Somebody in the Yankees’ front office might be dabbling in the mysterious art of alchemy, but instead of transmuting lead into gold, they transform marginalized baseball players into bona fide gems.
Didi Gregorius, Luke Voit and Gio Urshela were all plucked from relative obscurity – too old to be considered prospects but not yet established major leaguers – and revealed themselves to be legitimate everyday players when they joined the Yankees. The team appears to have pulled off a similar magic trick with Mike “Walkie” Tauchman. (Can we please give that nickname a try?)
Acquired last March from the Colorado Rockies for lefty reliever Phillip Diehl, Tauchman could’ve been viewed simply as minor league outfield depth. He was an older player – 28 – and had just 69 underwhelming major league plate appearances to his name.
Then he had the following year:
2019 Stats: 296 PA, .277/.361/.504, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 128 wRC+, 24 K%, 11.5 BB%, 2.6 fWAR
2020 Depth Charts Projection: 378 PA, .255/.328/.418, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 97 wRC+, 21.5 K%, 9.4 BB%, 1.4 fWAR
The 2.6 fWAR in fewer than 300 plate appearances is notable. By Baseball-Reference’s WAR model, it’s even more eye-popping: 3.8. Prorating stat lines is a dangerous game, but let’s just say that he had an All-Star caliber half season.
The offensive profile is fairly self-explanatory. He got on base at a good clip and showed the kind of pop that lefty bats in Yankee Stadium frankly should. But what really drove his value last year was his elite outfield defense. Using the Statcast-based outs above average metric, Tauchman ranked ninth among all outfielders. Mind you, that’s in roughly half a season’s worth of playing time. He would almost certainly have ranked higher with a full complement of games played, perhaps even cracking the top five.
Another metric highlights just how good he was. The balls hit to him had an estimated success rate (the probability of turning those balls into outs) of 86%, according to Baseball Savant. His actual success rate was 92%, meaning his success rate added was 6%. The only outfielder with a higher success rate added was Kevin Kiermaier, the Tampa Bay Rays’ perennial Gold Glove center fielder, who had a 7% mark.
As mentioned, his offensive profile is pretty straightforward. He hit for a good average, shows strong plate discipline and has developed a bit of power. Rotographs’ Alex Chamberlain took a deep dive into Tauchman’s minor league track record last year, before he was traded to the Bronx, detailing his ability to make power gains while maintaining his contact ability. To be fair, his strikeout rate has climbed along with his power and hit 24% last year, a bit worse than average, though not egregiously high in today’s game.
It’s not a perfectly rosy picture, however. As my colleague Joe LoGrippo noted this week, a look at Tauchman’s expected stats from last year might temper enthusiasm for his offensive potential. Based on the quality of his contact, his expected batting average was a more pedestrian .248, according to Baseball Savant; his expected slugging was just .412, nearly 100 points lower than his actual mark, perhaps suggesting a decent chunk of his power performance could be chalked up to luck.
And for what it’s worth, his Depth Charts projection, laid out above, closely mirrors those expected stats. That shouldn’t dramatically alter your opinion of Tauchman, however. A roughly league average hitter, which that projected stat line denotes, who provides superior defense at multiple outfield positions is an incredibly valuable roster piece.
Look no further than Brett Gardner as a potential comp. His offensive performance, measured by wRC+, has generally fallen within 10 percent below league average to 10 percent above. What has truly kept him in the lineup through the years has been exceptional defense in left field and the ability to play an effective center.
Tauchman could fill that same role going forward, and may even supplant Gardner in it this season if he proves last year was no fluke. Considering the price they paid to acquire him, that’s pretty good.
In fact, it’s almost alchemy.