The Budget Friendly Move For LF
By Andy Singer
January 8, 2023
While the Yankees made some early waves by retaining Aaron Judge and signing the best free agent starting pitcher on the market, Carlos Rodon, to a long-term deal, it still feels as though the Yankee roster as it stands today is incomplete. At no position is that more true than in LF. If the season started tomorrow, the Yankees would have an open competition between Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, and likely one or two of the low-risk minor league signings the Yankees have made of late, like Willie Calhoun or Rafael Ortega. Brian Cashman and his staff have proven to be adept at finding significant value on the quad-A circuit over the years (Cameron Maybin, Luke Voit, and Gio Urshela are all prime examples), a team with as many offensive question marks as the Yankees are selling themselves short by not finding better bats for LF.
To this point, most of our focus has been on finding a singular starter in LF. Admittedly, that has been my preference and my focus as I have scouted the free agent and trade market. To be clear, there are trade targets I still prefer over the budget friendly option for which I am about to stump. Guys like Sal Frelick, Alek Thomas, Bryan Reynolds, and even Max Kepler are all names that I have mentioned as targets this offseason who would likely solidify LF with solid defense and varying degrees of offense from the left side of the plate. The difference is that each comes with varying degrees of cost from both a monetary and prospect capital perspective. While I am still holding out hope that the Yankees can work out a deal for one of the above, I think it is becoming increasingly likely that the team shrinks the budget for LF.
In that case, there are a host of imperfect options. One or two of those imperfect options are rumored to be available on the trade market. The other day, Paul brought up Seth Brown, to whom the Yankees have been connected in recent days. Paul beat me to the punch; I had begun researching Brown earlier in the week, but I hadn't really gotten into the weeds until I saw Paul's post. Brown is an imperfect option as a left fielder were he to be counted on as the sole option out there (more on that in a minute), but Brown got me thinking about an option most of us have overlooked: a left field platoon. Friend of the blog, EJ Fagan, posted an article yesterday about the possibility of a platoon in left field using Rafael Ortega or one of the other aforementioned recent left-handed minor league signings as the strong half of a platoon. I may be late to the party with posting my thoughts on a platoon, but my thoughts differ somewhat from EJ's. I would prefer more certainty than the options EJ presents in his post with the strong half of a platoon in LF.
If we view Seth Brown through the lens of a platoon, things get a lot more interesting.
Breaking The Surface
If you log onto Seth Brown's Statcast page on Baseball Savant, these are the metrics you're greeted with for 2022. Brown hits the ball really hard with great frequency, has excellent expected offensive statistics, plus-plus raw power, and a bit of speed. On the downside, there's a worrisome amount of swing-and-miss in his game, he has a wet noodle for an arm, and his defense rated as among the worst in the league. Combine all of this with an average-ish .323 wOBA, you'd be forgiven for saying, "thanks, but no thanks" to Seth Brown as the Yankee left fielder.
As always though, the devil is in the details.
Seth Brown vs. RHP
Seth Brown was a far more impactful hitter against right-handed pitching in 2022 than he was against left-handed pitching. Remember that .323 wOBA? Brown's wOBA goes up to .341 (!) in 2022 against RHP, or 25 points higher than MLB average. Brown's best quality is his ability to hit the ball hard. Let's look at a wide range of swing metrics for Brown in 2022 and compare them against RHP vs. LHP:
It is clear that Brown's 99 plate appearances against LHP drove his numbers down. Brown hits the ball significantly harder against RHP and while his whiff and chase numbers still leave something to be desired, those figures are more palatable against RHP.
Add in the fact that he'd be a left-handed power bat in Yankee Stadium, and you can begin to see the appeal of sticking Brown in Yankee Stadium.
The shift is ending in 2023. According to Statcast, Brown was shifted against in 88.6% of plate appearances in 2022. He approached an average line against the shift, producing a .314 wOBA. However, Brown became nearly unstoppable when there was no shift applied, with a .393 wOBA. Brown stands to pick up a lot more hits in 2023 without the shift.
A Note On Defense
Brown's OAA looks bad, but ironically, that number is driven by his awful defense at 1B and in RF, which Brown doesn't have the arm to play. Brown totaled -7 OAA at those positions. However, Brown had one position at which he was plus: LF! Brown produced +1 OAA in 43 attempts in LF. He has the speed to cover ground, and was forced to do so in the expansive outfield at the Oakland Colosseum. LF in Yankee Stadium might actually be perfect for Brown.
Brown hasn't even reached his arbitration years yet, and he doesn't have a ton of value. Baseballtradevalues.com pins his trade value at $10.2. Oakland is rebuilding, and their farm system is a mess. They need prospects in the worst way, and the Yanks are a fit. I propose the following trade:
Neither guy is likely in the Yankees' plans in the future, but they do have trade value. This feels really cheap, and it gets the Yankees into a good piece for much cheaper than anything else we've discussed this offseason.
I can foresee the combination of Brown and Stanton/Cabrera/other becoming a plus option for the Yankees that produces more total value than everyone in the non-Bryan Reynolds bucket in 2023. Does it make sense? I think the budget move for LF might just be the way to go if the Yankees find a good platoon partner like Seth Brown.