Mike Tauchman Has Been an Ideal 4th Outfielder

The Yankees traded for Mike Tauchman from the Rockies shortly before Opening Day, in exchange for LHP David Diehl. At the time of the trade, The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler (subs req’d) reported that the Yankees saw “Luke Voit-like” qualities in their new outfielder. In other words, that meant that they believed he could be a hidden gem, likely buttressed by their interpretation of his minor league batted ball data and other advanced metrics.

Unfortunately, that data is all proprietary to MLB clubs, so we can’t see it right now. But we can see what he’s done so far in 2019 with New York, in what has been his first extended run at the MLB level. Over the weekend against his former team, Tauchman hit .571/.625/1.143, going 4-7 with 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 SB, 5 R, and 2 RBI, so this analysis is as timely as it’ll ever be. Let’s take a look behind the curtain to see what the Yankees may have seen in Tauchman prior to the season and see what it might mean for his production going forward, shall we?

Defense

When the Yankees again lost Giancarlo Stanton to injury several weeks ago, many of us–myself included–expected to see Clint Frazier get the nod to replace him. Clint had impressed despite the controversy, but the Yankees instead turned to Tauchman, citing his superior defense, which is a valuable skill for a backup OF. To be honest, it sounded like a cop-out to me at the time (and it still might be!), but it’s important to admit when we’re wrong, and well, it seems like I was wrong.

Statcast recently refined its defensive metrics, and they publicized quite a bit of data relevant to outfielders. Tauchman fares quite well among these statistics. Check out his numbers, with his rank among the 174 outfielders in 2019 with at least 25 opportunities in parentheses:

  • Catch Percent Added: 6% (8th)
  • Percentage of Plays Made with 0-90% Catch Expectancy: 69.6% (9th)
  • Outs Above Average: 5 (15th)
  • Feet Covered: 34.8 (31st)
  • Burst: 0.5 feet better than average: 0.5 (32nd)
  • Feet vs Average (Jump): 0.6 (34th)
  • Reaction: 0.3 feet better than average (48th)

There are a few immediate takeaways from this data. First, the data overwhelmingly shows that Tauchman is an above-average fielder. (Remember, ranking 87th is the median here.) Second, he does just about everything well defensively: he gets good breaks on fly balls (that’s burst/jump/reaction), he catches a vast majority of the balls hit at him, and he covers a lot of ground out there. That’s all good. Very good, in fact.

But it’s the first stat–catch percent added–that really catches my eye. Catch Percent Added takes the overall percentage of balls an outfielder catches and subtracts from it the overall expected catch percentage of each individual play. A positive number is above-average, 0 is exactly as expected, a negative number is below-average. Very straightforward.

Tauchman has caught 92% of all balls hit in his direction in 2019, while Statcast estimates that only 86% of those were “expected” outs, leaving him with 6% Catch Percent Added. That ranks 8th out of the 174 outfielders in the sample. I think this is the most useful of these new metrics, and it’s also the one in which Tauchman most excels. Love when that happens.

Anyway, what does this mean in real life? It means that Tauchman makes plays like this:

This:

This:

And this:

You get the idea. Of course, this only tells part of the story: outfielders have to throw, too. Unfortunately, Statcast doesn’t publish arm strength data, so we can’t quantify Tauchman’s arm. We can guess it by other methods, though. Check out this play from Friday night, for example:

Impressive, right? It’s impressive even without context, but let’s add some. First, the YES broadcast said that throw came in at 91 mph. I know we’ve seen Judge hit 100, but Judge is a freak. That seems like a plenty good throw to me. Second, the runner was Garrett Hampson, and he is capital-f Fast, with a 30 feet/second sprint speed that ranks in the 100th percentile in the league. Tauchman threw him out like it was nothing, even if it wasn’t the longest throw. That’s definitely worth something.

Anyway, the Yankees have said repeatedly that they view Tauchman like an above-average defensive outfielder, they treat him like one, and the (useful, I’m looking at you, UZR) accessible metrics all seem to back that up. More is needed here to be fully definitive (it’s only 50 games, for crying out loud) but we can only make due with what we have. For now, all signs point to a good defender.

Speed/Baserunning

It should be obvious from the above defensive statistics, but in case it wasn’t, Tauchman brings speed to the table. He’s not the quickest player in the league (or on his own team) but he isn’t a slouch, either. Check out his Statcast running stats, with his percentile rank among 482 big leaguers w/ 10 opps or more in parentheses:

  • Home to First: 4.23 seconds (83rd percentile)
  • Sprint Speed: 27.9 feet per second (74th percentile)

Now, again, these aren’t mind-bending numbers, but they are above average. It’s a real skill Tauchman has, and it impacts his base running, too. I pointed out on Saturday that Tauchman’s base running directly led to a run. It’s true.

First, he beat out his own ground ball to avoid a double play, keeping the inning alive and extending the Yankee lead. Here’s the video:

He later scored on this:

That is a good example of how speed coupled with aggressive base running–Tauchman has taken the extra base 69% of the time he can, per Baseball-Reference, in an extremely small sample–can actually create runs. Again, Tauchman seemingly has a real skill in this department. That’s another point in his favor.

Offense

Let’s play a quick game. It’s called “Guess the Player.” I’ll help you out: both are Yankees, and it’s just a basic line.

  • Player A: .243/.325/.460 (105 wRC+)
  • Player B: .248/.343/.464 (113 wRC+)

Since this is a post about Tauchman, I’m going to assume you guessed that he was one of the lines–congratulations! You’re correct. He is player B. Player A? Player A is Brett Gardner. Now, of course, there is a significant sample size difference here–Gardner has played in 92 games, Tauchman only 47–but I thought it was interesting enough to share, and also reflective of the fact that Tauchman has been an extremely useful 4th/5th outfielder in his time in New York.

Much of that success has come since he returned to the Majors before the London trip. Here is his line since June 29, the first game in which he played: .480/.552/.800 (255 wRC+) with 12 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 9 runs scored, and a 13.2% BB rate. Seems sustainable! But seriously, that’s a very solid run for Tauchman, who has been able to bolster his strong defensive performance with real offensive productivity.

Whether or not it lasts (his batted ball profile is so far nothing to write home about, but small samples galore) is a different question. But you can’t take these at-bats back. Yet again, the Yanks have gotten some value out of someone that many of us, myself included, laughed or groaned about a few months ago. (It’s almost like the Yankees know what they’re doing. Who knew!)

Finally, there’s not a whole lot to analyze with Tauchman offensively given the small samples, but I did notice one thing interesting that I wanted to flag just for the heck of it. Check out the gap between performance on high-velocity fastballs compared to lower velocity ones:

Batting AverageSluggingwOBAAvg. Exit Velocity
FB ≥ 95 mph.438.750.52892.9 mph
FB ≤ 95 mph.175.333.28986.6 mph

Only 16 at-bats have ended on a 95 mph or faster fastball, but he has hits in 7 of those at bats, and hey–you can’t take those away from him. He’s been crushing the high-velocity stuff so far in 2019. Who knows if that means anything–it probably doesn’t!–but I thought it was interesting. Obviously, I need to see a lot more to establish that he’s an actually good offensive player, but this is about as good of a start as you’re going to get. Another point in his favor.

Conclusion

What does this all mean? I think that, despite the limited sample, we can safely say that the Yankees were not wrong about Mike Tauchman: he has been performing like a very useful 4th outfielder. He plays good defense, he runs the bases well, and he’s hit. He’s certainly made Brian Cashman and the Yankee front office seem even smarter than they already looked, that much is for sure.

Is this sustainable production? Who knows. I sure don’t. I mean, this is what I was saying a few months ago:

So that shows what I know about anything. I’ve been a Tauchman skeptic since the very beginning. However, results are results, and you can’t ignore them. Tauchman has proven me wrong so far and the Yankee front office right. I suspect that’s true of many fans. That’s been the theme of this year, after all. Mike Tauchman, so far, is just the latest example.

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7 Comments

  1. Gio

    I think you meant Philip Diehl. David Diehl is an ex-Giants offensive lineman.

  2. RetroRob

    Fans and the media have understandably turned this is a Frazier-vs.-Tauchman debate, with only winner. That may not be the case.

    I’ve suggested previously that Tauchman is being assessed not for Frazier’s eventual spot on the team, but Gardner’s. I don’t mean the starting OFer role that Gardner has held and performed so well at for the past decade, but for the 4th OFer role that many expected Gardner to shift into here in 2019. It never happened due to injuries to the other OFers.

    There is a world where both Frazier and Tauchman are on the 2020 Yankees. The Yankees will let EE leave after this year opening up the DH spot, and they may also opt not to bring Gardner back either. That means Judge, Hicks and Stanton/Frazier is your starting OF, with Stanton and Frazier rotating between LF and DH, both playing regularly. Tauchman is then your all-purpose 4th OFer who can serve as the late-inning defensive replacement, and most importantly, serve as a legit CF option to rest Hicks or fill in for when/if he gets injured. Right now, Gardner serves that role. They need to see if Tauchman can serve that role, and so far he’s passing with flying colors.

    The Yankees may trade Frazier because he’s the best piece they can offer up for a front-line pitcher. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s a lock. Frazier has both the bat, upside, and low contract that the Yankees will find quite valuable in 2020.

    • Mikenyc

      Totally agree- the Gardner signing was an overpay at the time, and likely was done for cost certainty with all the injuries ( Ells, Frazier) and potential injuries (Stanton, Hicks) which were easily forecast coming into the season. With Hicks signed up and Frazier ready to go, Gardy likely will not be back in 2020.

      If Tauchman can continue his play- and even if there is regression -his versatility and cheapness (and left handed-ness) serve as a perfect situational outfielder to rest starters, and doing this at ML level also makes him available as a 3rd player thrown in for a trade who actually has some value.

      either way, kudos to the Yanks stats guys for continuing to find underappreciated guys – i wonder if they will get the same treatment as Beane…..as the value of Voit, Urshella Hicks and tauchman has really been astounding.

  3. Madrugador

    Maybe Cashman really does want Frazier at AAA to work on his defense but when Gardener ends up on the DL because of his knee. Frazier needs to be brought up as his replacement. If we don’t see Frazier then, I’d bet we never see him in NY in a Yankee uniform.

  4. I’m starting to fear that the Yankees front office may know more than people on the Internet.

    • RetroRob

      Replies like this is when I miss the up-vote button.

  5. dasit

    first frazier gets pipped
    then gardner
    stanton better hurry back

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