With the New York Yankees facing one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in the game, should they make one of their lefties ride the pine in the season opener?
By Christian Kouroupakis
In last year’s American League Wild Card game, New York Yankees‘ manager Joe Girardi made a difficult decision by benching the struggling Jacoby Ellsbury against the dominant lefty, Dallas Keuchel.
Having his $153-million investment sit in a do-or-die game over Brett Gardner was a tough decision, but well justified.
In 154 at bats, .253/.327/.325 and a .652 OPS against southpaws in 2015. His OPS vs left handed pitching was 11th worst in the AL among batters with at least 150 at-bats.
Gardner, on the other hand, had a .276/.361/.400 slash line and a .761 OPS against lefties. Surprisingly, he had a higher batting average against left-handers than he did against right-handed pitching (.253 vs RHP).
So, Gardner was way more productive than Ellsbury was last season, but the 1-2 punch hit a brick wall after putting up a stellar first half.
Up until May 19th, the two served as pivotal table setters in a power driven lineup. Going to play that day against the Washington Nationals Ellsbury had the highest batting average in the American League (.324) and only one other player had more steals than Gardner (10).
However, that night became the start of a dismal campaign for the duo, after Ellsbury suffered a sprained right knee, putting him on the shelf until July.
Upon his return, the center fielder slashed .220/.266/.326 for the remainder of the season. That led to his manager choosing Chris Young over his starting center fielder for the most important game of 2015.
His counterpart hit just .206 during the second half after an appearance in the All-Star game in Cincinnati.
Which makes sense.
The switch-hitter also had a .286/.345/.510 slash line in spring training while neither Gardner or Ellsbury batted over .250.
That brings us right back to the same issue the Yankees faced prior to last year’s one-game playoff. Who starts and who sits?
What Girardi should do, is the opposite of what he did last October.
Sitting Gardner, who is still recovering from a wrist injury, not only gives the Yankees an available runner to pinch-run later in the game, but it allows a better defensive alignment against an athletic Astros ball club.
Not to mention he’ll get to rest a wrist that he injured in the same game Ellsbury was benched in. But Girardi very well may bench Ellsbury again because, well, he’s done it before and can use the same justification he used a year ago:
Gardner was swinging the bat better. Which wasn’t a great way to put it. It was more along the lines of Gardner was less atrocious at the plate.
For now, we can only assume and predict which route Girardi will go, but it’s crazy how the Bombers are in the same predicament they were in the last ballgame they played.