When the Yankees traded for outfielder Curtis Granderson, we all assumed he would be manning center field every day and Melky Cabrera would be the left fielder, with Brett Gardner and Jamie Hoffmann on the bench as the extra outfielders. Now, with the trade of Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez, it would seem that Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ Opening Day left fielder.
On discussion boards across the Yankee blogosphere, some have suggested switching Granderson and Gardner, so the former plays left and the latter plays center. The argument is that Granderson likely has the bat to play left field and that Gardner, who doesn’t have the bat to play left field, is a great center field defender and the Yankees would be better served optimizing the defense in that way.
To take a semi-scientific look at this, I’m going to, based on CAIRO projections for wOBA and UZR and see which would be more valuable to the Yankees. To convert wOBA into runs, I’m going to use the method presented here: wOBA minus league wOBA (which is always the same as the league OBP; for simplicity, I’ll use 2009’s, which was .336), divided by 1.5 times plate appearances. Then I’ll use the method I used here around the same time last year to (roughly) calculate the WAR totals.
Granderson’s CAIRO projected wOBA is .347 in 676 PAs; Gardner’s is .321 in 435 PAs.
Granderson WAR in CF:
.347-.336 = 0.0110
0.110/1.15 = 0.0096
0.0096 X 676 = 6.4661, now we add the position adjustment for CF, +2.5 runs:
6.4661 + 2.5 = 8.9661, now we add Granderson’s CF UZR projection of +2
8.9661 + 2.0 = 11.0661, Granderson’s runs above average; now we divide by 10.5 runs, roughly the amount for one win, and we get 1.0539 Wins Above Average. Then, we add two wins, since an average player is about two wins better than a replacement player. So, our finally total is: 3.0539 WAR for Curtis Granderson as a center fielder. Now, let’s run through the process again for Brett Gardner in LF. This may get ugly, folks.
Running the numbers in the same order, and factoring in the -7.5 run hit Gardner takes for being in LF, then his 2 run projection in LF, we get 0.9358 Wins Above Replacement in LF for Brett Gardner. So, in total, a Gardner/Granderson LF/CF would give the Yankees 3.9897 WAR. Let’s reverse it now, with Granderson in left and Gardner in center. Granderson’s LF defensive projection is 0 runs and Gardner’s in center field is +7.
Through the same process, we get: 1.9015 WAR for Granderson in left and 2.3644 for Gardner in center, which adds up to 4.2659.
So, based on my rudimentary number crunching, it would seem that Granderson’s positional hit in left and Gardner’s positional boost in center adds up to more WAR for the Yankees. However, there are some things for which I did not account.
1. Granderson could definitely outdo a .347 wOBA and play better than just +2 in CF.
2. Gardner may not get that many plate appearances, especially if the Yankees sign a platoon partner (Reed Johnson? Xavier Nady?) to hit lefties.
3. Brett Gardner ends up not sticking in the Majors.
4. These are just projections, and CAIRO is a little more on the pessimistic side than, say, Bill James’ projections are. When the Marcels and ZIPs projections are released and can be added up with CAIRO’s, James’, and CHONE’s numbers, we could probably examine this again.