It is not a secret that the Yankees are extraordinarily deep at outfield. They have two of the game’s premier power threats in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, two very solid all-around contributors in Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks, a young thumper in Clint Frazier, and they also signed speedy defensive specialist Zack Granite to a minor league deal.
Besides all those players, they also have one of the better discoveries of 2018: Mike Tauchman.
His 2.6 fWAR ranked 92nd among position players in the Major Leagues in the 2019 season. However, he achieved the number while playing only 87 games, which is jaw-dropping given that WAR is an accumulative stat.
Here is the list of players who achieved the same fWAR as Tauchman or higher while playing in fewer games:
- Brandon Lowe (2.6 fWAR, 82 games)
- Byron Buxton (2.7 fWAR, 87 games)
- Carlos Correa (3.2 fWAR, 75 games)
- Tom Murphy (3.2 fWAR, 76 games)
- Joey Gallo (3.3 fWAR, 70 games)
- Fernando Tatis (3.6 fWAR, 84 games)
- Yordan Alvarez (3.8 fWAR, 87 games)
Extrapolating Tauchman’s performance over 162 games would take us to a total of 4.8 fWAR. Of course, that would be assuming he maintained the same level of performance over the course of a long season, which is unrealistic and unfair.
In fact, he was already struggling at the plate when he suffered the season-ending left calf strain on September 8. He was in a 4-for-44 skid before hitting a double and a home run in his final game of the season against Boston.
Let’s say, to be conservative, that he could have had a 4.0 fWAR season if health and playing time were assured and on his side. That’s very impressive, since only 42 position players achieved the number. A very exclusive group of 29 had 4.5 or higher.
For reference, Gleyber Torres had a 3.6 fWAR season in 144 games.
With a triple slash line of .277/.361/.504 and a .368 wOBA, Tauchman achieved a 128 wRC+ and 11.9 batting runs, per FanGraphs. The numbers said he was an above-average offensive contributor, and whether he can sustain a similar level of performance in the future, his achievements while in the batter’s box can’t be overstated.
Tauchman is a willing walker (11.5 BB%) with some pop (13 home runs and 18 doubles in 296 plate appearances) and more than adequate speed and baserunning instincts, as evidenced by his six steals without being caught.
His defense is outstanding. With 4.2 fielding runs, he showcased a solid glove, backed by almost every advanced metric. He was in the 90th percentile in outs above average and in the 79th percentile in outfielder jump, per Baseball Savant. He had a very good 19.1 UZR/150 and 6.3 UZR in 472.2 frames in left field, with 10 DRS.
One of the things that makes Tauchman so valuable to the Yankees is that he can play an adequate center field, a position he figures to share with Brett Gardner until Aaron Hicks completes his rehab from Tommy John surgery. There, he played 99.2 innings and had a 3.7 UZR/150, 0.7 UZR, and 2 DRS in 2019.
Will his bat hold up?
Of all the traits he brings to the game, his defense and baserunning seem to be the most sustainable. His offensive game will face a big test in 2020.
His exit velocity of 88.5 mph was slightly above the league average, and his expected wOBA was .323 while his actual wOBA checked in at .364. His expected batting average was .248.
It is possible that, prior to getting hurt, pitchers had discovered a hole in his swing. He will need to adjust back if that’s the case, but even in the worst-case scenario, Tauchman showed enough to be considered at least a league-average bat. It is likely he is better than average, and he will have to show it to earn more at-bats in such a crowded outfield.
The thing is that there are many mouths to feed when it comes to at-bats and playing time. He is an asset on the field, which helps matters, but there are so many players in need of turns that mapping out a projected number of plate appearances is a futile exercise.
The Yankees may need to play Miguel Andujar between third base and the DH spot; Luke Voit and Mike Ford will need at-bats from the first base and, you guessed it, the DH spot. Gio Urshela is also in the infield mix, and we already listed the team’s long list of outfielders.
Things are so crowded that Frazier doesn’t figure to play much, if at all. When Hicks returns, there will be even fewer at-bats for everybody. But no matter what happens, the Yankees may have a true-talent 4-WAR player in Mike Tauchman.
If Tauchman can show he is, indeed, a 125-130 wRC+ player with that kind of defense, he may be impossible to bench. It will be up to him.