Thinking About the Outfield
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Coming into the 2020 season, most observers of the New York Yankees lauded the team for its impressive depth in the outfield. Sure, the Yankees were set to deal with the absence of Aaron Hicks for a large chunk of the season, but with Brett Gardner returning to the team on a short-term contract and Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier in the fold, the Yankees boasted a strong outfield that ran at least 5 players deep. Most importantly, the outfield was anchored by two of the most feared hitters in baseball in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The law of averages dictated that the injury plague that struck the team in 2019 couldn’t possibly happen again, and hope for good health around the diamond seemed reasonable. Halfway through Spring Training, those assumptions have been decimated by injuries to both outfield anchors. Suddenly, the Yankees’ abundance of depth in the outfield will be tested from the first weeks of the season. The Yankees are so stretched for depth in the outfield, MIguel Andujar, getting his first ever professional game reps in the outfield during Spring Training, is now in serious consideration for real playing time in the outfield once the regular season starts.
With that in mind, many have begun to call for the Yankees to look to either Free Agency or the trade market for help in the outfield. Acquiring depth is one thing, but many people think the Yankees should do something to bolster the MLB lineup in the outfield. I think it is important to compare the best outfielder the Free Agent market has to offer against the Yankees’ current stable of outfielders. Below, let’s look at a blind study of the top Free Agent option in the outfield vs. the Yankees’ crew he would look to replace:
Player A: .267 BA, .317 OBP, .489 SLG, .222 ISO, 6.5% BB%, 28.5 % K%, 111 OPS+, 108 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR/0.1 bWAR
Player B: .277 BA, .361 OBP, .504 SLG, .227 ISO, 11.5% BB%, 24.0% K%, 128 OPS+, 128 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR/3.6 bWAR
Player C: .267 BA, .327 OBP, .458 SLG, .191 ISO, 7.2% BB%, 21.8 K%, 100 OPS+, 101 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR/1.3 bWAR
Player A is Clint Frazier. Player B is Mike Tauchman. Player C is Yasiel Puig. Puig is a player that many media sources and fans are beginning to push as a legitimate idea for the Yankees. Both the surface stats and the underlying stats tell an interesting story.
Puig obviously put up the numbers shown above in a much larger sample size than Frazier or Tauchman. Normally, I would say that the sample size would give us more confidence in the performance, however Puig has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, and last season was particularly volatile if we compare his statistics with Cincinnati to his stats with Cleveland. Puig was an all-or-nothing power hitter with the Reds, posting just a 5.7% BB% while clubbing all but two of his homers on the season. With Cleveland, Puig turned into an on-base machine, nearly doubling his BB% to 10.1%, while seeing his power nearly evaporate, falling from a .223 ISO to a .126 mark with the Indians. Puig did change leagues, but we are talking about two very different players at the plate over the course of the season. Puig’s underlying numbers over at Statcast show that he may have gotten a bit unlucky in 2019, producing above-average exit velocity and launch angle numbers, but his statistics aren’t any better than the Yankee options in the outfield.
Both Tauchman and Fazier are guys the Yankees can dream on. Tauchman came out of nowhere to have an excellent season, and despite the fact that he didn’t even receive a half-season’s worth of at-bats, he produced like an All-Star by both the metrics used at Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. I looked at Tauchman in greater depth earlier this off-season, but it is possible that Tauchman is a high-value player over the course of a full-season in either CF or LF.
Clint Frazier has been knocking on the door seemingly forever, but either injuries, under-performance, or defensive deficiencies have undermined his ability to stick with the Yankees. Frazier has reached the point where in order to regain any value on the trade market or prove that he can be part of a championship-caliber outfield, he has to get some Major League playing time in an outfield corner. In Frazier’s case, given the amount of reps he has missed over the last few seasons, it is still reasonable to expect some growth defensively and at the plate, even if he never becomes a perennial All-Star.
Both Frazier and Tauchman deserve playing time over a guy like Puig, and that’s even before we try to find regular at-bats for Andujar and Mike Ford (who I, and many others, project to be a plus bat), both of whom are more deserving of plate appearances on a championship-caliber team than is Yasiel Puig.
In short, it is somewhat surprising that Puig remains on the market, and he can definitely help someone. I’m just not sure that team is the Yankees. For me, a Puig-to-the-Yankees call just doesn’t pass the sniff test. The Yankees would be well-served to play a mixture of Tauchman, Frazier, Gardner, and Andujar in the outfield, while getting Andujar, Frazier, and Ford at-bats at DH to begin the year while we wait (hopefully) for the return of Judge and Stanton.