After Wednesday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced that Brett Gardner had been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to soreness in his right elbow (via the New York Daily News). The team has called up side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley for the time being, but that gives the Yankees an untenable 13 pitchers and just three reserves, so another position player will be along before long.
While Gardner is out, Girardi will platoon Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones in left field and will also mix in utility infielder Eduardo Nunez. And there you have your answer to the question above: Gardner’s absence could hurt a great deal just given the huge swing in defensive abilities.
Even though Gardner was off to a good start, he’s really not much of a hitter. He was streaky from 2009-2011, hitting a streaky .268/.360/.375. Throw in his stolen bases, and he’s just a decent offensive performer.
It’s when you add in his defense that Gardner’s real value becomes clear.
Gardner’s speed gives the Yankees a second center fielder in left. Depending on your fielding metric of choice, Gardner saved enough runs on defense last season to give the Yankees an extra two wins on the season.
With Ibanez, a notoriously poor fielder, Jones, whose Gold Glove days are well behind him, and an inexperienced Nunez out there, expect more balls to drop in, leading to more runs. In other words, even if the combined offensive efforts of those players add up to what Gardner would have done, the combination of offense and lost defense will be a net negative.
A further consequence is that the need to play Ibanez or Jones in the field opens up designated hitter or requires one of those players to start with the platoon against him.
This is a bad idea, at least for Ibanez; over the last two seasons, Ibanez hit .244/.277/.391 against southpaws, while Jones hit .207/.321/.441 against right-handers. It also opens the way, as Girardi suggested last night, to more playing time for Nunez, as other players take their turn at DH, particularly against left-handed pitchers.
And that isn’t going to help. Almost all right-handed hitters play up against lefty pitchers, so for a hitter to give you a real boost against them, he has to really mash.
Gardner is not thought to be seriously hurt, and perhaps he will only miss the minimum two weeks and a day. Thus, his loss is hardly a crisis.
However, it is serious, even given that narrow time frame. He’s a key defender, and he exposes the team’s lack of depth—Triple-A has little beyond filler on the roster. You would think a .268 hitter wouldn’t matter that much, but indeed he does.