This is going to sound like a conspiracy theory, but hear me out. If you only put your best players in your lineup, you tend to do well. I know, right! Insane! Call me crazy, but so too did they call Galileo crazy when he said the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, and look where we are now. Basically, I’m a visionary and I just compared myself to Galileo. No, my hubris hasn’t finished expanding, why do you ask?
Yet despite most normal people already believing that playing your best players leads to more wins, the Yankees continue to throw Aaron Hicks in center field almost every day.
Hicks has appeared in 30 games as a center for the Yankees. He’s started 22 games in center field. Across 333 innings in 2022, the Yankees have sent Hicks out to captain the outfield for 208 of them. That’s way, way, way more than he deserves and frankly, not only would it help the Yankees offense by not letting Hicks (.613 OPS) swing the bat, but it would also help every other player in the Yankees outfield if a trio of Stanton, Judge, and Gallo became the primary outfield in the Bronx.
Since 2018, Hicks has never recorded a Defensive Runs Saved higher than zero. Statistically speaking, he’s been a below average defender in center field for each of the last four-plus seasons. Now, Aaron Judge isn’t the best center fielder in the world, but across 158 innings in 2021, Judge recorded only -1 Defensive Runs Saved. That’s better than anything Hicks has done each in the last half-decade. Across 85 innings in center field this year, Judge is a perfectly average defender. He’s got the tools to take over center field full time and that gives both Stanton and Gallo more room to operate where they work best.
Joey Gallo is a great defensive right fielder. He’s won Gold Gloves each of the last two years, and unlike the case with Derek Jeter, Gallo’s advanced metrics actually do point to Gallo being an elite right fielder. Too bad Gallo has spent the majority of the 2022 season in left. In fact, Joey Gallo has spent only one inning in right field all year! And wouldn’t you know it, Gallo is having his worst season defensively since 2018 — when he was used primarily as a left fielder. I will give the Yankees credit. After trading for him in 2021, the Yankees stuck him in left field and he did surprisingly well. However, 2022 is proof that he’s clearly much more comfortable in right.
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That just leaves left field. That’s where Stanton goes. Is he a good defender? Not really, but damn, he needs to be in the field. Since 2021, prior to last night’s game against Baltimore, Stanton has played 124 games at DH. In those 124 games, Stanton is hitting .264 with a .492 slugging percentage He’s also smacking .25 home runs per game. Not bad by any means, but those numbers pale in comparison to what Stanton has done in the 41 games he’s played in the outfield in that span. In those games, Stanton is hitting .318 with a .630 slugging percentage and he’s hitting .34 homers per game. Yeah, that’s way better.
I know it’s a small sample size, but it’s enough of a pattern to at least warrant more time for Stanton in the outfield. In 2022, Stanton is still spending just as much time DHing as he is in the outfield. And hey, lookie here! The Yankees are 13-3 in the 16 games Stanton has played in the outfield.
Not only would an outfield of Stanton, Judge, and Gallo be awesome offensively — assuming Gallo can figure out what’s been ailing him at the plate, but it would likely be a better defensive outfield as well. While the team has been very efficient defensively, they’ve got room to improve, and if playing Stanton helps with his offense as drastically as it suggests...that might be worth it all on its own.