Left field has been a revolving door for the Yankees this year. Spring training began with Clint Frazier gunning for Brett Gardner’s job; the season opened with Giancarlo Stanton playing there due to an injury to Aaron Hicks; and Cameron Maybin—who started the season in Cleveland’s minor league system—roamed left field before Hicks returned. In the meantime, Frazier and Mike Tauchman spent considerable time there. Even Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada made cameos in the outfield!
Over the last few weeks, Gardner has entrenched himself as the starting left field. The returns of Aaron Judge and Hicks, the Maybin injury, and Frazier demotion all collided to produce an everyday job for Gardner. Should he have that role though?
Across 78 games so far this season, Gardner has posted a .236/.319/.441 with 12 home runs, giving him an exactly league-average OPS+ of 100. While this has been a marked improvement over last season, when he hit only 12 home runs all year and posted an OPS+ of 89, he has traditionally struggled in the second half. A league-average ceiling is not exactly a great starting point either.
Furthermore, while he is still an above-average defender, his defense has taken a hit this year. Gardner has only been worth one out above average according to Statcast, and his UZR in left field has actually been -0.2. He still gets a good jump on the ball, as Statcast ranks him either 23rd or 31st among all outfielders, but he has not been at the elite level defensively that he once was. In fact, at the moment, he is not even the best on the team.
Although affected somewhat by a comparatively small sample size, Statcast ranks Tauchman as a slightly better defender than Gardner, with his jump tied for 20th. Additionally, his five outs above average greatly outclasses Gardner’s, and is in fact top-15 in baseball. However, his bat leaves much to be desired, posting a batting line of only .208/.300/.387. Tauchman has a little pop, with four home runs to his name, but he’s managed only an 82 wRC+.
The question revolves around their platoon splits. Against right-handed pitchers this season, Gardner has posted a .251/.342/.493, with 11 of his 12 home runs, eight of his 10 doubles, and all four of his triples. Against left-handers, he has posted a measly .183/.234/.267 line. Somewhat counter-intuitively, since he bats lefty and admittedly in a small sample size, Tauchman has raked against left-handed pitchers in limited opportunities. He’s posting a 300/.391/.450 line in 23 plate appearances against southpaws.
Gardner has performed incredibly well against right-handed pitching this year, and his weakness against lefties has largely obscured this fact. In limited opportunities, Tauchman has hit lefties better, although a larger sample size will likely cause serious regression. However, the truth is, neither of them are expected to hit well at all against left-handed pitching. Because of this, the better defender—in this case, Tauchman—ought to get the nod.