The 2015 season seems like a lifetime ago for many reasons. Sure, playoff baseball returned to the Bronx that October, but the foundation of their Wild Card roster was decaying from age and injury. The only homegrown players on the team now who contributed were Luis Severino on the mound and a powerful Greg Bird at the plate.
Bird slugged 11 home runs in 178 plate appearances in after being called up in mid-August, but a torn labrum in his shoulder sidelined him for the entire 2016 season. That was when a freakish Gary Sanchez equaled Bird’s 2015 home run total in one calendar month. When Bird returned with a monstrous spring training in 2017, Yankees fans were reminded of his potential.
Then a ball off the ankle sent Bird to the disabled list once again. At the same time, Aaron Judge became the next Baby Bomber to take the league by storm with his torrid home run pace. While Judge mashed, some questioned Bird’s place in the Yankees’ future. It took months of lingering pain before doctor’s finally discovered a bone in his foot that needed to be removed.
Bird returned late in the 2017 season and was a force in the playoffs, finishing the postseason with a .921 OPS and a huge home run off Andrew Miller in the ALDS to keep the season alive. Bird was back.
Now with Giancarlo Stanton in pinstripes, pairing him with Judge is enough to make any baseball fan salivate. All eyes will be on the exit velocity tracker in the Bronx, but stay on the lookout for Bird. He is poised to break out in 2018 should health be on his side.
Given Bird’s production when healthy, it isn’t outlandish to expect a monster season in 2018. In a lineup loaded with right-handed power, Bird brings a big lefty bat to give the lineup balance. He will also serve as another slugger in the batting order.
If Bird can continue to hit southpaws the way he did in 2017, the Yankees are really in business. He finished the season with a .987 OPS against lefties, compared to .752 in 2015. Both sample sizes were fairly small — 32 plate appearances in 2017, 49 in 2015 -- but still show Bird’s potential. His strikeout percentages against lefties dropped almost a full 10 percent as well in 2017, so left-handers won’t have time to breathe after Judge and Stanton have their turn in the box.
Bird may not possess the raw power of Stanton and Judge, but he has the right field fence on his side. The field is Bird’s friend, and the two will have a grand old time in 2018. Given his power production and a full season in Yankee Stadium, he could find himself north of 40 dingers by year’s end.
The excitement for Stanton and Judge is absolutely warranted. They will be the most formidable duo in baseball. Bird, however, has been forgotten multiple times in his young career due to injury or the rampant success of a teammate. Fans shouldn’t make the same mistake this year. Stanton has arrived, but the Bird is still the word.