The New York Yankees came into the 2017 season with lots of questions about their roster. Chief among those were concerns about the outfield. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were 33 years old and coming off of poor finishes to the 2016 season, Aaron Hicks hadn’t shown much of anything in his first extended chance last year, and Aaron Judge was a wild card.
However, the Yankee outfield has quietly been the most consistent part of the lineup this season. The steady contributions of the four Yankee outfielders has been a huge part of the team’s success so far in 2017, and the quartet has to keep it up if the Yankees are to make the playoffs this year.
Let’s start at the top of the order, with Brett Gardner. Gardner has been through a lot with the Yankees over his 10 seasons in pinstripes, which have included an All-Star nomination and a Gold Glove. The always-dependable left fielder left something to be desired down the stretch last season though, when he stopped stealing bases and hitting for power. Gardner was mentioned in trade talks all Winter long as a result.
But Gardner has regained his mojo this year. He always got on base at an elite clip, but Gardner’s .376 OBP is the best mark of his career since 2010. Additionally, Gardner is hitting for power than he has in recent years. After hitting 7 home runs all of last year, less than his average of around 12-15, Gardy has gone yardy 8 times already in 2017, and we haven’t even reached the month of June yet. He is also 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts, and is on pace to score over 100 runs for the first time of his career.
His counterpart, Jacoby Ellsbury, has also looked rejuvenated so far this season. After three up-and-down campaigns in the Bronx, Ellsbury has had two major differences this season: he has remained healthy due to strategic resting, and he has been hitting in the middle of the order, rather than atop the lineup. Hitting .285 with a .354 OBP, and swiping 8 bags in 9 attempts, Ellsbury has been a valuable commodity out of the 5th or 6th slot in the batting order, moving runners over and creating offense.
What is there that is left to be said about Aaron Judge? He is leading the MLB in home runs with 15, is getting on base over 42% of the time, is slugging over .700, and is a surefire starter for the All-Star Game. Throw in the fact that he can steal some bases, provide plus defense, and has been clutch in RBi situations, and you’ve got the next big Yankee star.
Lost in the shuffle a bit so far has been the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, Aaron Hicks. Hicks had a very slow year last season trying to adjust to life as a Yankee, but Hicks has been dynamite this time around. He can play all three outfield positions, is fourth on the team in home runs (7), second in steals (6), and is getting on base a ridiculous 44% of the time. And as a switch hitter, there is no matchup that Hicks cannot handle. He has found his way into 76% of the team’s games this year, despite being labeled as a “backup”.
This incarnation of the Yankee outfield is among the most productive ever in Yankee history. Other recent standout Yankee outfields have included the likes of Curtis Granderson, Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, and the younger years of Gardner. The one thing that all of these outfielders have in common? All-Star nominations. Given the way that the Yankee outfield has been producing, it wouldn’t be a shock to see at least two Yankee outfielders in the All-Star Game in Miami this Summer.
The best part about the production the Yankees have been getting out of their outfielders is that it has sort of flown under the radar. Everybody everywhere is talking about Judge, but how many others have noticed the great contributions from Gardner, Ellsbury, and especially Hicks? While Judge is far and away the best of the bunch and deserves the attention he has been getting, the Yankee outfield is far away a cohesive unit that wins together.
Flash back to this past Winter, when some Yankee fans wanted to dump Ellsbury and Hicks, flip Gardner for pitching and send Judge back down to AAA for more seasoning. Instead, fans have been clamoring for manager Joe Girardi to find a way to get all four Yankee outfielders into the lineup, in addition to designated hitter (and ex-left fielder) Matt Holliday. Inevitably, Gardner will hit for less power, Ellsbury may get dinged up, Judge will start striking out more, and Hicks will run cold. But Girardi’s efficient rotation of his outfielders will ensure that not all of these things are occurring at once. The depth of the Yankee outfield is at an all-time high, and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the baseball world takes notice.