Counting spring training and the Arizona Fall League, Greg Bird has played in 31 games since missing the 2016 season with a torn labrum. Gauging how close a hitter is to 100% over 31 games which span over five months is not an easy thing to do. But Bird has shown every indication that he is shaking off the rust that comes with missing an entire season of hitting.
In 14 spring training games, Bird has a .438/.526/1.031 slash line. He has added four home runs, with a good mix of five doubles and one triple as well. What’s more, he has shown the ability to use the entire field, as seen in the second home run in this video:
His spring training outburst comes in the wake of a mediocre Arizona Fall League performance, when he was not as far removed from his shoulder surgery. In the Desert, Bird had a .215/.346/.354 slash line, with just one home run in 17 games. But what has remained consistent is his ability to get on base without striking out too often. In the Arizona Fall League, he had walk and strikeout rates of 15.4% and 21.8%, respectively. This spring, he has six walks and six strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.
If there were any lingering issues in his shoulder, we would expect to see Bird failing to catch up with big league pitching, which in theory would prop up his strikeout rate. However, this was not the case, even in Arizona. His lack of power can be attributed to him not being ready to really turn on pitches like he did in 2015, when he hit 11 home runs in 46 big league games.
It’s also good to see him avoiding strikeouts considering his 29.8% strikeout rate in 2015. In his first stint in the majors, Bird had a .319 BABIP, something that might not be sustainable for someone who hits a lot of flyballs and has a slight pull tendency. Speaking of flyballs, Bird did an exceptional job of keeping the ball off the ground in 2015, with a groundball rate of just 26.7%. Assuming his groundball rate and BABIP return to more normal figures, he will need to compensate by limiting strikeouts.
For flyball hitters, the road up the Yankees’ depth chart is not an easy one. The Eastern and International Leagues, home to the Double-A Trenton Thunder and Triple-A Scranton Railriders, are nowhere near as hitter-friendly as the AL East. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since the Yankees had a homegrown lefty power hitter that it is hard to say whether Bird’s home run spike in 2015 was a fluke or not. Luckily, Bird’s ability to draw walks without racking up too many strikeouts suggests that he has more than one way of contributing to the Yankees’ offense.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs and MLB.com.