The Yankees are 6 games up on the American League East title despite having to reinvent their bullpen and starting rotation several times. They have allowed the third fewest runs in the American League, scored the fourth-most runs, and have the second best run differential in the league, behind only the Texas Rangers. And despite all of this the Yankees should be concerned; I think the Yankees need to strongly consider a lineup reshuffling.
While they have a six game lead on the division, that kind of lead is much more fragile when four legitimately good teams are chasing you than when just one is vying for the title. Injuries haven’t yet slowed down the Yankee train, but at some point we shouldn’t be surprised if they did. The Yankees can’t afford to give away runs or wins.
Brett Gardner will begin taking swings again any day now. When he returns, manager Joe Girardi should play him in center field and move Curtis Granderson to left field. Gardner has probably been the better center fielder for some time now, but Granderson may have taken a turn for the worst in center field more recently. While he graded positively in his first season with the Yankees, both UZR and DRS rated Granderson well below average in 2011 and downright horrible in 2012 (warning: small sample size). UZR/150 has him at -31.1 runs and DRS has him at -8 with half the season still left to play.
It may be my confirmation bias surfacing, but to my eye he appears to have lost a step both in the outfield and running the bases. Given that he is on the wrong side of 30, this really shouldn’t be a surprise.
I think it is hard to deny that Gardner is the better fielder. We’re not sure how much better, but I don’t think its a stretch to say that the Yankees would be better off with Brett Gardner getting more defensive opportunities than Curtis Granderson. Granderson might be slowing down too much to cover center field, but his speed should be more than enough to cover left. Gardner would likely be one of the better defensive center fielders in the game at the same time.
Granted, this is a move that the Yankees should have made when they traded for Granderson. The fundamental logic behind it hasn’t really changed since then. The only drawback, as far as I can tell, is that Curtis Granderson’s ego might get a little bruised. This is a risk that the Yankees should take. They should strive constantly to put the best possible team on the field, and worry less about the egos of individual players.
Moving Granderson sends an important message to the team: Joe Girardi will move players to different positions if need be. The message may be necessary to move Derek Jeter one day, either to a different position or down in the lineup. The latter part of the Joe Torre era was marked by a lot of declining players given privileged spots on the team due to ego and history, and I would hate the Yankees to go through that again.
One quick tiny benefit that may come out of this move, small enough that it deserves to sit at the bottom of a post: the Yankees may be reducing his eventual free agent contract with a move to left field. When Granderson hits the market, he’ll do so with doubts about his ability to handle a tougher position. This could bring his price down. Given the $189 million cap and legacy contracts sitting around, this is an important concern.
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