Arguably the first real test of the Yankees’ outfield depth this season has been Joey Gallo’s short absence due to a strained groin. The starting left fielder has missed the last three games, but has appeared to avoid needing an IL stint, and could be back in the lineup as early as tonight. The timing was unfortunate for Gallo, who was starting to turn things around after an extremely cold start with the bat, but the Yankees have gone full steam ahead without him — and that’s in large part thanks to Giancarlo Stanton.
The superstar slugger hasn’t played the outfield nearly as much as his days in Miami, but Stanton started to work his way back onto the field in the second half of 2021 after primarily slotting in as the designated hitter. The experiment seemed to produce great results and seemingly solved the Yankees’ lineup issues by opening a spot for Luke Voit, but the team pivoted away from fielding Stanton late in the year. In total, he played just 129 innings in right field and 70.2 innings in left field last year. This year, however, Stanton has already seen action in right for 87.2 innings, putting him on pace to surpass his 2021 totals in just a few games.
It’s clear that Stanton still has the capability to make big plays with his glove, as evidenced by his grab on Monday that robbed Matt Chapman of an extra-base hit. But looking more broadly at Stanton’s defense over the last year shows that he has returned to a quality form — he isn’t elite like Judge is at the position, but he’s more than serviceable.
Stanton’s rocking a 1.7 UZR in right, which is a step up from his 0.2 mark that he posted there last season and the 0.1 that he earned in left field. At first glance you might think that the difference between his play in left and right is marginal, but that isn’t the case — and it becomes obvious when we take into account how Stanton’s arm plays. In left field last season FanGraphs has Stanton pinned at -0.8 ARM, or Outfield Arm runs above average, whereas in right field he was an average 0.3. This was the main factor in his UZR/150, which extrapolated left fielder Stanton to a -9.1 mark and right fielder Stanton to a 2.2. This year, playing exclusively right field so far, Stanton is on pace to earn 25 UZR/150.
The Yankees have clearly noticed this, and have steadily given Stanton playing time while making sure that the outfield is set up to let him man right field exclusively. Gallo and Aaron Judge can both spell Aaron Hicks in center, and Hicks can slide over to left field as evidenced by this stretch without Gallo — so as long as the Yankees have two of the three healthy and playing Stanton has free reign to take the field. This is massive in terms of managing the team’s workload, since there are a number of names in the lineup who can benefit from half-days off at DH.
Stanton was committed to earning his way back into the outfield last year, and while it didn’t work exactly how the team hoped it appears that he’s delivered on his promise. Even if he doesn’t have flexibility in where he can play the field, simply being able to pick up the glove a couple of times a week is a massive boon for the Yankees.