The Yankees offense has taken baseball by storm, scoring the most runs in the American League and leading Major League Baseball in wRC+. While contributions have come from all around, the driving force has been the team’s stellar outfield play. Entering the season, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks each faced serious questions about their present and future. Ellsbury and Gardner appeared to be on the decline, while Judge and Hicks were unproven at the major league level.
Through 42 games in 2017, all four players have far outperformed their expectations, producing some truly impressive numbers. Consider that the 2016’s Yankee outfield produced 5.6 fWAR - 2.2 of which came courtesy of the since departed Carlos Beltran. Just a quarter of the way through the 2017 season, Yankee outfielders have racked up a remarkable 6.5 fWAR with an absurd 157 wRC+. The next closest team is the Rays at a distant 4.0 fWAR. Last year’s Red Sox led baseball with a 117 wRC+.
It’s simply undeniable that the Yankees outfield has been the MLB’s best, but will it continue? Entering the season the Yankees looked to have a middle of the pack outfield, however all four regulars have made significant improvements. None of their starts look like complete mirages, either.
Judge and Hicks look like completely different players, and while their lines will almost certainly regress, each of their improvements look to be legitimate. Judge has completely overhauled his approach, becoming more selective and allowing himself to tap into his absurd power to the tune of a league-leading 15 home runs in 40 games. Hicks has also altered his approach, selectively targeting pitches up in the zone, racking up a career high .269 ISO and a ridiculous 19.3% walk rate.
Gardner and Ellsbury have received less attention, but have both been major contributors in the early going. Gardner has rebounded from a rough mid-April slump in spectacular fashion, blasting 6 home runs and hitting .362 in May. While his unprecedented home run binge is certainly unsustainable, he’s added power throughout his career and is zeroing in on pitches he can turn on.
Ellsbury has quietly been much better than expected. He put up an above average 117 wRC+, along with 8 stolen bases in 9 attempts. He finally seems to be completely healthy and seeing the ball well after two disappointing campaigns. This may not be the type of production that the Yankees envisioned when they signed him in 2013, but it will do just fine.
It comes as no surprise that each of the four outfielders are among the Yankees who have increased their projections. Averaging ZiPS and Steamer’s remained of the season projections puts the outfielders at a healthy 5.65 fWAR for the rest of the campaign. While that is a strong number, it still lags well behind the Red Sox’s and Angels’ (Mike Trout plus friends). Even still, the Yankees have already built a 3.2 fWAR lead over the Angels and a chasmic 4.3 fWAR lead over the Red Sox.
In each case the Yankees’ lead is larger than the gap in projections, meaning that the team does project to have 2017’s most productive outfield. Even that might be selling the club short as the projections are notoriously conservative and slow to adjust, especially in the case of a later-career breakout of a talented player like Hicks. Combine that with the group’s ability to withstand an injury given its depth, and with each passing Judge home run it’s looking more and more like 2017’s best outfield resides in the Bronx.
Data Courtesy of FanGraphs.