Monday, March 1, 2010

Who's In Center And Left?

The two main topics coming out of Yankees’ Spring Training are who will win the 5th starter job and will Curtis Granderson play center with Gardner in left, or vice versa? I’ve talked about the 5th starter competition at length already, and before I dive into the second topic, I want to point out that these are the types of conversations you want to be coming out of your teams’ camp. If this is all that is being talked about, that means there aren’t injuries or serious problems. While some people are tired of these stories, I would talk about them all day everyday just because it means there is nothing else to talk about. Like last year, with Rodriguez. Or the year before, being Girardi’s first camp. Or the year before, still Rodriguez and Jeter drama. Yankee camp isn’t usually this quiet, and I’m absolutely loving it. I hope it continues all season.

With that said, all the rage is that the Yankees should put Curtis Granderson in left field and Brett Gardner in center field. There is a very strong argument in favor of doing this, in my opinion. That argument revolves around trying to get every advantage you can. Particularly in the American League East I think it’s critical to do everything you can to try and get an edge. When it comes to just these two players and these two positions in a vacuum, putting Granderson in left and Gardner in center makes sense. Granderson has been an above average center fielder, and Gardner has shown signs of being an elite one after a rocky start. So switching them should stand to benefit the Yankees, however big or small, in some capacity.

However, getting an edge doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it doesn’t just consider these two players.

First, and most obvious, is Brett Gardner. Is he going to win a starting job out of Spring Training? Or is Randy Winn going to return to his 07-08 form and beat him out? Or are Winn and Marcus Thames going to present themselves as the best option in a platoon situation? Or are any of the three, or all three, going to share time with the final starting spot all year? All of these are possible. The Yankees are deep and Gardner is not an established player. With that in mind, it’s tough to make a switch without knowing if Gardner is going to be the best option all year, and if he isn’t, that will necessitate more moving around.

Which leads us right into point number two, Curtis Granderson. He’s not a perfect, elite player, but he is an All-Star caliber player. If Gardner looked to be a cornerstone of the Yankees’ future in the outfield, then maybe you consider moving Granderson. But what are the chances, even if Gardner does play really well, that the Yankees don’t find an option in the next year or two that they like even more than Gardner playing really well? Probably pretty high. And chances are that player will be a left fielder rather than a center fielder. That only further lends itself to Granderson playing center, where his above average defense more than allows his offensive production to play up in value because of his position. You don’t want to get into a situation where you are moving Granderson one year just to move him again the next. Nor do you want to move him early in the year only to move him back a few months later. Nor do you want him shuffling around game to game. Not that I don’t think Granderson could handle it. But he is a part of the Yankees’ future as well as their present, and you don’t want to start messing with something like that. Center fielders that play above average defense and can hit 30 homers don’t grow on trees, and the Yankees’ shouldn’t lose sight of that for a defensive upgrade that might not even be that big.

Which is another important point to consider. Left field in Yankee Stadium is one of the biggest in baseball. The Yankees will play half of their games there. Girardi and Cashman have both discussed this mitigating the potential impact of swapping the two players, because left field is a big undertaking defensively as well. Tons of ground to cover. So that in itself calls into question how much impact a switch would have, because you need great defenders in both spots. Taking it further, what if Gardner is also better in left? Sure, center field is a slightly more important position. But again considering the size of left field in Yankee Stadium, are they really solving anything by taking a better defender in one position and making him the better defender in another position?

In light of the paragraph above about the importance of Granderson, I think the answer is not much, if anything. If this were going to be a huge upgrade, then maybe this should be a serious consideration. But Granderson is a good defender as well, so it’s likely not going to have that kind of impact. With that in mind, Granderson is also a definite part of the Yankees’ future and you want to put an emphasis on comfortably transitioning him to the team. It’s also easier to find a corner outfielder that can hit and defend than a center fielder that can hit and defend, and the Yankees’ shouldn’t mess with already having found the tougher of those two things. Especially in light of the fact that the Yankees may upgrade left field within the next year or two, if not from within their roster this year.

16 comments:

from the bronx said...

the issue with carl crawford on the horizon is something to think about if you're putting granderson in left for 2010, but if this is a "win-now" team, how can you not look to exploit every advantage?? further, if a big part of gardner's game is saving runs with his defense - as opposed to producing them with his offense - then its easier to justify him playing every day at CF than LF.

another potential worry with gardner in left field is that he would crash into the wall making a catch on the 3rd base line pretty much every day. i don't think he'd be in the lineup consistently due to injuries. i was at the game at home last year against the nationals (the yanks were shut out after a 6 hour rain delay) when gardner left the game in the middle innings after making a circus catch in center field and colliding with the wall. the guy plays full-speed for every out, which you like but not necessarily love if its a corner outfielder easily capable of reaching the wall to catch fly outs.

Anonymous said...

First, some great coverage of the NFL combine on the NFL network. DV you should check in out. If possible would like to get TimC's thoughts on who the Patriots should target, as well as whether or not C.J. Spiller is going to be a legitimate full time NFL running back. (or be a Reggie Bush/Darren McFadden dud)

Is it possible to set up alerts on blogspot for certain terms? It seems like the bronx will go quiet for weeks but at the first sign of steroids or brett gardner he's all over it.

Also, good work by Kaplan since being called out last week. I guess sometimes you just have to give that young man some bulletin board material.

Finally Pat, regarding this post, many of life's problems could be solved if people didn't make decisions in a vacuum. Obviously you do what's best for the team but as you point out you don't know how things are going to line up coming out of spring training and it's probably a little early to make a decision now. Either way, it's hard to justify making decisions based on what is best for Brett Gardner. Do what it takes to win.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

It also depends, I think, on which field it is easier to judge balls from. If memory serves me right, Gardner had some trouble judging the ball last season (as I think Bronx alluded to). If it is easier to judge a ball in left field, that's probably the best way to go.

As far as jerking guys around position to position goes, nothing they do could possibly be worse than what they're doing with those two pitchers. And if they're down with that, they would be down with switching the outfielders as well.

Bronx, your comment on Gardner crashing into the wall "pretty much every day" is one of the funniest things you've written thus far.

Bandi, I'd rather ESPN devote an extra hour to the Yankees' left/center field controversy or televise UMass vs. St. Bonaventure college hoops than have more NFL Draft coverage. Unfortunately, despite the six-month rate hike, Senator Arlen Specter's cable company does not give me NFL Network. So I'm just going to get all the draft coverage I need from Felger. If Felger thinks the Patriots should draft Tim Tebow, the Patriots should draft Tim Tebow.

The alerts must exist. Because every time I write about Manny Delcarmen sucking, we get a cameo from my boy Craig, too. Either that or we just have a wider everyday readership than we think we do.

Ross Kaplan said...

I honestly don't know the significance of any of the fielding statistics like UZR or anything, but clearly you want to put your best outfielder in center field because he has to cover the most territory. This is especially the case for the Yankees which as Pat discussed is an enormous area. That's why Yankee greats like DiMaggio, Mantle and Murcer patrolled that area.

That being said, I do not think it is going to make a huge difference who starts the season where because if things don't work out they will just switch positions. I don't know this for sure, but I would imagine that Girardi would not even be considering sticking Granderson in left if he had not had at least some playing experience there.

Also, I agree with Bronx in that the Yankees cannot allow potential future acquisitions affect this season's defensive alignment. Whatever changes that need to be should and will be made when the time comes.

Patrick said...

gardner is a hustle guy. that's why he plays. a guy like him can't afford to not be full-speed for every out, that's what he gets employed to do. you put hustle guys out there to crash into walls, not protect them from doing so. so even if he did crash into the wall a bunch of times per week - which he likely won't, there aren't that many opportunities to do so - that's what he's supposed to be doing. plus, johnny damon is a full-speed guy who crashes into walls all the time and he managed left field, as do many other full-speed left fielders out there. gardner doesn't get special treatment in that regard.

the idea that 2011 shouldn't impact 2010 is valid, though i do think you have to worry about making granderson comfortable as a major part of future plans. however, i do think other elements of 2010 should impact 2010, as i outlined in the post. what if gardner can't justify playing 140+ games in center? what if you need to pinch hit for him? do you really want to be shuttling granderson around not only in-season, but in-game after a pinch-hit? i think gardner is going to be a very useful player for the 2010 yankees. i just think he'll be most useful mixed in with winn and thames in left, as well as spelling granderson in center. versatility and flexibility favors this situation i think, not locking people outside of granderson into spots or playing time.

gm -

i think the 2010 season will really tell us where they are at with those two pitchers. as much as i've questioned it in the past, if they were both key cogs on a championship team, and then are able to be successful individually moving forward, how much can any of us really get on them for how they were handled? because it will have worked. either way, it's no reason to mess with other guys and start moving them around.

gardner had trouble judging balls for the first two months of the season, but was stellar defensively from there on out. judging balls in center is, on average, slightly tougher than left i would imagine because it's straight on with no angle. but i'm not sure if you can base anything off of that, granderson had trouble reading balls last year too.

from the bronx said...

gm, obviously i'm being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but playing him in the corner every day would worry me somewhat. whatever else you want to say about gardner, he hustles every play and he's not afraid to lay out near the wall. the play against the nationals i'm referencing was a hard line-drive that carried to the wall... gardner was playing straightaway and covered a tremendous amount of ground to make the catch in front of the dunkin donuts sign in left field (http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5121797). put him in either corner and he's going to be playing pinball with his body out there.

from the bronx said...

pat,
if you can't justify playing gardner 140 games in CF, how can you justify playing him in LF?

gardner needs ABs every day, and if he gets them i don't think it will be long before the yankees realize they have a leadoff hitting CF on their hands.

.300/.360 at the AS break.

Patrick said...

this isn't afternoon tea, he's supposed to be playing pinball with his body. that's what good defensive outfielders do. especially those with career 80 ops+'s.

Patrick said...

because in left there is more flexibility. i view left and center as similarly demanding/important positions in yankee stadium. just in left, we have other options. so if gardner hits enough to play 140 games, i don't think it's going to make a huge difference whether he's playing plus defense in center or left with granderson playing above average defense in the other position. it's a near wash i think. if he stays in left, if he doesn't hit enough to play 140 games, the yankees are still covered because there are other options. just gives the team a little more flexibility and insurance. can't do the same thing with center field.

from the bronx said...

i don't want him to stop playing that way. i'm just pretty convinced he brings a lot more value to the team playing CF everyday with granderson playing LF; it also happens that he'll stay healthier with that defensive alignment.

also, granderson came up as a LF in the minors, and he's as much of a class act as anyone in the game. if a-rod can move to 3rd, then grandy can be comfortable with a move to LF.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

What about average defensive outfielders with a career OPS+ of 97 and ability to make up for their poor ball judgment skills with their speed and athleticism? Red Sox used to have two of them. Do they play pinball? Well, one of them does, but he plays for Oakland now. The other one flies out a lot, smiles and claps a lot, and hits into an inordinate amount of double plays for someone that fast.

You heard it here first: Gardner has a better season than Number Two.

Calf's Blood moved to third out of respect for Jeter. FTB, even you can admit that Gardner's not Jeter.

Patrick said...

if gardner hits enough to play everyday, i agree the team is better defensively with that alignment. i also agree granderson can handle a switch. i'm just not sure the overall offensive/defensive production with gardner in center and granderson in left everyday is better than granderson in center everyday and gardner/winn/thames playing match-ups in left with gardner also spelling granderson in center. when i say i'm not sure, i mean that in the literal sense. i don't think we know, and we just need to find out. there is more to consider than just outfield defense in making this decision. it's total production.

the conversation about gardner's health has now been taken to another universe. if you're an all out outfielder, there is plenty of opportunity to crash into walls no matter where you play. and while there might be slightly more in the corners, the reality is it just doesn't happen that often. not enough to justify how much we've just talked about it.

gm - i hope you're right. but ellsbury has a lot more power than gardner and the .300/.355 he put up last year is something yankees fans can only hope gardner reaches. possible, but i don't think he's got a ton more than that in him, and ellsbury is already there. gardner is capable but he'd have to reach a little and ellsbury would have to at least stay around where he is or more likely regress for gardner to pass him.

from the bronx said...

gm, not saying that gardner is jeter. just saying that if a diva (and gold glove SS) is willing to move to 3rd for an average to below average defensive SS, then surely granderson - who is not a diva - can move to left for gardner, who i think we all agree is the better defensive player.

as far as the offense goes, look at what gardner did after his poor start (he's always taken time to adjust to each new level) and before he hurt his hand stealing bases. In May and June, he had 100 ABs and hit .330/.427/.510. the guy can flat out play. if he stays healthy, he is going to give the yanks way more production then people realize.

Anonymous said...

I might be missing something because I haven't read every single comment. However even if you were more likely to crash into walls in the corner, wouldn't you want Gardner to be the one doing that since he's your most expendable player? I'd rather have him doing that than Granderson

Patrick said...

i'm sure the answer out of camp gardner will be that granderson doesn't crash into walls the way gardner does. but the simple answer to your question is yes. however, this shouldn't even be part of the conversation. even the most reckless outfielder doesn't crash into walls that much, and definitely not a ton more in the corners than he would in center. you don't want either granderson or gardner crashing into walls, and thankfully it doesn't happen that much. hopefully when/if it does nothing will happen, and they will both stay healthy all season. i can't believe we are still discussing this.

Anonymous said...

Pat:

We also have to consider that Yankee stadium is a launching pad, and therefore more balls will be out near the wall than there would be at a normal stadium. Have the yankees considered adding additional padding to the out field walls to deal with this reality?

Also, Taylor Mays ran a great 40 time today even though his official time wasn't as good as his unofficial time. This has raider pick all over it, as he had terrible college production but played at USC and has all the 'measurables.'