It’s easy to forget that Greg Bird was the three-hole hitter for the Yankees on Opening Day in 2017. The first baseman had a monster Spring Training, hitting .451 while launching eight home runs, driving in 15, and walking 12 times in 63 plate appearances. His home runs were tied for tops in the league, while also leading in slugging (1.098) and OPS (1.654). However, he was forced to undergo surgery to repair a freak injury that originated when he fouled a ball off of his right ankle at the end of the spring. He would go on to miss 103 games between May and August, after missing the entirety of the 2016 season due to a torn labrum.
After the acquisition of the reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins back in December, Bird has somewhat gotten lost in the shuffle when analyzing the potential record-breaking lineup. However, it seems plausible that he could return to being the three-hole hitter in 2018. Let’s not forget that he is the one who was called the best all-around hitter in the Yankees’ system just a few years ago, among the likes of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. His ceiling is high, evidenced by his production after his call-up in 2015 and during the stretch run in 2017, but his durability is the one aspect of his game that many question.
When healthy, Bird’s swing is made for Yankee Stadium. That sentiment might be thrown around for a multitude of players, but the numbers back it up. He is a fly-ball hitter, with a 51 percent fly-ball rate in 2015 versus the league average of 34 percent, and a 52 percent rate in 2017 versus the average of 36 percent. He also pulled the ball 49 percent of the time in 2017, and the combination of these metrics play very well to a left-handed hitter with power in Yankee Stadium.
Additionally, he has been above average in his BB rate and the percentage of pitches he swings at out of the zone during his career, indicating that he is rather disciplined. Here is another stat: he owns a career 18.3 HR/FB percentage, which measures the ratio of home runs hit per total fly balls hit. According to FanGraphs, 15.0 percent is considered to be “great” and 20.0 percent “excellent.”
Furthermore, it seems as if rookie manager Aaron Boone may be inclined to split up the towering duo of Judge and Stanton, being that the two behold similar hitting profiles: big men who will get their fair share of home runs but also who are prone to striking out. Thus, by placing a more disciplined lefty in-between the two such as Bird, will make it that much harder for an opposing manager to mix-and-match his relievers.
Bird is a player who has gotten lost in the weeds a bit, but having the protection of the rest of the Yankees’ lineup will further enhance his potentially lethal combination of power and discipline, making him an ideal candidate to slot in between the two massive outfielders.