The Yankees are a good team, a world series contender. Expectations were high with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton over the winter. I want to put a measuring stick to see how the outfield stacks up to the expectations coming into the year.
Let us start off with a comparison. The first number is what FanGraphs season preview had projected the Yankees outfield to be worth in terms of WAR. Projections are obviously haphazard. Either due to injuries or just plain wrong predictions of playing time and performance. That projection also included Jacoby Ellsbury reaching 140 plate appearances, again projections can get it wrong.
12.9 WAR 2018 projection Yankees Outfield (50/50 Mix of Steamer and ZiPS)
12.4 Current WAR 2018 Yankees Outfield (through 7/9/18)
The second number is the current WAR of the Yankees outfield through 89 games. So, in just over half a season, the Yankees outfield has nearly reached its projected WAR total for the year. This is a very good outfield. FanGraphs projected the Yankees to be second in the major league in terms of outfield WAR, second only to Mike Tr- er, the Angels.
Giancarlo Stanton came off a 7.1 fWAR season while Aaron Judge won Rookie of the Year with an 8.2 fWAR season. The question marks were in centerfield. What was the overall value of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury and even Clint Frazier? The answer was… middling. Gardner was projected 1.4 WAR, while Hicks was cautiously at 2.4 WAR. Ellsbury was projected at .4, which even now feels like a stretch, while Frazier was only expected a handful of plate appearances.
Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner have already surpassed their season projections in terms of WAR. The biggest boost to the outfield has been Aaron Hicks. The Yankees bet on him when they traded John Ryan Murphy to the Twins and Hicks struggled in his first action with the Yankees, while battling injuries along the way. Now, he’s healthy-ish and reaching the heights that the front office was betting on. Hicks was worth 3.3 WAR in 89 games last year, and 2.7 WAR in 70 games, and on pace to play more than 89 games this year. He has provided a fantastic offensive year with good defense in center field.
This cannot be overstated, Hicks being in centerfield more consistently allows Aaron Boone to cycle through Gardner, Judge, and Stanton in the corner spots, with Gardner occasionally occupying centerfield. Gardner has played center field in 184 innings this year already surpassing his innings total in centerfield from last year but FanGraphs sees him as a better left fielder defensively.
More importantly, the cycling of Stanton, Judge and Gardner keeps them fresh. Gardner has always been an ironman but plays at 100 miles per hour and is the oldest at 34 years old. Stanton had one of his first fully healthy seasons last year, so the Yankees have used him as a designated hitter to give his legs a rest (he has had knee surgery and dealt with hamstring strains in the past). Judge is the crown jewel of the outfield, keeping him healthy with occasional spells at designated hitter is a luxury the Yankees can now afford.
Where is this post going exactly? Well, it is time now we have a conversation about where this outfield ranks among all-time Yankee outfields. Stop laughing, why are you laughing at me? I am serious.
The answer is obviously still to be decided. In 1927, Babe Ruth, Earle Combs, and Bob Meusel produced 24.0 fWAR. This current outfield, using an average of ZiPS and Steamer, is projected to produce 8 WAR for the rest of the season. Putting them at 20.8 WAR. It is a close one, though it is very hard to overcome a 12.4 WAR season from Babe Ruth. I believe the projections are being slightly bullish on Stanton, given he has produced a 154 wRC+ in the second half for his career and is showing signs of heating up. If he repeats his 2017 second half, then they become a legitimate challenger to the throne.
While most of the best outfields are usually anchored by one player, 2018 has potentially two all-stars in Stanton and Judge, with two very good regular starters in Hicks and Gardner having potential for 3-4 WAR. For reference, here are the top five Yankee outfields by WAR I could find (I did as best I could with manual searching and adding of WAR totals, if there is an outfield you think is missing, give me a shout).
1. 1927 24 fWAR
2. 1941 22.3 fWAR
3. 1961 19.6 fWAR
4. 1940 19.3 fWAR (Technically, George Selkirk and Tommy Henrich did not meet minimum plate appearances but then this outfield only has two outfielders without them)
5. 1939 19.1 fWAR
1927 had Ruth as mentioned above but also had Earle Combs and Bob Meusel providing 6.8 and 4.2 WAR respectively. 1939-1941 had Joe DiMaggio in center and a rotation of others, George Selkirk and Charlie Keller posted 5.7 and 4.9 WAR respectively in 1939. 1940 had Selkirk (3.2 WAR), Tommy Henrich (3.0 WAR) and Charlie Keller (5.6 WAR). 1941 again featured Selkirk (7.3 WAR) and Henrich (5.2 WAR) to support DiMaggio’s 9.8 WAR season. The 1961 outfield featured Mickey Mantle (10.1 WAR) and Roger Maris (7.1 WAR) with Yogi Berra (2.2 WAR) and Bob Cerv (1.3 WAR) rotating as third outfielders. This is a who’s who of Yankee legends.
Most of these outfields only had three players (1940 and 1961 being the exceptions) in their WAR totals. Obviously, 2018 has four quality outfielders, which should not discount them from being in the discussion. It only speaks more to the quality of the rotation the Yankees have. Any one of the four would be a starter on another team. They have a legitimate shot at being one of the greatest Yankee outfields and in turn, one of the great outfields in the history of major league baseball.
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