I don’t know what the proper way to describe Greg Bird’s career so far is. It’s been going for a few years now, yet it feels so short. It definitely hasn’t lived up to expectations, but I don’t believe words like “bust” or even “disappointment” fit either.
There are waves of Yankees fans who are tired of people coming to Bird’s defense, and I can understand that. I’m tired of feeling the need to come to his defense, but that’s what I do. Between the hype and the flashes of his potential, I bought into Bird. And the injuries and misdiagnosis have earned my sympathy.
That’s not to say Bird gets a free pass from me or anyone. It’s just that he gets a little more leeway. I can’t fault the guy for getting hurt, and I certainly won’t fault the player for doctors not catching what’s wrong with him in the first place. Maybe it was hard to diagnose for whatever reason, but I’m still blaming the medical professional more than the injured baseball player.
That’s okay, though, because as much as certain fans are understandably losing their patience with Bird, he always seemed to have the support of the organization. Since selling at the trade deadline for the first time two years ago, Brian Cashman made a metaphorical statement that this was his team now. While he still needs ownership sign-off on all moves and there are certain nuances he has to adhere to, these are Cashman’s Yankees and he’ll build them as he sees fit. And he’s seen fit to believe in Greg Bird.
Perhaps the team has been supportive to a fault, but their belief in him has been evident—until now. After a much-needed two-hit game against the Rangers on Saturday, Aaron Boone did not have Bird penciled into the lineup for Sunday’s series finale. The reason? Martin Perez, a left-hander, was starting.
When asked about sitting Bird right after a successful day at the plate, Boone said that he’s willing to ride the hot hand, but it takes more than a game to be considered “hot.”
“We value ‘hot.’ I would say ‘hot’ is a little bit more of an extended period,” Boone said. “You’re talking to me about Greg Bird, who I believe a lot in as a player and who he is and his ability to handle both hands. But this doesn’t change that for me. This is more about Martin Perez today and [wanting] to keep Voit relevant. Perez has had his struggles against right-handed hitting in a big-time way this year.”
I go back-and-forth when it comes to momentum and riding the hot hand. I do hate to see a player sit right after a good game, but I will generally put my faith in the hands of professionals over a blogger like myself. What I don’t like about Boone’s answer, however, is the implication.
The problem with sitting Greg Bird is that primary option behind him is Luke Voit. Wanting “to keep Voit relevant” should be far down on the list of priorities. That falls somewhere between seeing if Javier Vasquez wants to give pitching another shot and signing Austin Romine to a 10-year extension. Boone goes on to say that it’s not just about keeping Voit relevant, but also about seeing what they have in him.
“Considered it a lot,” Boone said of starting Bird. “But again, [we’re] in this stretch, and we need to and want to find out a little bit of what have in Voit.
No, they really don’t need to see what they have in Voit. I’ll admit, I don’t think this is a “well, we’re out of the race, so let’s find out what the kids have to offer” type situation. In all honesty, this is more about praying for an upgrade because Bird had a rough stretch recently.
Between the Red Sox and White Sox series, Bird had just two hits across 25 at-bats and only one walk. He just simply did not hit. I understand wanting to find an upgrade, but I think the logic overall is flawed.
First, they’re sitting him against lefties. This season Bird’s hitting .209/.284/.407 across 194 plate appearances versus righties, compared to .244/.385/.415 over 52 PAs. Obviously the sample size varies greatly, but this is actually in line with his career splits as well. For his career he hits .214/.297/.443 against righties and .252/.361/.468 against lefties. Lefties simply do not neutralize Bird, and taking his bat away against lefties when his OPS is over 100 points higher against them just makes no sense.
Again, I understand that the series against both colors of Sox were not Bird’s best, but he hasn’t been struggling all season. After his slow start, Bird was batting .275/.346/.516 with 6 HRs, good for a wRC+ of 127, in his last 25 games heading into the Boston series.
There’s no argument from me that Bird needs to perform better than he did in Boston and Chicago. It’s certainly not a good look for him, but I think the current struggles are possibly a bit overblown because it was one of the many culprits that led to the four game sweep in Fenway.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Yankees ended up optioning Voit to Triple-A on Monday. With him out of the picture, it’s unclear what the Yankees plans going forward are. The timing is certainly odd.
Regardless though, Bird should not become a platoon bat for the Yankees. I can sympathize with trying to find any upgrade, but the logic here is fundamentally flawed. Bird’s leash is certainly running short and I understand that banking on potential is exhausting and can only go so far. When the alternative is Luke Voit, though, Bird’s potential is still the Yankees’ best bet right now.
*Season statistics provided via Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.