Chad Jennings of LoHud poses an interesting question in his latest post, one that I think strikes at the heart of why Brett Gardner has as many detractors as he does fans among the Yankee faithful. Referring to Gardner and Granderson and their defensive positions in the outfield, he wrote this:
My question is: If those roles were switched, would that change the way you feel about the current Yankees roster?
This isn’t to debate the defensive merits of the two outfielders. I’m just wondering if the speed were coming from a typically speed-based position and the power were coming from a typically power-based position, would the lineup seem better? It seems there is some debate about whether Gardner provides enough power to be a left fielder, but I don’t see that it matters. If he were to open as the Yankees left fielder, he would be batting in the same spot in the lineup as on opening day 2009. The fact he would be playing left instead of center only means the Yankees defense would have improved.
For me, this really sheds light on why some fans are so dead set against him. Critics look only at his bat in his position and find it to be inadequate. He’s simply not a prototypical Yankee Left Fielder. Yankee fans have come to enjoy slugging Left Fielders in Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon in recent years. The competition has often had a big bat in Left as well. The Red Sox had Manny for years, and more recently the dangerous Jason Bay. The Phillies have Raul Ibanez, the Tampa Rays have the dangerous Carl Crawford.
But this wasn’t always the case for the Yankees. The 1996 team had the light hitting Gerald Williams in Left, the 1998 team had Chad Curtis, 1999 and 2000 featured Ricky Ledee there and the 2001 team had a washed up Chuck Knoblauch manning the corner position. If you want to go back even further, the 1976-77 teams had Roy White out there. So if anyone wants to argue that ‘we can’t win’ with Brett out there, it just doesn’t wash. As of today, the Red Sox are looking at playing the speedy, light hitting Jacoby Ellsbury in Left field, which makes even less sense for them since the Green Monster negates much of the value of his speed. For this reason, I suspect he’ll flip positions with JD Drew by Opening Day assuming no further roster moves.
Those of us who support Brett view him primarily as CF, a premium defensive position where teams will often carry a light bat. We also view him as our #9 hitter and as such aren’t overly concerned with his bat. The value he adds is not so much in slugging the ball but rather in turning batted balls into outs. Making catches like this. His glove is so outstanding that in 09 he was a +2.1 WAR player as a part time player, his net value based almost entirely on his fielding abilities. As David Pinto famously noted, there are only three dimensions of offense. Anyone who can do two of them effectively can start for most MLB teams. We know Brett can run the bases, and he showed the ability to get on base at a .345 clip last year. That’s more than enough to make him a starter, though he may very well require a caddy on days when you face a tough Lefty. I will acknowledge that between Gardner and Granderson, the Yanks will likely be a bit more susceptible to tough Lefthanders than the 2009 edition was. But not enough to worry too much about with Jeter, Alex and three switch hitters (Tex/Posada/Swisher) in the lineup. Robbie Cano has always handled Lefties as well, and Nick Johnson has actually fared better facing Lefties over the course of his career.
To me, it comes down to this. If both Granderson and Gardner are going to play in the outfield somewhere, does this really matter? For lineup purposes, not one bit. But if were committed to playing both of them (which as of right now we are) then you might as well take advantage of Brett’s superior defensive abilities in CF. It makes no sense to put the lesser defensive player in CF when you’re playing both guys anyway, which is why EJ was right when he penned this controversial piece.
(photo courtesy of the NY Daily News)