Any basketball fan or coach is familiar with the phenomenon where you watch a player on your team taking a ridiculously poor shot and exclaim something like, “What the hell are you…. good shot, good shot!” as the bad shot somehow swishes through the net. This was how I felt as I watched Melky Cabrera butcher his way through center field tonight, only to yet again pull heroics out of his prodigious backside in the eighth inning and propel the Yankees to victory.
Watching Melky Cabrera play center field lately is an exercise in frustration. In the past, he has gone through some streaks where he seems locked in, and gets to a decent number of balls, but he has been just plain awful this season, and I think it’s time to close the book on any notion that Melky Cabrera can ever be a full-time center fielder. He doesn’t have great range to begin with, and half the time he acts like a complete space cadet, getting some of the worst jumps I’ve ever seen from a center fielder. Joba started the night well, and looked to be cruising until he allows a couple of sky-high harmless looking popups that hang in the air for about 10 seconds before finally dropping in front of Melky. It’s no wonder Joba feels like he can’t pitch to contact and he has to waste pitches trying for the strikeout.
On the year, Melky and Brett Gardner have an almost identical OPS (.786 to .788), but Gardner is a much, much better fielder and base runner. His UZR is 8.6 runs higher than Melky’s and he has 17 steals to Melky’s 5 (they’ve both been caught twice). Gardner’s speed is such a factor that he changes the delivery of the pitcher on base, creating a disruption no one else on the Yankees can. Add to all these arguments the fact that the two players are going in opposite directions (Melky with OPS of .777 and .679 in May & June to BG’s .955 & .918) and I think it’s clear that Gardner NEEDS to start 5 out of every 6 games in center field.
This race is too close to be screwing around with Melky in center. Melky is a nice 4th outfielder who can play 3 times a week, spelling each OF position once, and we know he can come up with some late game heroics and be a terrific ph bat off the bench, but it’s time to play your best players. It’s time for Brett Gardner to play every day.
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