Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton has suffered a rash of injuries in the last couple of years that have robbed him of some valuable playing time. The slugger was limited to 18 games in 2019 and while 2020 was shortened for everyone, he still only made 23 appearances.
Since coming to the Yankees from the Miami Marlins, Stanton has suffered a left biceps strain, a right knee sprain, a strained right quad, a Grade 1 right calf strain, and a left hamstring strain. As a result, the Yankees have said that, in order to reduce the constant wear and tear on his legs and lower-body muscles, tissues and bones, Stanton will be the primary designated hitter. This is an opportunity that Stanton rarely had in Miami, as only American League teams regularly use the DH.
Keeping Stanton off the field is wise, especially since the Yankees have put together enough outfield depth that it wouldn’t even be logically sound for the normal alignment to include him. Brett Gardner was re-signed, Mike Tauchman is still around, and Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks should be out there most days. All are better defenders than Stanton.
It’s quite evident that the Yankees organization set things up so Stanton doesn’t need to play the outfield. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea for them to play him out there every once in a while.
Stanton has been working alongside the Yankees’ outfielders in camp. Here is what Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone told reports about the subject:
“I don’t want to be completely resigned to him just being a full-time DH. I think the more he can continue to stay athletic and be an option on defense, I don’t think it’s out of the question. Ultimately it might be something that actually does help him stay more healthy.”
The feeling is mutual, it seems:
Giancarlo Stanton said he would like to see some time in the outfield this year— Erik Boland (@eboland11) February 24, 2021
Stanton is an underrated athlete who has ranked above the 50th percentile in sprint speed every year since the inception of Statcast in 2015, save for the abbreviated 2020 campaign (24th percentile.) Keep in mind that A) the sample for last year is extremely small, and B) he has dealt with injury issues for the last two years.
When healthy, the Yankees are smart to play Stanton in the outfield at least every once in a while. They need him to be in relatively good shape to put a glove on and play the field if necessary, even if things are set up for him not to be a defensive player. And, to the surprise of many and despite some ugly highlights (or lowlights, shall we say?) videos of him trying to make some plays, he is actually passable in the outfield.
Since 2015, Stanton has 6 Outs Above Average, or OAA, and has been a positive for the Yankees in that specific stat, with most of the sample coming in the 2018 season — his last fully healthy year — when he was at 2 OAA. Other metrics seem to like Stanton, as well. He has 49 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 9,003 innings in the outfield during his career, and also has a 37.8 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and a 5.5 UZR/150 over the same timeframe.
If we examine Stanton by his 2018 numbers, he had 5 DRS, a 7.3 UZR, and a 17.7 UZR/150. He is actually a capable, competent outfielder, and while he’s no spring chicken, he isn’t exactly decrepit at age 31. Stanton doesn’t have to be an exclusive DH in the style of Nelson Cruz just yet.
It’s understandable that the Yankees, given that they are paying the man handsomely for the next seven years with an option for an eighth, want to protect their investment and minimize risks. But they could potentially find themselves in a situation that requires Stanton to put a glove on and be competitive, so giving him some occasional starts in the outfield seems like a smart play as long as it isn’t a terribly common occurrence.