Grading the Yankees: Outfielders
The outfield was a big part of this team’s offense in the 2017 season and was vital in leading the Yanks to the ALCS. No one in this part of the team underperformed and by the end of the season, there weren’t enough spots for how well everyone was performing. Down below is the grades for each Yankees outfielder:
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Aaron Judge: A
Despite the incredible hype surrounding the physical specimen before the season, nobody expected him to have the season he had. Judge was phenomenal for much of the season, leading the league in All Star votes thanks to video game-like numbers in the first half. He scuffled for much of the second half, but his stats at the end of the season were still great. He ended up finishing second in the MVP race, questionably losing out in the race to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. Despite leading the league in strikeouts which included a 37 game streak with at least one K, Judge was second in walks (127), homers (52), and runs (128), sixth in RBIs (114), while maintaining a spectacular slash line of .284/.422/.627. Judge was also a respectable defender in right field, taking extra base hits away on multiple occasions and showing off his strong arm. He went on to bat just .188 in the playoffs, but his four homers and 11 RBIs still made it productive. Judge wasn’t himself in the second half, but part of that to blame is his nagging shoulder injury and his season as a whole was still a massive success. Finishing second in the MVP race as a rookie is unheard of and we have just seen the beginning of Aaron Judge.
Aaron Hicks: B
Hicks bounced back from a horrendous first season in pinstripes to a season that showed a ton of promise and the talent that he had yet to show in his early big league career. Before his injury at the midseason mark, Hicks was well on his way to the All Star with the combination of him hitting in the high .290s/low .300s, adding speed on the basepaths, providing solid power, and also performing very well on the defensive side. He wasn’t the same after his prolonged stint on the DL, but his early season contributions can’t be forgotten. As far as the postseason, Hicks was tremendous in the Wild Card game and the ALDS against the Indians. In 22 ABs across six games, Hicks batted .318 with a homer and five RBIs. He followed that up with an atrocious ALCS against the well-pitched, World Series champion Houston Astros. He was just two-for-24 in the series (.083) while failing to even register an RBI. Hicks was up-and-down overall, but his performance in 2017 was certainly better than expected and if he gets to play a full season in 2018, expect him to take that next step forward and potentially make it to the Midsummer Classic.
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Brett Gardner: B+
With Clint Frazier waiting in the wings and the Yanks unable to get rid of Jacoby Ellsbury’s ludicrous contract, many Bronx fans, myself included, were calling for the aging left fielder to be traded. The return wouldn’t be very good, but it would make the team even younger by inserting Frazier into the daily starting lineup. Well, Gardy surely proved his doubters wrong in the 2017 season. He went on another one of his famous hot streaks and ended the year with a career-high 21 homers to along with 63 RBIs and a respectable slash line of .264/.350/.428. Gardner continued to play his Gold Glove-worthy defense out in left, while he regained his base stealing touch by stealing 23 bases in 28 tries, his most since 2013. Perhaps the most undervalued part of his game is the way he works pitchers, which became evident in the playoffs when he endured multiple 10+ pitch ABs. He’s surely due for a decline here soon, but for now, we’ll sit back and enjoy Gardy’s excellence.
Jacoby Ellsbury: B-
Ellsbury has relatively similar numbers to Gardner other than the power surge, but he’ll always be compared with the massive contract he was given back in the 2013 offseason. He was quite the boring player in the first half of the season, fighting to keep his average above .230 and not providing much spark at the top of the lineup. When the aforementioned Hicks went down with a prolonged injury though, Ellsbury really took advantage of his increased playing time and was argued by many Yankee fans to be deserving of playing over Hicks when he returned from injury. Ellsbury’s average climbed to .264 by season’s end, while reaching base at a .348 clip and producing seven homers, 39 RBIs, and 22 SBs while getting caught just three times. Ellsbury’s criticism has been warranted in past seasons, but he was solid in 2017 especially as a fourth option. His performance in the playoffs may leave a sour taste in the mouths of Yankees fans though, as he was hitless in nine official ABs. Despite his overall solid production in 2017, Ellsbury will have to again prove himself just to hold the fourth outfield spot with Clint Frazier right behind him. That is though, if they can’t trade him and his contract away.
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Clint Frazier: C
A top prospect in baseball, Frazier got off to a hot start in his pinstripe career, which included a few clutch hits. After that hot start though, he tailed off in the limited action he got as the season went on. His end of the season stats were below-average for the rookie, who batted just .232 with four homers and 17 RBIs. His rookie season WAR finished at -0.4, while also proving to be a bit of a defensive liability at times. Scouts have stated he has a solid arm, but too many times he airmailed throws to home plate. He really lost the poised approach that he had in the first month of playing time and wasn’t even on the ALCS roster. After the Yanks acquired NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton this past week, Frazier could certainly be seen as expendable by the Yankees front office. He’s been reported to be made available in the Yankees search of finding a starting pitcher via trade, such as Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer. For now, Frazier will likely be on the 25-man Opening Day roster, but he’ll have to earn the right to gain playing time.
All in all, the outfield was certainly a glaring part for the Yankees in 2017. With not losing any pieces, expect them to once again be a strong piece of the team. Already one of the best outfields in baseball, adding Giancarlo Stanton to this outfield makes it clearly the best one in the league. Led by Stanton and Judge, the outfield should be expected to put up huge numbers in 2018.