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Happ stifles former team, offense explodes again, in 10-2 win

On a cool, cloudy afternoon in The Bronx, the Yanks dominated the Blue Jays, 10-2, to close out a three-game sweep of their divisional foe. After a rough start to the week, the Yankees got back on track this weekend with the sweep of Toronto. In doing so, they closed out their home stand with a 4-3 record.

The Yankees can no longer rely on Greg Bird

Ever since the retirement of Mark Teixeira, first base has been a black hole for the Yankees. Greg Bird’s emergence in 2015 made the Yankee universe optimistic for the future at the position, but now going into his third injury-ridden season, the Yankees cannot rely on him to be their first baseman for years to come. Sure, the Yankees could sign another Chris Carter-like stop-gap like Mark Reynolds to man the fort until Bird returns (hopefully), but at a certain point, the Yankees have to move on. There is no denying the talent that Greg Bird possesses and how much of lineup presence he provides when healthy, but if he cannot stay on the field, his talent matters nothing.
 
Photo Credit: NY Post

Bird was diagnosed on March 26 with a broken bone spur in his right ankle, the same ankle that mysteriously kept him out for the majority of the 2017 season. Bird’s surgery was successfully completed, and the road to recovery has begun. Bird’s expected recovery time is 6-8 weeks, which projects him to return to the field sometime in June. Depending on rehabilitation games in the minors, this timetable could potentially be longer, but nevertheless, someone has to man the first base position, while Bird is gone.


As I mentioned in the first paragraph, there are a few veterans still without teams that the Yankees could sign to a cheap contract to provide insurance at the position. This is essentially what the Yankees did with Chris Carter last offseason, and it was a fortunate thing they did, as Bird performed atrociously in April and did not return to the Bronx until the late summer. However, this solid signing quickly turned into a disaster as Carter became the most hated player on the Yankees and was eventually released from the team.

After Carter’s struggles, the Yankees gave Tyler Austin the opportunity to play the position every day, but injuries to him resulted in that experiment also coming to a fast halt. The Yankees then transitioned third baseman Chase Headley into a first baseman where he played for a majority of the summer. This is essentially what the Yankees would be doing with veteran infielder Neil Walker who primarily has major league experience as a second and third baseman. While Walker will provide a better bat than Headley and post similar defensive metrics, he is not the answer long-term.

Bird is supposed to be that answer to the hole left by Teixeira, but has yet to put together even half of a full season on the field. So, rather than continuing to transition a veteran infielder to a new corner position or signing stop-gaps past their primes to fill the need, the Yankees need to look to the future as if Greg Bird is not a part of their plans. This means one of two things: Sign or trade for the first baseman of the future or develop someone internally. With the possibility, Greg Bird can return from this surgery and be an immediate force in the lineup, the chances of trading for the likes of a superstar like Joey Votto are weaker than Bird’s ankle. So, that leaves the option of an internal replacement.

Despite the Yankees’ woes at the position, the depth for the position in the Yankees’ system is actually pretty strong. Greg Bird has been labeled as the best first baseman in the system, but his best full-season is not substantially better or in some cases worse than other first baseman or potential first baseman in the Yankees’ system. Below is a table comparing Greg Bird’s most recent full season to other internal first base candidates for the Yankees’ most recent full season (Over 100 games played).

Player
G
XBHs
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
SB
Player A
129
56
.272
.352
.488
.840
1
Player B
130
56
.318
.357
.503
.860
6
Player C
124
51
.277
.338
.483
.821
2
Player D
138
60
.284
.376
.512
.888
7
Player E
126
45
.270
.404
.471
.875
1

I purposely left out the names of the players in order to prevent biases from differentiating which player appears to be better out of the bunch. From this list, a few players stick out to me: Player B was able to hit for the highest average, while also slugging at a tremendous clip and being able to swipe a few bags, Player E had a tremendous walk rate, while displaying sneaky power, and Player D was all-around phenomenal. Now by assigning a point value to each statistical category (excluding games played) from 1-5, with a 5 being the best in a category and a 1 being the worst, I was able to determine an overall “grade" for each player. Here is how that turned out:

Player
Total Points
Player D
28
Player B
23
Player A
15
Player E
14
Player C
11

By this methodology, Player D and Player B were clear favorites with Players A, E, C at the bottom of the pack. Now, you are probably wondering what am I trying to get at. Greg Bird has long been considered the prize jewel of the Yankees farm system for the first base posisition. Because of this, players, such as, Tyler Austin were forced to start the season at Triple-A, despite being more than capable of manning an everyday job at the big league level. However, when you look at Greg Bird’s most recent statistical outputs compared to his Yankee counterparts, he does not stand out as much. Here is the same table displayed above, with the names revealed.

Player
Total Points
Tyler Austin
28
Miguel Andújar
23
Greg Bird
15
Mike Ford
14
Billy McKinney
11

Tyler Austin and Miguel Andújar, who is starting to learn first base, blow Bird out of the water. Even Mike Ford, who the Yankees valued so little they let the Mariners claim him in the Rule-5 draft, barely loses out to Bird. To add insult to injury, Bird’s best production came all the way back in 2015, while the other four players all have proven their skills in 2016 and 2017. I am not by any means trying to say Bird is a bad player, or even an average player, but when you boil it down to what these have actually proven they can do, Bird is no better than Austin, Andujar, and even almost Mike Ford.

I am quite aware that the stats don’t prove everything and that there are metrics that go beyond the scorebook that cannot be represented, however, these preconceived notions of players can lead to biases when trying to decide who is the better overall player. If you asked any casual Yankee fan about why they believe Greg Bird deserves to have first base “reserved” for him, you will immediately hear Matt Vasgersian’s “Swing and a drive to right!” played on repeat until you cannot smile any longer or about how his left-handed swing is a perfect balance for this predominantly right-handed hitting powerhouse lineup. Those are fine points to make, but the first observation is a thing of the past and his swing, as beautiful as it is, is just a qualitative characteristic that does not equate to any real value when comparing Bird to Austin or any of the other potential first baseman.

So, I am about a thousand words and three tables deep in rants, but I have yet to propose a solution to this whole dilemma. Here is what the Yankees need to do. At this point it is a given that Tyler Austin will be called up for Thursday’s game in Toronto and likely even start against the southpaw JA Happ. What isn’t a given is how much playing time he will get over the next two months, considering the rumor that Neil Walker and Austin may be a part of a lefty/righty platoon. I believe it is in the Yankees’ best interest to eliminate this idea and let Austin or another young prospect garner a majority of the at-bats at first base. This sample size of approximately two months will provide Aaron Boone with an adequate representation of how capable they are of manning the position, and if they are doing well, Greg Bird should not be guaranteed his spot back as the starting first baseman.
 
Photo Credit: NY Post
If the calendar flips to June and Austin is posting an OPS above .840 (Bird’s best when in the majors), while handing the glove well, then Greg Bird should have to fight for his spot. Bird has proven next to nothing at the major league level other than a few playoff home runs and a solid few months in 2015. Yes, this is in all likelihood due to his injury history, but how can the Yankees justify inserting a guy into the lineup every day that had an awful spring training, has not hit well in the regular season in almost three years, and is prone to injury? If Austin, Andújar or whoever they use as fill-ins at first aren’t hitting, then yes Bird should get the opportunity to cement himself in the lineup, but if they are hitting well, why does Bird get a free pass?

The reality is, Greg Bird appears to be out until June at the earliest. The Yankees will likely call upon an internal first baseman to man the position until that time rolls around. Based on the comparisons I displayed above, it has become more obvious that Greg Bird is not as “special” as Yankee fans have made him about to be. So, I believe the Yankees should proceed as if Greg Bird is not coming back for the rest season and let the other young first baseman get a chance to prove and cement themselves into the lineup. If Bird returns and his replacement is hitting, then Bird should prepare to earn his spot in the lineup and not be given it on a silver platter. The Yankees can no longer only rely on Greg Bird, and need to let their other first basemen play their hearts out.

Side Note: I did not mention defense and here’s why. If the Yankees really cared a ton about defense, they would not be attempting to convert two solid minor league bats in their system, McKinney and Andujar, into first basemen.


Article by: Ryan Thoms
 

Comments

  1. Bird has put up those numbers in the majors, the others at AAA. Big difference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bird’s numbers are combined from AA, AAA and the majors.

      Delete
  2. Bird is filling the hole Texiera left on the perennial DL.

    ReplyDelete

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