Almost one month ago, Luke Voit and Greg Bird continued to tear up spring training and seemingly make things difficult for the Yankees’ brass to decide who deserved the first base spot. Brian Cashman responded by saying that he didn’t think both would be on the Opening Day roster, meaning one would start the season down in Triple-A.
That looked more and more like Bird as spring training came to a close. Sure, he was doing his usual song and dance of crushing baseballs on the exhibition stage, but so was Voit. The latter’s finish to the 2018 season likely gave him an early edge in the competition for the starting spot.
Then came a rash of injuries. Suddenly, there was Bird, starting Opening Day and seemingly having a spot as the first baseman or DH for at least the first few weeks of the season until reinforcements made their return. Armed with another chance to show his worth and promise that once made him the most exciting prospect in the team’s farm system, Bird has come up empty.
Aside from an Opening Day home run, Bird has been just about dreadful at the plate, in what should be his first fully healthy season since he burst onto the big league scene in 2015. Given how much the Yanks have lost offensively to injury so far, this seemed like the perfect time for Bird to return to who he was in 2015, or down the stretch of 2017. Instead, he looks like he did at the beginning of the 2017 season, only this time there doesn’t appear to be an injury to provide a satisfying explanation.
Bird’s painfully slow start can’t be justified by underlying numbers or data. Even according to Statcast, he has been flat-out poor with the bat this season. Preceding Bird’s Opening Day blast was a trio of strikeouts, none of them coming in at-bats where he looked particularly competitive, and that has remained status quo. What’s particularly concerning is that Bird, who likely is searching for any pitch to drive and snap himself out of this funk, is starting to search outside the strike zone for such potential slump-breakers. That has resulted in a higher chase percentage—one that’s been steadily on the rise since 2017—as he tries to stay on the field and in the lineup.
Bird is clearly pressing. That’s especially true within Yankee Stadium, where his strikeout percentage sits at 52.9 percent this season, albeit in a small sample size. Bird seemed to have a perfectly-crafted swing for the Bronx and its welcoming right field porch, but he can’t seem to take advantage of that, or his early season playing time. In fact, he’s having trouble even getting the ball in the air and towards that right field porch. Take a look at his ground ball percentages since 2017:
This of course has led to a diminished quality of contact, as shown in his exit velocity:
In short, every one of these graphs are trending in the wrong direction, when Bird finally appears healthy after a very strong spring training. Truth be told, Bird has looked lost in meaningful games since he returned from injury last year, and is currently showing no signs of breaking out like he did in 2017. With minor league options left, the Yankees aren’t hard-pressed to make a decision on Bird immediately. If this continues, they may want to consider using one of those options to see if they can salvage what was once a promising career.