Rob Neyer had a piece yesterday on his blog about the Yankees current outfield situation. A quick summary: Granderson’s defense in center field has gotten mixed reivews, and the Yankees are considering playing him in left. I’m usually a big Rob Neyer fan and agree with most things he writes, but not today.
Here is my problem with Neyer’s argument:
“My guess is that they’ll stick with Granderson in center field for practical reasons. The Yankees can always move him to left field. But once there, it might be problematic to return him to center if, say, they signed a new left fielder next winter. It’s pretty obvious that the organization doesn’t care about defense. That’s why they’ve got all those high-strikeout pitchers. They can carry Granderson’s decent glove in center for at least one season and probably more.”
Neyer just spent the whole article talking about the Yankees potentially moving Granderson to left field, and then said that the Yankees don’t care about defense. Why would the organization even be discussing the option of moving Granderson to left if the team didn’t care about defense? The entire point of moving him to left would be to improve their defense.
The answer to this question depends heavily on the actual defensive abilities of Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner. Both players have question marks surrounding their respective defensive performances. Objective measures haven’t been kind to Granderson the last two seasons, but more subjective measurements tell a more positive story. Scouts would be extremely valuable in determining the truth here. Gardner has too small of a sample size to draw conclusions from UZR, but he has rated positively so far, and Sean Smith’s Total Zone has agreed. If Gardner is the elite defensive center fielder many believe he is, then making the switch could make sense. A center fielder gets more opportunities over the course of a season than a left fielder, and those opportunities should go to the better defender.
Keep in mind, though, that if Brett Gardner doesn’t hit well, then things could change quickly. If Gardner builds on his solid rookie campaign, then the outfield switch would probably remain in place. But if Gardner regresses and begins to struggle, Granderson then has to move back to center field, with Randy Winn filling the left field spot. Winn is 35 years old, has never been rated too highly in center field according to UZR, and hasn’t been a regular at the position since 2004. In short, Randy Winn shouldn’t be playing center field on this team. It should be pretty interesting to see how this decision plays out over the course of the spring.
(As an aside, why does Neyer question the Yankees acquisition and development of high-strikeout pitchers? Aren’t those are the kind of pitchers that every team wants?)