Granderson or Gardner, it doesn’t matter…
According to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, it does not matter who the Yankees select this spring to play center field or left field, whether it be Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner, as both players are capable of playing center field. Therefore, it is not entirely important who ultimately mans center or left when either candidate can play center well. Cameron does write, though, that if Gardner, who is generally considered the better outfielder, roams left while Granderson stays in center, “the total difference in defensive performance between the two alignments is simply the drop in value in right-center balls caught minus the rise in value in left field line balls caught.” So, while there is some added value in playing Gardner over Granderson in center – i.e., right field gap coverage – it is offset by the slight defensive gains made if Gardner, rather than Granderson, is in left. This leads Cameron to claim, “We’re talking about a marginal difference on just a handful of balls in play over a full season. We’re talking about fractions of a run.”
If this is truly the case, perhaps it would be best for the Yankees to simply go with Brett Gardner in left and Curtis Granderson in center. If Gardner’s bat absolutely fails, then it would be easier for the Yankees to move him out of left field over the summer, and replace him with another left fielder (one acquired via trade). Also, although Cameron does not mention this in his article, Granderson appears to have a better arm than Gardner (UZR says otherwise, but Gardner’s arm rating is somewhat inflated and the scouting reports are kind to Granderson), therefore, using Gardner in left, where his arm strength is not as important, might actually make more sense for the team, defensively.
Photo by the AP