In an offseason that features the free agencies of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, no player has polarized the Yankees fanbase as Miguel Andujar. The team’s third baseman enjoyed a remarkable season at the plate, but he also showed eyebrow-raising limitations. Recent discussions surrounding the 23-year-old have resulted in a breakdown in communication, complete with opposite camps shouting at each other and refusing to accept common ground, especially when trade possibilities enter the discourse.
It’s time to have a rational discussion about Andujar the player, his strengths and weaknesses, as well as his perception among Yankees fans. Perspective and context should go a long way to blunting the contentiousness in conversations around him.
Andujar was quite good in 2018
It goes without saying, but Andujar had a strong season at the plate in 2018. He slashed .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs. His 128 wRC+ bested that of Giancarlo Stanton’s. He hit the ball hard and didn’t strike out a lot. It’s tough to not like that.
Andujar also scaled the Yankees’ rookie leaderboards. He unseated Joe DiMaggio as the team’s rookie leader in doubles, besting the Yankee Clipper by three. It’s always good when a player finds himself in the same discussion as an all-time great.
Additionally, one cannot overstate how badly the Yankees needed Andujar’s bat this year. As it turned out, Gary Sanchez slumped brutally and then got injured. He hit to just an 89 wRC+. Aaron Judge also missed significant time with a fractured wrist. The team turned to their rookie third baseman to pick up the slack. Without Andujar, the Bombers would have suffered greatly at the plate.
His defense was remarkably bad
There is no other way to put it: Andujar is a butcher at third base. Many have attempted to explain why he struggled at the hot corner, with range, movement, arm accuracy, and a variety of other factors suggested. The “why” is a discussion for another day. For now, one must concede that he had a disastrous year in the field.
Consider the following statistics:
Defensive metrics have a reputation for being spotty. On their own that may hold true. When taken together, however, they paint a clear picture. By all accounts, Andujar wasn’t just a poor fielder — he was a terrible one.
The question then boils down to whether Andujar can shore up his defense enough to stay at the hot corner long term. His bat plays best at third base, and he would assuredly lose value moving across the diamond or into the outfield. He has his work cut out for him. It’s foolish to authoritatively say he will never improve, but one must recognize that Andujar’s game needs a lot of polishing.
Fans run the risk of overrating him
Here’s an exercise for the readers. Open a new tab and take a look at any recent Pinstripe Alley article featuring Andujar. Go into the comments section. Now open another tab, but this pull up Twitter and search for Andujar. What you will find is a fanbase that not only loves the third baseman, but is coming dangerously close to overrating him.
In recent weeks, fans and commenters have proclaimed him one of the best right-handed hitters of the last ten years. Some have gone so far as to say he’s on a Hall of Fame track. I enjoyed Andujar’s season as much as anyone, but that’s a little out of hand, no?
Matt Ferenchick mentioned in the Pinstripe Alley office recently that Andujar’s season ranked 17th among rookie right-handed hitters in terms of OPS+ since 2009. That’s good! It’s not historic, though. In fact, it places him on par with Mitch Haniger and George Springer. Others like Maikel Franco and Wil Myers had better rookie seasons, and neither are considered world-beaters.
A lot has also been made comparing the rookie seasons of Andujar and Machado. In 2012, Machado worked a 97 wRC+. Commenters have therefore proclaimed Andujar superior, and believe that he will have a career trajectory similar to the superstar’s. Machado, however, made his big league debut at 20 years old. He had just about two years of development in the minor leagues. Juxtaposing the two seasons does little to reveal anything.
Maybe Andujar will continue his hot hitting. Perhaps his contact rate is sustainable and he will keep up torrid pace. One cannot make those judgement calls, however, with a single season’s worth of data. A larger sample is needed.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is that many truths can exist simultaneously. Andujar can have a talented bat and a terrible glove. He can have strengths and limitations. One can appreciate his remarkable 2018 at the plate and recognize that he has flaws that may limit his ceiling. One can also enjoy watching him play and still understand that a trade may make the Yankees better. It’s dangerous to overvalue what he did well while wholly ignoring his limitations. That will only lead to disappointment.