Picture Greg Bird. Now, picture Greg Bird in spring training earlier this year. Now, picture Greg Bird in late May, sprawled out on a couch in his boutique Manhattan hotel, shoveling microwaved popcorn into his mouth and giggling softly at Tom Hanks fruitlessly trying to catch Leonardo DiCaprio posing as a Pan American pilot.
That is apparently how a cornerstone of the Yankee youth movement is spending his time since his lingering ankle bruise put him on the 10-day DL and shut him down from baseball activity.
What's Greg Bird been doing with all of his unwanted time off? Catching up on old movies. Just saw "Catch Me If You Can," enjoyed it.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) May 23, 2017
After Bird’s red-hot return, posting a .451/.556/1.098 slash line with eight dingers in spring training, first base seemed like a lock coming into the season. Since then, a lot of things have gone right for the Yankees, but first base has definitely not been one of them.
Let’s be clear, the first base situation for the 2017 Yankees has been abysmal. While they have the second-best record in the American League and sit atop the toughest division in baseball with a 2.5 game cushion, they’ve done it all without any production from first base. The Yankees rank 1st in MLB in wRC+ (118), 2nd in HR (69), and 5th in BA (.267). At first base in those same categories, they rank last (71), 25th (5), and last (.177). They have a team strikeout percentage of 23%. At first base, they clock in at 34.2%. That is not good.
The Yankees have had six players don the big glove this season: Greg Bird, Chris Carter, Matt Holliday, Austin Romine, Chase Headley, and of course, Bryan Mitchell. Mitchell’s entertaining stint at first came courtesy of a wacky, late game decision by Joe Girardi to allow Mitchell to still pitch. He didn’t have an AB, so he is off the hook here. Really, the weight of these numbers falls equally on Greg Bird and Chris Carter.
Little CC, as Girardi calls Carter, has not been playing as advertised. To his credit, the strikeouts were expected, but the homers we were promised have yet to be seen. The Yankees maintain that he is a streaky home run hitter, as most are, and the power will soon arrive. To that point, he knocked out numbers three and four earlier this week, which is hopefully a sign of better days to come.
But, for now, Carter looks pretty clueless at the plate. His .209/.305/.385 line and 37.1% strikeout percentage only tells half the story. To the naked eye, his plate appearances are cringeworthy. Every effortless swing seems to be the same and his charts don’t disagree.
The lesson for pitchers here is, don’t throw it down the pipe. Carter is going to swing in the same spot every time. If the pitch goes to that exact spot, maybe he’ll hit it out. National League pitchers may have just made that mistake 41 times last year. So, despite earning a cool rhino emoji in Didi Gregorius’ victory tweets, Little CC has done little to affect this team at this point.
Brian Cashman may be reevaluating this signing, as that $3.5 million could have been better spent on roughly 75 million pieces of Double Bubble to feed Aaron Judge for the rest of his life. Those questions don’t bode well for Carter, as he is facing the inevitable return-from-injury of both Greg Bird and Tyler Austin.
Austin—rehabbing in Trenton after starting the season on the 60-day DL with a broken foot—is a promising role player for the Yankees, but unless he puts up big numbers in the minors, the Yankees will likely stick with Carter. For now, we just hope that he can turn it around and start to show some of that streaky power or reliable pinch hitting when Bird returns.
Brighter days are ahead, my friends. Starting this week, Greg Bird is officially off the couch and taking part in some running, throwing, and tee-and-toss drills. Next week, he should be starting extended spring training in Tampa, followed by a rehab assignment in Single-A Tampa, and then Trenton or Scranton after that.
If all goes to plan, Birdy will be back in pinstripes in the form we know him as and not the .100/.250/.200 we saw over the first 72 plate appearances this season. If Bird can put his early struggles behind him and sure up the hole at first base, the Yankees become a very dangerous team.
Even with the worst first base production in the league, the Yankees have managed to be one of the best teams. If Greg Bird’s return goes beyond a simple improvement and he can actually provide big numbers for the rest of the season, the Yankees may just stand head and shoulders above all other offenses. With some questions in the rotation as of late, that extra boost will be gladly welcomed in the Bronx.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say, get well soon Birdy. We need you.