Yankees 2023 Outfield/DH Report Card
By Sal Maiorana
Sal Maiorana, a friend of the site, will be sharing some of his thoughts on the Yankees here on SSTN.
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Brian Cashman has made so many poor decisions over the last few years, it has become cumbersome to try pointing them all out. From the bad trades, to bloated contracts, to mis-evaluating talent both in the draft and at the pro level, Cashman is lucky that Hal Steinbrenner seems to have ordained him as a member of the Steinbrenner family.
Last offseason, it was so glaringly obvious that the Yankees needed to find a left fielder that people who don’t even pay attention to baseball probably knew it. I know we all did here at Pinstripe People.
Instead, Cashman somehow believed that a combination of Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera was the answer to that vexing issue. Think about that - he seriously believed Hicks, whose career had been in free fall for four years, and Cabrera who is nothing more than a Triple-A regular, could share left field and not only provide good defense but suitable offense.
The never-ending merry-go-round in left field hurt this team all season because no one who played out there was anything more than a mediocrity, and in most cases, was worse. Ten players started games in left but the four most-used were Cabrera (45 starts), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (32), Billy McKinney (31) and Everson Pereira (26). Thanks, Cashman.
The cumulative offensive totals for those 10 when they started in left was a slash line of .220 average/.299 on-base/.368 slugging for an OPS of .668. They had just 19 homers and 66 RBI and struck out 155 times compared to 59 walks. The only guy who batted above .250 was IKF (.279) who also led the group in RBIs (19). And he was a converted infielder playing outfield for the first time.
On the fielding side, there is an advanced stat called “total fielding runs above average.” Basically, it calculates how many runs a player is worth based on the number of plays they made. It takes into account range, getting a good jump, and arm strength and accuracy. Average is 0, and don’t ask me how any of this works, but it seems pretty useful and insightful. The Yankees’ left fielders were a cumulative minus-13, meaning they cost the Yankees approximately 13 runs this season.
Incredibly, it was even worse in right field where nine players made starts. Yes, Aaron Judge started only 52 games there which hurts, but even he wasn’t great. As a right-fielder he hit 21 of his 37 home runs but he batted only .244 and his fielding runs above average number was minus-5. As a group, the right fielders were were minus-11 (Jake Bauers was the main culprit with a gruesome minus-8).
And at the plate, even including Judge, the slash line for the right fielders was worse than the lefty fielders at .203/.290/.449 for an OPS of .740. Taking Judge’s numbers out, they combined for only 20 homers, 58 RBI with 116 whiffs and 30 walks.
In center, Harrison Bader’s plus-13 fielding runs (meaning he alone saved approximately 13 runs) in 80 starts before he was waived helped that group of eight players who started games to a combined plus-11 rating. None of the other seven players who started in center was higher than plus-1, though. As batters, the center fielders had a slash line of .237/.288/.377 for an OPS of .665 with 18 homers, 69 RBI, 140 strikeouts and 39 walks.
I know I threw a whole bunch of numbers at you here, but I thought they were necessary to illustrate that the Yankees’ outfield - with the exception of Judge’s batting stats - was pretty awful both offensively and defensively.
Here are my grades:
Aaron Judge: B+
This probably looks a little low to many of you. Sure, 37 homers and 75 RBI in just 106 games, with an OPS of 1.019, are outstanding numbers, but here’s the reason why I kept Judge out of the A-range. When he returned to the lineup on July 28 after missing nearly two months, the Yankees were 54-48, eight games behind the Orioles in the AL East but only 1.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the final wild-card spot.
Everyone thought Judge would strap the Yankees on his back and carry them to the postseason, but that did not happen. In fact, the Yankees fell apart. From July 28 to Sept. 14, Judge played in 43 games and he slashed .206/.366/.466 with 12 homers. Judge did not lead the Yankees out of the abyss as they went 19-24 in those games and by close of business Sept. 14, they were cooked, 7.5 games out of the final wild-card spot.
Obviously it wasn’t all Judge’s fault, and I know he was likely playing in pain on that toe, but I needed more from him in that crucial stretch and he didn’t really produce. His surge in the final 14 games when he batted .370 with a .532 OBP, six homers and 17 RBI, was impressive, but it was also meaningless garbage time stat compiling.
All that said, Judge is far and away the best and most important position player on the team and the Yankees need him to avoid injury in 2024 and play a full season.
Giancarlo Stanton: F
This guy is without a doubt in my mind one of the worst players in MLB. Those of you who have been here awhile know I can’t stand Stanton and to me he is the single-biggest problem with this underwhelming roster. The guy can’t hit, can’t field, and can’t run, yet they can’t get rid of him because of the $98 million still remaining on his contract. Any questions?
Stanton’s presence in the lineup drags the Yankees down on a nightly basis because he is so inept in every way. For every majestic 450-foot home run, there are 20-25 and maybe more absolutely useless at-bats. Is there a player in MLB who has worse swings than Stanton? He looks lost up there, swinging at balls two feet off the plate but then taking strikes right down the middle. And on the rare occasions when he’s on base, he just clogs things up because he can never advance two bases at a time and it takes too much work to get him home.
There were so many reasons why the Yankees’ offense was awful this year, but one of the biggest was the fact that they hit just .247/.334/.441 against fastballs. Those numbers are beyond laughable, and the simple reality is that if a team can’t hit the fastball, it has almost no chance to succeed.
As you might imagine, Stanton was among the worst in MLB, especially against four-seamers. Of the 269 batters who had at least 100 plate appearances that ended facing a four-seam fastball, Stanton’s .200 batting average ranked 248th, his swing and miss rate of 33.8% ranked 252nd, and his strikeout rate of 35.3% was 255th. For a guy who is supposed to kill fastballs, only 11 of his 24 homers came on four-seamers. The only word that comes to mind is pathetic.
Harrison Bader: C+
Bader proved to be exactly who the Yankees thought he was when he was acquired from the Cardinals in the trade that sent Jordan Montgomery packing, a move that now looks pretty bad for Cashman given how good Montgomery has been both in St. Louis and now Texas. Bader was a terrific fielder and a pretty ho-hum hitter with the Cardinals and that certainly proved true in the Bronx. Outside of his little power surge in the 2022 postseason, Bader was a bad offensive player for the Yankees.
Before he was released, he played 84 games - missing a bunch because of injuries which were also something he has always dealt with - and he slashed just .240/.278/.365 for an OPS of .643 and had only 20 extra-base hits and 14 walks. When he did get on base he was an excellent base runner who stole 17 bases, but those instances didn’t happen enough.
In the field, yes, Bader was very good in center field as his plus-13 fielding runs rating was the best on the team at any position. Now that he’s gone, and Jasson Dominguez won’t be available for the first half of 2024, the Yankees need to find a center fielder as well as a left fielder.
Oswaldo Cabrera: D
I wish he was a better player because his infectious enthusiasm is wonderful, and you can see just how appreciative he is for the opportunity to play in the majors. But the reality is that Cabrera is a Triple-A guy whose only real value for the Yankees is that he can play six positions in a pinch - he’s not a standout at any of them - and can be a decent pinch runner.
He played in 115 games all around the diamond but in 330 plate appearances he batted just .211 and his on-base was .275 and that’s just not good enough. There was a stretch during midseason when Cabrera was one of the least productive offensive players in MLB, yet the Yankees kept sending him out there to be one of several black holes in the lineup because there wasn’t a better option.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa: C
I give IKF a lot of credit for learning how to play the outfield in spring training so that he could contribute to the team because his days at shortstop were done with the arrival of Anthony Volpe. IKF certainly wasn’t great in the outfield, but he wasn’t a disaster, either. And occasionally, the Yankees needed him back in the infield and he was fine. He played seven different positions, including four mop-up pitching appearances.
IKF was actually the best Yankees’ batter with runners in scoring position as he hit .288 in those situations, 18 points better than Gleyber Torres, 26 points better than Judge, and 88 points better than Stanton. Overall, IKF slashed .242/.306/.340 for a .646 OPS. Not great, but on this team he was middle of the pack in production. Take home runs out of the equation and he was a better hitter than Volpe.
Jake Bauers: D
He briefly gave the Yankees a little bit of punch as a lefty batter with 12 homers and 30 RBI, but he was a mostly negative player. In the field he was a mess as an outfielder and at first base, and at the plate he slashed .202/.279/.413 for a .693 OPS. He had a Stanton like 34.9% strikeout rate and he finished the season in a dreadful 13-for-88 (.148) slump.
Billy McKinney: D
I saw McKinney’s best game of the season in person with my son Holden. In July against the Royals he hit a home run and made two outstanding defensive plays in center field. Otherwise, McKinney did pretty much nothing, which by now I’m sure you’ll agree has become a redundant characterization of these players.
His slash line was .220/.320/.406 for a .726 OPS and his fielding runs average across all three outfield positions was minus-6, somewhat surprising because for most of his career he was in plus-territory.
Everson Pereira: D-
Pereira was called up after the trade deadline and given a chance to lock down that left field spot heading into 2024 and he wasn’t ready for the moment. Like several of the Yankees prospects, he was raking at Triple-A but once he made it to the show he was overmatched at the plate. In 103 plate appearances across 27 games, Pereira slashed .151/.233/.194 for an OPS of .427 with no homers and 10 RBI. He’s got a lot to prove in spring training, but the good news is that he’s only 22 so there’s hope.
➤ Aaron Hicks: He was a nightmare and thankfully, the Yankees finally cut the cord. Of course, it wasn't fun that he went to Baltimore and played well, hitting better with the Orioles than he did in any of the last four-plus years he spent with the Yankees. And he got to the postseason, brief as the Orioles’ stay was.
➤ Jasson Dominguez: The No. 1 prospect played only eight games before suffering his elbow injury, and it was fun as he hit four home runs in 33 plate appearances. Hopefully he recovers and can build on this because he really has to become a mainstay in the outfield, either in center or left.
➤ Franchy Cordero: He had six home runs and 13 RBI but he hit .188 and was barely playable in the field.
➤ Willie Calhoun: He also had a few moments with five homers and 16 RBI before he got hurt, but like Cordero, he’s not much more than a DH type and with Stanton on the team, DH is off limits.
➤ Estevan Florial: This was such a mystery all season. Florial had fallen so far down the prospect list that the Yankees cut him and weren’t even worried about him getting signed. He wasn’t, so he returned to S/WB not even part of the 40-man roster. But he was outstanding all year at Triple-A and with all the problems the Yankees were having, it did not make sense that they didn’t cut someone to create a spot for him to be called up. That finally happened in September and he was very good in the field, but again wasn’t great on offense as he hit .230 in 71 plate appearances.