In all likelihood, the Yankees will bring back Brett Gardner. The two sides are already discussing a new deal that has become more of a priority for the team given the news that Aaron Hicks had to undergo Tommy John surgery. If finalized, Gardner would likely slot into the center field position. But is that the best place to put him?
Assuming everyone’s healthy, we all know that Aaron Judge will be the right fielder. He is one of the best (if not the best) right fielders in the game defensively and just won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award at the position. Had he played a few more innings in the field, he likely would have been awarded a Gold Glove as well.
So Judge in right is a lock. My inquiry regards the other two outfield positions. As just discussed, Gardner will likely hold one of them. The frontrunner for the other is Mike Tauchman. You can throw Giancarlo Stanton’s name into the mix as well, but he has been primarily a right fielder in his career, meaning playing left field in Yankee Stadium is still relatively foreign to him. In his career, he has played 8,616 innings in right versus just 386 innings in left. And while he had an above-average 4 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2018 across 317 innings in left field, he is nowhere near Gardner and Tauchman in terms of defensive aptitude.
Therefore, it should be Tauchman in left and Gardner in right, right? How would it work if those two were swapped? Here’s the breakdown of career innings played per position for the two:
Gardner has spent about 35 percent of his time in center; Tauchman is at about 17 percent. Gardner clearly has more experience. But he is also 36 years old and will turn 37 next August. While he still possesses plus speed, is he the better option in center?
Hicks missing a lot of time in 2019 forced Gardner to play center about twice the amount of time he played left. But he had +7 DRS in left against a -1 DRS in center. Meanwhile, Tauchman had a +9 DRS in left and a 2 DRS in center.
Of course, one of the main aspects of playing center field is having the ability to cover a lot of real estate.
The red shaded area in the graphics below shows the player’s sprint speed range.
Ultimate zone rating (UZR) takes into account outfield arm runs, double-play runs, range runs, and error runs above (or below) average. UZR/150 normalizes this for 150 games. By this measure, Tauchman was outstanding in left. In fact, that ranked fifth in the entire league amongst players who played at least 450 innings in the field. Who was number one? Aaron Judge with 24.2.
Tauchman has a more well-rounded jump in all directions. The numbers in the slices represent outs above average (OAA).
Tauchman also has Gardner beat in a few more categories.
Feet vs. Avg
The first four columns are components of an outfielder’s jump, while the last two represent the jump itself. In 2019, Tauchman made 65.9 percent of balls in play that were rated as 2+ star catches (7 OAA on these balls); Gardner was at 41.9 percent (0 OAA).
All these stats point towards Mike Tauchman perhaps being the more mobile center fielder. And it’s not like left field at Yankee Stadium is a walk in the park — Gardner is very familiar there and can still cover the gap. But I would guess that if these two are the starters in those positions, the first crack will be Gardner in center and Tauchman in left.