Defense an issue with Gardner-Thames platoon
With Marcus Thames on the Yankees’ bench to start the season, despite a dreadful spring in which the 33-year old outfielder hit a dreadful .135/.182/.269 while striking out a team-leading 21 times, many were left wondering what role he would play. Would he be a late-inning pinch-hitter used only against left-handers, where his strong career numbers versus southpaws could hopefully do some damage, or, would he be used in a greater capacity, perhaps in a platoon with the gritty Brett Gardner, who has yet to prove himself, offensively, above Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Just 12 games into the season, it appears as though the latter is true, as Gardner, with his speed and defense, has started games with right-handed opponents on the mound, and Thames, with his power bat, has been used in games that feature a left-handed starter. Over that time, on the season, Gardner has hit .333/.444/.333 while Thames has hit an obviously unsustainable .500/.545/.600. To be clear, the bulk of their numbers are derived from opposite-handed matchups, with Gardner batting .308/.438/.308 as a lefty facing righties, whereas Thames is batting .556/.600/.667 as a righty facing lefties. Together, from the left field combination, the Yankees are receiving production to the tune of an .800+ OPS. Gardner provides the majority of the offense with his speed, while Thames injects a bit of power.
Manager Joe Girardi, who was, at one point, awfully cryptic with his language when discussing the situation in left field, refusing to confirm whether or not a platoon was, in fact, to be utilized, has seemingly come around after a mere handful of games and is now openly touting the idea. “Thames has swung the bat well, and I like what we’ve seen from him,” noted Joe Girardi yesterday afternoon. “Thames is going to get some time, and [the platoon] has worked pretty good,” he added. However, while the platoon has worked from an offensive standpoint, thus far, one wonders how it will unfold defensively, as the length of a full season might just exacerbate real fielding concerns.
Already, Thames has been shaky in left field, with runs plating due to his defensive woes. The Yankees have been winning, so those miscues, as memorable as they have been, have not been discussed too much, or at least we have “forgiven” them in the grand scheme of a 9-3 record. A full season of such defensive ineptitude could become a much more tangible issue, of course. Then again, given Thames’ right handedness, he will likely receive lesser playing time than Gardner this year, limiting the damage. Girardi could always sub in Gardner in the later innings of games, too, further preventing Thames’ defense from becoming a significant detriment to the team’s overall fielding.
The verdict is still out on the effectiveness of the Yankees’ left field platoon. As I have said before, its efficacy will ultimately be judged by a look at runs saved versus runs produced. But, what we do know after 12 games is that a platoon is the current plan. Marcus Thames will basically have to play himself out of the role for that to change.
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