It was pretty shocking to me, actually. Not so much the hitting, as he was only slightly lower than his averages in every major hitting category over the last three years. It was his glove that got my notice. Remember that he won the Gold Glove for 3B in 2012. Granted, that was his career year, but you don’t usually see a drop like last year on defensive stats for any player with a solid glove. Consider that for the prior 3 years, his fielding percentage at 3rd base only fluctuated 8 basis points (.968 to .976), and that includes his Gold Glove year. Last year he dropped almost 30 basis points from the year before. He led the Yankees in fielding errors, more than second and third place (Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew) combined. In fact, it was the first time in his career since becoming an everyday third baseman that he posted a negative dWAR (-0.4). As conventional wisdom goes, if your player is costing you games compared to the average replacement, it’s time to look at replacements.
Is it time to look at replacements? I am not so sure that it is. Every player has a bad year at some point in his career. Scott Brosius had a negative WAR in 1997 and Oakland traded him to the Yankees. The next year, he wins the World Series MVP. Andy Pettitte had a dreadful 1999 season, so much so that the rumor was he was going to be traded. At the trade deadline, he had a 7-8 record with a 5.65 ERA. The Yankees held onto him, he pitched the second half to a 7-3 record with a 3.46 ERA, he helped win a World Series that year and two more after that, and now he has a plaque in Monument Park. The point is if you’re going to be smart about it, you have to look at the whole body of work.
What I like about his body of work is the consistency of his defense, at least up to last year. He is consistently 10-15 basis points above the league average in fielding percentage. Hi clutch hitting stats are phenomenal. His Yankees debut was not the only time he came through in the hour of need. His batting average with RISP was almost 30 points higher than his season average last year. His OPS was almost 150 points higher. He has developed trouble against right-handed pitchers recently, but that’s something a hitting coach should be able to address.
You don’t just send clutch hitters packing, especially not when they can play good defense at third. I don’t know for sure, but his history says that he’s a much better player than we saw last year. Some might say it is time for a replacement, I say we need to stick with this guy and see what 2016 looks like.
--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
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