With Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Billy McKinney all sidelined with injuries, the Yankees suddenly find themselves needing to patch together an outfield. The Bombers answered the injury bug by sliding Brett Gardner to center field and asking Giancarlo Stanton to be the regular left fielder, with Aaron Judge remaining in right. Aaron Boone would prefer to keep Stanton in the designated role, but he simply doesn’t have many other options at the moment.
Hicks’ injury particularly hurts the Yankees in the field, where he boasts a top-notch arm and has shown his strong ability to cover ground in center. The aging Gardner represents a major downgrade in terms of arm strength, and also doesn’t possess the speedy legs he had in years past. Yankee Stadium doesn’t have the biggest outfield by any means, but the team’s current crew can’t cover as much ground as their injured options.
Fortunately for Boone and the Yankees, they have the perfect antidote for their current outfield issue. It turns out to be the pitching staff.
What’s the best way to prevent a slow outfield from being exposed? Don’t let any balls go to the outfield! That’s where the starting rotation comes in, and they have the arsenal to lighten the load on their shorthanded outfield. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray are all elite pitchers when it comes to keeping the ball on the ground and in the infield, which is a welcomed commodity for the Yankees right now.
Gray, Severino and Tanaka all placed in the top-five among American League starting pitchers last year in groundball percentage, ranking second, third and fifth respectively. After posting a 50.6 groundball percentage last season, Severino has continued to improve his slider, resulting in a 72.4 groundball percentage through his first two starts this season. Tanaka has had two strong starts to start the season as well, with his one mistake coming on Thursday night against Baltimore, when an Adam Jones home run was just out of the reach of an outstretched Stanton.
Gray is an established groundball pitcher, as he currently holds a career groundball percentage of 53.9 percent, which was on par with his 2017 season. His .269 BABIP in 2017 was also fourth-best in the American League, just ahead of Severino’s .272. The trio’s uncanny ability to keep balls on the ground will be especially appreciated while the outfield reinforcements work their way back.
The best weaknesses are the ones that are never revealed. The Yankees may be a bit more slow-footed in the outfield, but their groundball-minded rotation has them covered. As long as they continue to keep the ball down in the zone, the defense should be fine.