With names like Teixeira, Jeter, Arod and Cano, it’s easy to see that the Yankees’ offense revolves around its infielders. For much of the early season, it hasn’t been uncommon to see all three outfielders positioned at the end of the lineup. However, as Joel Sherman outlines in his recent column, the Yankees outfield has not been the weakness that most thought it was going to be. In fact, it has not only been one of the team’s greatest strengths, but also one of the most productive units in all of baseball.
Top 10 Offensive Outfields (ranked by wOBA)
As evidenced by the chart above, the Yankees’ outfield ranks second to only the Cubs’, which is pretty incredible when you consider the amount of time missed by Curtis Granderson, who entered the year as perhaps the most productive cog. Since the start of the season, however, that distinction has belonged to Nick Swisher, who ranks sixth among all outfielders with an wOBA of .400. Despite being shuffled throughout the lineup, Swisher has maintained a level of consistency that has helped anchor a Yankees lineup compromised by injury for most of the season.
Not too far behind Swisher in terms of production has been Brett Gardner, whose wOBA of .390 ranks 11th in all of baseball. Gardner entered the season as a quasi-starter sitting against some lefties, but has since emerged as a key component of the everyday starting lineup. Gardner has not only improved both his plate discipline and power stroke, but also substantially increased his line drive percentage from 16% to 22%. To the naked eye, Gardner has made the necessary adjustment to turn on a good fastball, allowing him to evolve from his bail and slap approach that led to many anemic at bats.
Although he has yet to really catch fire, Curtis Granderson has been a relatively productive offensive player in his limited time in the lineup. His .246/.331/.449 line almost exactly matches his .249/.331/.449 output in 2009, but the Yankees still have to hope he can regain his form from 2007-2008. Even if he remains at his current level of production (OPS+ of 111 and wOBA of .343), however, Granderson is still a productive option in center field.
Marcus Thames, who filled in admirably with the bat (although definitely not the glove) when Granderson missed most of May with a groin injury, is also worthy of an honorable mention. Despite playing a very poor left field, Thames did contribute a wOBA of .362 during his time in the outfield, not to mention one very big home run off Jonathan Papelbon to win a game.
Snapshot of Yankees Key Contributors in the Outfield
In addition to being potent on offensive, the Yankees outfield has also performed well in the field. Although the unit’s UZR/150 (usual defensive metric disclaimers inserted here) of 1.1 ranks right in the middle of all 30 major league teams, that includes the many below average innings contributed by Marcus Thames and Randy Winn. On an individual basis, Swisher’s rate of 8.7 ranks 10th among all right fielders, while Granderson’s rate of 16.7 would rank sixth among center fielders if he had enough innings to qualify. Only Brett Gardner rates as below average, but his -2.4 UZR/150 hardly qualifies as a liability.
Past results are not necessarily an indication of future performance, so it remains to be seen if the Yankees outfield will maintain its impressive pace. Despite making a noticeable adjustment in his approach at the plate, Swisher is probably a good bet to regress to a more normal wOBA plateau of .370, where he has resided in three of his previous four seasons. On the other hand, Granderson could in fact rebound to his 2007-2008 form, which would more than make up the difference. That leaves Brett Gardner as the big question mark going forward. If he can come close to maintaining his current output, the Yankees outfield should continue to lead the majors in terms of production. If not, the unit could still remain a relative strength, especially if they are able to maintain their defensive performance.
Having said that, the trio’s performance will not necessarily preclude the Yankees from being players in the Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth sweepstakes this off season. If all three outfielders are able to put up good seasons, it would certainly alleviate the need, but that has never stopped the Yankees from swimming in the deep end of the free agent pool.