Hideki Matsui has absolutely crushed the ball all season long for the Yankees, and he has continued to do that in the postseason.
So far, he has produced a line of .278/.422/.472 with two home runs and six runs batted in. He also put together a regular season that exceeded all expectations.
Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher turned in equally impressive offensive seasons, but each has struggled mightily in the postseason. Damon's struggles have flown a bit under the radar, but he has hit just .220/.250/.360 with two homers and four runs batted in. I think the two home runs have spared him a bit of the criticism he deserves.
Nick Swisher's postseason struggles have been well documented, and he was even benched in favor of Jerry Hairston Jr. for Game Two of the World Series. I was not in any way in favor of this move, and while it did work out, that does not excuse the fact that it was a terrible move.
Now, given the struggles of corner outfielders Damon and Swisher, how can the Yankees afford to leave the hot-hitting Hideki Matsui on the bench? Well, there are a few reasons. As I continually mention, the fact that a player has struggled in his past few at-bats doesn't mean anything.
Slumps that aren't related to injuries are not predictive. Just because the media tells us they are, that doesn't make it true. Look at Alex Rodriguez. All we heard in the first two rounds of the playoffs were how relaxed and locked in he was at the plate. So far in the World Series, he is hitless in eight at-bats with six strikeouts.
This is just the way baseball works, players go through stretches where they kill the ball, and stretches where they struggle a bit. The thing about these stretches, though, is that there is no way to tell when they will begin or end. That's why you just have to go with your best players.
Going forward, Matsui, Damon, and Swisher project pretty evenly as hitters. There is not much of a reason to think that Matsui will perform significantly better than either player over the rest of the World Series.
There is, however, a reason to think that Matsui would be an awful outfielder. Since arriving in the states, he has always been well below average with the glove. Now, he hasn't played the outfield since June 2008, and has had a ton of knee troubles.
Whether or not Matsui's knees can handle the outfield isn't my concern. He says he is healthy enough to play the field. Honestly, I'm not worried about his health right now. My concern lies with the fact that Matsui's glove in left field would be a huge liability, and would likely give back some of the runs his bat produces.
Matsui isn't projected to have a much better bat than either Nick Swisher or Johnny Damon, but he is most definitely projected to cover no ground in either left or right field. The fact that Matsui hasn't played the outfield in so long and wasn't a good outfielder in the first place should absolutely preclude him from stepping foot on the outfield grass in the World Series.