With the Yankees reaching the All-Star break, we’re evaluating the team thus far, position by position, before play resumes. I started with the rotation, catchers/DHs and the infield. Now, let’s move to the outfield:
Ten innings. That’s the amount of time the Yankees have put together their ideal outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge this season. All three have spent significant time on the shelf, but the Bombers rode a veteran leader and a rotating cast of unexpected contributors to one of the best outfields in baseball.
As a whole, the Bombers’ outfield tied for 12th in wRC+ and tied for sixth in bWAR (11th in fWAR). Considering Hicks, Judge and Stanton have had just 358 plate appearances, that’s remarkable.
Let’s go player-by-player, starting with the ageless wonder:
Brett Gardner: A
The Yankees always say the same thing in Spring Training: This is the year they’re going to cut back on Brett Gardner’s playing time. Each year, injuries and a hot first half make those spring edicts laughable by June.
Gardner leads the Bombers’ outfield with 323 plate appearances and he’s had a throwback season at the plate, hitting 15 home runs as a beneficiary of the apparently-juiced baseball. He’s hitting .246/.328/.470, posting a slugging percentage 102 points higher than last season and 42 points higher than he career best. The outfielder also leads the team with eight stolen bases.
The longest-tenured Yankee is on pace to top his personal-high 21 homers by August. He’s hit everywhere in the lineup this season and has started as the No. 3 and No. 5 hitter in the lineup. And no, this isn’t 2013 again.
It’s not as if Gardner’s suddenly hitting the ball a lot harder as his average exit velocity increased by 0.4 mph. Instead, he has an average launch angle of 12.3 degrees, 3.1 degrees higher than his largest in the Statcast era.
In addition to an increased load at the plate, he’s played his most games in center field since 2013, before the Yankees acquired Jacoby Ellsbury. Though Aaron Hicks is back, we’ll have to see if his starting workload will once again lead to a second-half swoon.
Aaron Judge: INC/A-
How do you appraise Judge’s season when he missed two months? His batting line looks like his classic self at .271/.392/.525, almost a carbon copy of 2018. He’s cut down slightly on his strikeouts and added a few more walks while still producing 1.3 WAR in 33 games.
The fourth-year outfielder is hitting the ball harder than ever at 96.9 mph on average, though his launch angle has decreased. Despite that oblique injury, he’s hit multiple home runs since coming back and has slotted in just fine in the two-hole.
However, that oblique injury still creeps into mind. One would presume he needs more days off as the season goes along and we still don’t know if he’s 100 percent healed. He’s produced just fine since coming back — again, he’s hitting at his normal levels — but his injury history sticks in the back of your mind.
For Judge, the second-half goal is to stay the course and avoid major injuries … as if that’s something you can consciously do.
Aaron Hicks: B-
As with Judge, Hicks’ extended time on the shelf distorts the view of his season. He’s had more PAs than Judge or Stanton after coming back in May, but his back injury was mentioned as “chronic” and he had to ready two swings as a switch-hitter. That’s difficult without a full Spring Training.
At the plate, he’s given the team above-average production (103 wRC+) buoyed by a recent hot streak. The last two weeks are evidence that he’s coming into his own. Still, he’s striking out more than before without better power as a result.
Hicks remains the Yankees’ best option in center field and his hawk-like eye at the plate makes him a threat regardless of a slump. He could be set for a better second half provided he’s fully healthy.
Mike Tauchman: B
I know Tauchman can be a punchline, drawing ire for his promotion over Clint Frazier while striking out a bit too much. However, Tauchman has given the Yankees plenty of value this year and earned a back-of-the-roster spot.
Tauchman hit for plenty of power in Triple-A last season and that’s come through at times for the Yankees, though he’s still a below-average hitter. Instead, he keeps himself in the mix with his superb defense.
With a combination of speed and instincts, he’s given the Yankees respectable defense primarily in the corners with Hicks, Judge and Stanton all going down. He’s +5 in Statcast’s Outs Above Average, best among Yankees outfielders.
Cameron Maybin: A
The Yankees took a flyer on Maybin when their outfield depth reached its nadir and encouraged him to be himself, allowing him to join many swing changers in using an elevated swing plane.
From there, Maybin took off, hitting .314/.391/.500 in 133 plate appearances. He’s come through in the clutch and even hit five home runs, more than he hit all of last season. The 32-year-old was a force in June, batting .386 with a 1.153 OPS in 14 games.
However, a game after Judge returned, Maybin suffered a Grade 2 calf strain and is out for an extended period. While he’s on the IL, he’ll reach 10 years service time and a full pension, which is a positive amid his rehab. He’s earned a roster spot for when he returns.
Clint Frazier: B-
Expected to play Triple-A every day to start year, Frazier spent the first 2.5 months of the season in the Majors and justified his spot with a powerful bat. The 24-year-old known for legendary bat speed hit 11 home runs and batted .283/.330/.513 (117 wRC+) in 209 plate appearances, easily his best marks over three partial MLB seasons. Concussion woes hopefully remain a worry of the past.
His performance at the plate is simply incongruous with a demotion to Triple-A until you look at his defense. Frazier is a trainwreck in the outfield. He is 222nd out of 223 outfielders in Outs Above Average and has looked the part, perhaps costing the Yankees games.
Leading the American League, the Yankees can’t afford to let Frazier develop in the Majors and need to go with players who are more finished products. If Edwin Encarnacion weren’t on the roster, he could DH, though that would come at the expense of his outfield development.
Therefore, Frazier has to work on his game in Triple-A and either force open a spot, have one open organically or see himself traded before he can assume the mantle of Yankees starting outfielder. It’s unfair, but that’s the game.
Giancarlo Stanton: INC
It’s extremely weird putting Stanton at the end of this, but it’s fitting as he’s played the fewest games among these players. After playing the first three games of the year, he dealt with a “blown out” biceps, a shoulder injury, a calf strain and, after a brief return from the IL, a PCL strain in his knee.
For those who want to label him as injury prone, remember that he played 158 games last year and helped carry the Yankees with Aaron Judge out. He may indeed be injury prone moving forward, but he missed just seven games from 2017-2018.
In the nine games, Stanton’s played this year, he’s had tremendous patience, working seven walks in 38 plate appearances. He has just one homer thus far, although he has the two hardest hit balls by Statcast. That’s with just 18 balls put in play.
Stanton still has plenty of time to make a large impact this year assuming he returns close to the August timeline mentioned by Brian Cashman.