Entering the season, the Yankees had enviable outfield depth. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are established stars, Aaron Hicks a reliable center fielder, Mike Tauchman and Brett Gardner provided defensive expertise with some offensive upside, and Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar started the year as good offensive performers with defensive questions. As a whole, the group was impressive.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the unit has been severely hit by injuries and underperformance. Judge and Stanton are out with injuries, although they are expected to return before the end of the regular season. Frazier has taken a step forward both offensively and defensively, but the Andujar experiment in the outfield hasn’t gone particularly well and Tauchman and Gardner’s offensive thump appears to have vanished.
As a result, only Frazier and Hicks offer some kind of reliability. That’s two performers in a group that started off with seven people. A group that was incredibly deep has fallen victim to a weird, brutal season that currently has the Yankees as a .500 team.
The injured stars
Judge had to battle a stress fracture in his rib and a punctured lung for months before being ready for Opening Day. A few games into the season, he suffered a right calf strain that required a trip to the injured list on August 12.
He returned but re-aggravated the ailment and had to go to the IL again on August 28, and he has been on the shelf ever since. When he was on the field, though, he was a beast: a .292 batting average with nine home runs, a .739 slugging percentage and a 182 wRC+ highlight his statistical profile. He produced 1.0 fWAR in only 18 games.
Stanton, on the other hand, battled a right calf strain of his own prior to opening day, and just like Judge, raked for the brief time he was on the field in 2020: in 14 games, he slashed .293/.453/.585 with a 180 wRC+. Unfortunately, he went down with a left hamstring strain on August 9. And while he is already performing baseball activities, there is no timetable for his return.
Given his performance in 2019 (.277/.361/.504 at the dish, with great defensive metrics) the Yankees had some expectations for Mike Tauchman coming into the season. Brett Gardner (we’ll get to him in a minute) would start most of the time in center or left, but if he faltered, the team had the Sock Man to rely on.
As it turns out, both outfielders have struggled mightly in the 2020 short season. The two names in question have regressed considerably, both offensively and defensively. Last season, Tauchman was an asset in both facets of the game, but is currently slashing .237/.347/.300 with mediocre defensive ratings. He has been worth -0.3 fWAR so far.
Tauchman’s Statcast profile is ugly:
But not as ugly as Gardner’s:
Gardy had a career season in 2019, but he got a little lucky considering the difference between his xwOBA and his actual wOBA. This season, fortune has shown him its nastiest face (.267 wOBA, .313 xwOBA) but the truth is that his performance, luck or not, has been very poor.
Both batters have had trouble even with fastballs: Gardner is batting .178 against them; Tauchman is at .186.
Miguel Andujar had a rather difficult offseason, having to learn other positions (left field and first base) while keeping himself sharp at third. Right now, he has been atrocious in the hot corner (-5 DRS in just 33 innings) and bad in 36 outfield frames (-1.8 UZR, -1 DRS.) Defensively, he is just not good.
He has had an equally disappointing season with the bat, slashing .218/.259/.327 with just one home run and a 57 wRC+ in 58 plate appearances. However, and to be fair, he has been showing signs of life lately, with a .333/.385/.583 line since September 4, in 26 plate appearances.
Aaron Hicks’ batting average is, truth be told, very low, at .209. However, thanks to a 20.6 BB%, he has been getting on base at a .377 clip while providing a little bit of power with four homers, on top of being one of the few Yankees with speed in his arsenal. He has been adequate in the outfield.
The true star of the decimated Yankees’ outfield corps has been Clint Frazier. He has made adjustments in his batting stance, he has been way more patient with a 15.6 BB% and a .406 OBP, and has managed to up his wRC+ from 108 in 2019 to 158 in 2020. To make things even better, he’s been noticeably better with the glove and has a positive UZR of 0.6 and 3 DRS in 157 outfield innings. Not bad.
To sum up, for the Yankees to take the next step, qualify for the postseason and compete with the elite of the American League, they need contributions from their outfielders. Namely, they need Judge and Stanton to get healthy and return to raking, but it wouldn’t hurt if some of the struggling 2019 stars returned to form.