning of the 2023 season?
The obvious candidate for the left-handed side of the platoon is Rafael Ortega. The Yankees just signed Ortega to a minor league contract. An average defensive outfielder, he’s always had strong platoon splits. Here are his 2022 and 2021 splits:
2021 vs. right-handed pitchers: .321/.374/.526
2021 vs. left-handed pitchers: .128/.293/.128
2022 vs. right-handed pitchers: .242/.331/.367
2022 vs. left-handed pitchers: .211/.318/.211
Ortega also has huge home/away splits. Wrigley Field is notorious for killing left-handed power hitting. He had a .896/.749 away/home split in 2021, .723/.654 in 2022.
Yankee Stadium, obviously, has the opposite effect. Here is his Fangraphs spray chart:
His drop off in 2022 is obviously concerning, but Ortega is just about the best possible hitter the Yankees could hope for from a minor league platoon signing. If Ortega falters, they might try Willie Calhoun, Elijah Dunham or Billy McKinney.
But What About the Right Side?
This one is harder. Here are the options as I see them:
Giancarlo Stanton: If the Yankees want to play Stanton more often in the outfield, the right side of a platoon might make sense. It would provide some regularly at-bats to Stanton while someone else DHs. The Yankees would probably DH LeMahieu or Torres on those days. They get an extra right-handed bat in the lineup against left-handed pitchers. They can pull Stanton for defensive and replace him with Ortega late in the game, when most pitchers will be right-handed. Not bad! Two concerns though. First, does playing left field once or twice a week create injury risk for Stanton? Second, Stanton is very, very slow. Can he still play a good enough defense in left field at Yankee Stadium?
Oswaldo Cabrera: Cabrera was a stronger hitter in the minors in 2022 against left-handed pitchers (.833 OPS vs. Left, .714 vs. Right) and especially 2021 (.962 OPS vs. Left, .610 vs. Right). His defensive versatility also helps prevent the platoon from taking up too many bench spots, as the Yankees probably don’t want to carry too many bench outfielders.
Aaron Hicks: Hicks has always had more power from the left side, even if he didn’t have very strong splits last year. Still, his defensive numbers weren’t bad. I think Hicks is the late inning defensive replacement at the moment, but not a regular platoon starter, even against lefties:
Everson Peirera, Anthony Volpe, Jasson Dominguez: The Yankees aren’t going to waste a talented prospect on the short side of a platoon.
Bottom line: I think the Ortega with Oswaldo and Stanton is pretty likely. The Yankees would have a serious outfield depth problem, but could probably get away with it if Harrison Bader and Aaron Judge stay healthy.