Greg Bird, who was once a promising prospect and a key building block for the future, is now a free agent. He hasn’t been an effective major leaguer since 2017 and the team ran out of patience (and 40-man roster spots) this offseason. His constant injury problems signaled the end of his tenure with the Yankees.
Thankfully, the organization can look ahead and keep constructing its roster, knowing that they already employ a similar hitter in Mike Ford. He is the same age as Bird, 27, and carries five more seasons of team control, which makes him valuable. He will play the next two years, 2020 and 2021, at near the league minimum.
No, Ford didn’t have the same prospect pedigree as Bird, but right now, his arrow is pointing up despite not having a clear path to regular playing time. He showed in limited at-bats that he can be a competent hitter in the bigs.
It makes one wonder: what would a full season of Ford look like from a statistical viewpoint? Hey, and he is a left-handed batter, too! There aren’t many lefties in the Yankees’ lineup, especially now that Didi Gregorius is a free agent.
Ford batted .259/.350/.559 in 50 games and 163 plate appearances with the Bombers in 2019. He improved as the season went on, and hit eight homers in August and had a .353 batting average in September and October.
The first baseman had 12 round-trippers in his abbreviated participation with the Yankees, but he also hit 23 with the Triple-A affiliate for a total of 35.
Back to discussing his big-league performance, when looking at his average, the .259 mark doesn’t raise many eyebrows. However, he had patience (10.4 BB%), contact (17.2 K%, below the MLB average of 21.7 %), and hit the ball with authority (91.9 mph average exit velocity).
When compared to American League first basemen, Ford is no slouch. According to FanGraphs, he ranks third among them when it comes to wOBA, with .372, when limiting the search to those batters with at least 160 plate appearances. Under the same criteria, he would rank second in wRC+ with 134.
Of course, we can’t just extrapolate Ford’s numbers in limited at-bats and assume that he will have a 900+ OPS or hit over 40 or 45 bombs in 600-plus plate appearances. It doesn’t necessarily work that way.
A full season has nagging injuries and slumps due to everyday exposure to scouting staffs looking to spot holes in his swings or potential weaknesses. Ford could have an adjustment period if he were to accrue a full slate of at-bats.
His above-average exit velocity and hard-hit rates suggest that he will not be hovering around .220 of batting average, but speed is a clear issue, so his BABIP will not be among the league leaders. Don’t count on him being a .300 hitter either, because of that and the fact that he, at least judging by his statistical profile in 2019, won’t hit too many line drives.
Batting between .265 and .280 would seem to be a likely scenario, and 30 home runs are a possibility depending on the ball that MLB uses in 2020. He is a left-handed fly ball hitter (44.3% of his connections were classified as such, according to FanGraphs, in 2019) playing in Yankee Stadium, so with full at-bats, he could even approach 35 or 40 taters.
A realistic expectation
Expecting .900 OPS or more with 600 plate appearances would be unfair, but somewhere between .830 and .860 seems realistic given that he has very good game power, and he takes more than a fair share of walks.
It’s too bad he isn’t a good defender. His -4.8 fielding runs are well-below average. If he had a better glove, maybe he could have more playing time in 2020, but with Luke Voit and potentially DJ LeMahieu (and even Miguel Andujar depending on how things unfold in the upcoming weeks) all vying for a place in the lineup and in the field, things could be difficult for Ford.
However, if you think it through, having a .265/.350/.510 left-handed hitting first baseman with the potential for more and with five years of team control is quite a valuable player.