Greg Bird’s season was captured in a single at-bat yesterday afternoon. With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the ninth, Bird had the chance to end the game. With one swing of the bat, he could have sent the Yankees home happy. He took a single swing, but it a was a weak hack that resulted in a flimsy popout. Just like that, the Yankee Stadium crowd deflated and greeted him with a chorus of boos. He had the chance to give Yankees fans a reason to celebrate, but came up short. That’s been the book on Bird in 2018.
The Yankees first baseman has been the subject of many stories of late, including several pieces here at Pinstripe Alley. Just last week Josh questioned Bird’s untapped potential, wondering if he would ever be what the Yankees hoped. On the other hand, Kunj made the case for keeping the 25-year-old in the lineup every day. After yesterday’s showing, I find myself more in agreement with Josh. Something has to give.
After missing the start of the season recovering from injury, Bird has managed a .211/.302/.396 batting line with nine home runs. His 88 wRC+ leaves a lot to be desired from a bat-first position. It gets worse when one considers his recent stretch of play. Since the calendar flipped to August, he’s hit .137/.214/.196 with virtually no pop. He has three extra-base hits on the month, all doubles. Bird has resorted to bunting against the shift to generate any sort of on-base percentage.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone wrote off the struggles as the result of fatigue. Consider what he told Brendan Kuty of NJ.com:
“I think he’s over it and past it but I think there’s a level of building up that stamina and explosion and the fact that you’re still recovering from a surgery,” the manager said. “So I don’t think there’s any question that if he can stay healthy, a month from now, six months from now, it’s better, it’s more explosive. That’s something that we kind of monitor, talk about and hopefully he can get through this while building up that stamina that makes him special when he’s really on time and impacting the ball.”
Bird himself had a rather nonchalant answer for his struggles. “I’m just proud to be playing, to be completely honest,” he said following yesterday’s loss. “I’m proud to be putting on this uniform every day and going out and playing. It’s the most games I’ve ever played in a season, so I kind of look at it like that, and that kind of keeps me going.”
The poor results, and subsequent explanations, capture these frustrations. First, it’s tone deaf to hear how proud Bird is during this stretch. Nobody wants to hear that after he fouled out on one pitch in the bottom of the ninth. Fans definitely don’t want to hear it when he has been a non-factor at the plate for a month, maybe more. They shredded Sonny Gray when he departed from the mound with a smile on his face after the Orioles shelled him. Bird deserves at least some of that criticism with this quote.
Second, it goes to show how little depth the Yankees now have. Rumors circulated at the trade deadline that the Bombers considered Mike Moustakas to cover first base. The team gambled that Bird would turn it around, and he has yet to do so. If Bird was the lone weak piece, then fine, whatever. Few teams play without soft spots. It just happened that New York lost Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez for an extended period, and Gleyber Torres forgot how to hit. The Yankees have to keep running him out there because there are no better options. Unfortunately he’s not doing anything to help.
Bird’s struggles exemplify the Yankees’ play of late. He should be so much better than he is. The potential exists! It’s appeared before, briefly materializing in a hot streak or a big home run off Andrew Miller. He hasn’t tapped into that potential this season, however, and we’re approaching the boiling point. Something has to give, or the Yankees should be in the market for a first baseman this winter.