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Now Playing Right Field…Brett Gardner?

This past Friday, to start of a game against the Detroit Tigers, the PA announcer said something that would cause most Yankees fans to do a double take. The Yankees used Brett Gardner in a position where he has recorded just one official start and where he spent only eight innings at from 2014. In that game, the Yankees started Brett Gardner in right field.

Let’s talk about this new role and take a trip down memory lane to an infamous Yankees game.

 

The “AWESOME” New Role for Brett Gardner:

As part of a way to transition the longtime left and center fielder into a true “4th Outfielder” role for the 2021 season, the Yankees have started using Brett Gardner in right field. This move was expected to happen after the Yankees brought back Gardner on a 1-Year (+ 2022 Option) a little less than a month ago.

When manager Aaron Boone was asked about this transitioning of roles for the veteran, Boone explained:

“With Clint establishing himself a little last year, we’re looking to transfer [Gardner] to this awesome fourth outfield role. I could see him in all three [outfield] positions, depending on where our most pressing defensive need is.”

On top of this comment, Dan Martin of the New York Post also highlights that Boone specifically mentioned the spacious right field of Fenway Park as a place where using Gardner in right field could be a possibility. And, while Clint Frazier is all but taking the starting left-field position, Boone also went to say this about Gardner:

“Whether we’re healthy or not, Gardner is gonna play a lot.”
 

Why Right Field?

It is interesting that Aaron Boone pointed to right field in Fenway Park when explaining the logic behind these expected changes in 2021. It makes sense to give Gardner the time to learn and get comfortable with seeing fly-balls from the other side of the outfield and getting used to “backwards” running patterns. It also makes sense for Gardner to have this versatility for the outfield with how the injury history of Aaron Judge has been, to both keep Judge rested and serve as a viable replacement.

However, Boone went to say that he was looking to do so when there are “pressing defensive needs” which is an interesting thing to have been said. Over the course of his career, Aaron Judge has been a positive defender according to Fangraphs (+9.0 Def) with 3 straight seasons of positive value since 2018 (+2.3, +7.6, and +1.0). Over the last three years, Brett Gardner hasn’t matched this with a total Def of +4.8 and over the same time as Judge’s career (since 2016), Gardner has the lower Def of +5.4 too.

It would seem to make more sense to keep Judge in right field (if and whenever possible) as he is the better defender. However, this wasn’t the only interesting observation after Fenway Park was mentioned by Boone.

 

Brett Gardner’s Only Right Field Experience:

The day is April 23rd, 2014. The New York Yankees are visiting the Boston Red Sox in a game that will become infamous in the 2nd inning. Before the game began, 2013 Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi was honored and threw out the first pitch. The Yankees have sent Michael Pineda to the mound as the Red Sox sent John Lackey.

Pineda quickly allowed the Red Sox to take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and midway through the 2nd inning Red Sox manager John Farrell walked up to the umpires. Just over a minute later, Michael Pineda was tossed from the game. Getting cheered and booed out of Fenway with his hands on his hips and his neck full of pine-tar.

Brett Gardner was playing right field that day and misplayed a fly-ball that would up going as a “grounds-rule double” for Mike Napoli and scoring 2. He would go to record 3 outs on 3 other chances during the 8 innings he played in a game that the Yankees would end up losing 5-1.

 

April 23rd, 2014:

Full Game:

Highlights:

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: March 14th, 2021

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