Way back in the day, I used to write the blog Fire Joe Torre. My argument was basically (with some hyperbole thrown in): the Yankees can do better than Torre, even if they won a lot of games with him. They’re slowly losing their dominance. The fans love Joe Torre. The media loves him. The team loves him. He’s still far from the best manager they could find. Therefore, if they were really serious about winning, they would ditch the good feelings and make the move that they really needed to make: fire Torre, and hire a good manager.
The argument that I want to make in this post is a little different. The Yankees just won the World Series. For the sake of egos, fans, the media, conventional wisdom and inertia, they can probably afford to take the second-best option on the playing field once or twice and still have a pretty good shot at the World Series. I still think that they should do absolutely everything they can to maximize their chance of winning, so I believe that Curtis Granderson should play left field and Brett Gardner should play center field.
Greg Fertel at Pending Pinstripes made a similar argument last week. He noticed how strong Gardner’s defense projects as, and how underrated his offense was in 2009, and compares Gardner to Jason Bay favorably. While that doesn’t really pass the “smell test” to me, I don’t think that Brett Gardner is all that bad. In fact, I think he is a lot better than Melky Cabrera.
Unfortunately, the snow has put a dent in my weekend plans, so I can’t go into any real fancy statistical analysis here. I’m working from a family member’s netbook. But I’m going to put up two tables: Brett Gardner’s last couple of years, and Melky Cabrera’s last couple of years, via BR:
Brett Gardner, Minors:
Brett Gardner, Majors:
Melky Cabrea, Majors:
I think that a couple of things are self-evident, that are worth remembering. First off, Brett Gardner had a pretty good rookie season with the bat. He battled through injuries, but hit .270/.345/.379, which along with his baserunning makes him a decent enough option at center field. Melky Cabrera wasn’t much better, despite having his best season ever in his fourth full campaign in the major leagues. In his two previous seasons, Melky was much worse with the bat than Brett Gardner. On defense, and the basepaths, there is no argument that Brett Gardner is a far superior player.
If Brett Gardner improves even a little bit, he should be on the team over Melky Cabrera. I included Gardner’s minor league statistics to illustrate just how good he was while down there, especially at Triple-A. A .360 OBP year from Gardner is well within the realm of possibility. With full playing time, you’d probably also see 70+ stolen bases. Basically, I’ll echo what I got some heat for saying in 2007: Brett Gardner is basically Jacoby Ellsbury, but Ellsbury doesn’t know how to play defense, and Gardner does. He should play.
But if they were really serious about winning, the Yankees wouldnt stop there. Brett Gardner shoudn’t only play over Melky Cabrera, he should take Curtis Granderson’s assumed spot in center field. Granderson is a fine player, a fine person, and a decent center fielder. Years ago, he ranked among the best in the league by UZR (which has its flaws, but we don’t really have a better measure), and while he has slowed down a bit lately, Granderson still is an above-average player at the position. I don’t want to get into a statistical debate here: we can all pretty much agree that Brett Gardner is a better center fielder than Curtis Granderson.
At that point of logic, the decision should be easy. Granderson should take his good speed for a center fielder and become a much stronger center fielder. Brett Gardner should play center. Given the current roster construction, this is the best way for Joe Girardi to deploy his roster.
But does it matter? If Granderson is 10 + X in left field, shouldn’t Gardner just be 15 + X? No, it doesn’t work that way. Center field not only requires more range, it affords more opportunities. Brett Gardner will get more chances to use his awesome speed at that position, and that difference will manifest in real runs. How many runs over the course of a season? You can probably guess as well as me, because I have no clue. But the logic tells me some runs will be saved, and that’s all that matters to me.
The Red Sox just got John Lackey. They may get Adrian Gonzalez. Its time to get serious. Granderson will get over it. Melky fans will get over it. Do what makes the team on the field best, and screw everyone’s feelings.