The postseason run that Harrison Bader had with the Yankees in 2022 will be forever in fans’ hearts. A 253 wRC+ and five home runs in nine games are hard to forget, after all. However, that scintillating run raised expectations for the center fielder, and he had a rough time trying to meet them.
Poor Bader had terrible luck with injuries, as he suffered two separate IL stints with the Yankees – one to open the season with a strained left oblique, and another one in late May with a right hamstring strain. Nonetheless, the battle to stay healthy was nothing new for Bader, and he was ultimately far from the player that shocked the world in October 2022, ending up waived and on a different team by summer’s end.
2023 Statistics (with NYY): 84 games, 310 PA, .240/.278/.365, 7 HR, 76 wRC+, 8 OAA, 1.3 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Entering free agency
We all knew that measuring Bader with that October performance in mind was unfair, especially keeping in mind that he was always more of a 90-100 wRC+ type during his career. However, he had probably his worst offensive year of his MLB tenure in 2023, hitting a disappointing .232/.274/.348 with seven home runs, 20 stolen bases and a 70 wRC+ between the Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds.
In a Yankees uniform, he slashed .240/.278/.365 with seven round-trippers, 17 steals and a 76 wRC+ in 84 games and 310 plate appearances. It’s on the strength, or more aptly, weakness, of that performance that the PSA staff gave Bader a D+ grade for his 2023.
If Bader had stayed healthy and produced something like a league average offensive line, we would probably be talking about him as a potential center field solution for the future. However, that’s not how things unfolded, and he is now set to hit free agency after undergoing season-ending groin surgery in September.
Even at his best, Bader is a flawed hitter who has some pop and speed: his career-high in home runs is 16, achieved in 2021, and his 20-steals output this year represents the best one of his career. Still, his plate discipline has evaporated from the 10+ percent walk rate he had in 2019-20 to the 4-5 percent range, where he finished in each of the last two campaigns.
With his low average and OBP floor, he is more of a bottom-of-the-lineup hitter in an ideal setup. What makes him really valuable is his defense in center field.
Bader, a former Gold Glover, had four Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and nine Outs Above Average (OAA), meaning that he remains an asset in the heart of a team’s outfield defense.
Still, the Yanks learned his flaws and the overall risk associated with him during year-long tenure: he doesn’t get on base often and he is very injury-prone. Pitches surely enjoyed him making plays in center field, though.
The emergence of Jasson Domínguez as a potentially viable MLB option in September probably made Bader expendable for the Yankees, at least in the long-term. A few months prior, we were discussing the possibility of an extension for the glove-first outfielder.
There is a non-zero chance Bader returns on a one-year deal next season as a stopgap center fielder with the “Martian” missing the first few months. The Yankees will surely explore other options, though, both internal and external, and Bader could have other proposals on his plate, too.
It’s pretty clear at this point who Bader is as a player, and Baseball Savant couldn’t have provided a better, more concise evaluation:
That offense is just hard to overlook, even in the face of gaudy defensive metrics.
For the purposes of this article, which is evaluating Bader’s performance in 2023, D+ seems fair for a player with an ugly .643 OPS in more than 300 trips to the plate with the team. If it wasn’t for his excellent defense, the grade would have been even lower.