On Saturday, reports surfaced that the Yankees want Miguel Andujar to learn to play first base and left field. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, though. After all, Andujar recorded an abysmal -25 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018. That was good for the second-worst mark in the MLB that season. You didn’t need stats to know that, though. If you watched the Yankees closely that season, Andujar seemed uncomfortable defensively. He sports a funky arm delivery with a double-pump type throw across the diamond. Often times, he would bounce balls to first base.
Shiny on the surface
Even still, Andujar was a finalist for Rookie of the Year in 2018, which goes to show how productive he was at the plate. He slashed .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs and 92 RBI. It’s also worth noting that he was tied for third in the league in doubles in 2018 with 47 and just outside the top 25 in ISO with .230. Despite those gaudy numbers on the surface, though, peeling a layer back leaves something to be desired, defensive struggles aside.
The most glaring statistic, which definitely raises some red flags, is the fact that his BB% was 4.1%, the seventh-worst clip in the MLB that season. On top of that, his chase rate (O-Swing %) was 12th worst at 39.4%. He did, though, have success with putting balls in play and making contact on balls in the zone, as he was 21st in the league in zone contact.
The fact of the matter is, then, that Andujar really did have his fair share of batted ball luck. His BABIP (.316) was not glaringly high, though still above average, his Hard Hit % was in the 44th percentile. For a player to have the year that Andujar had while having close to no discipline must mean that, as a player that puts the ball in play an awful lot, he was rather fortunate.
So before looking at a similar situation where a third baseman, Ryan Braun, was converted to corner outfield, it’s important to note that it would be very difficult for Andujar to replicate the offensive season he had in 2018.
In Comparison to Ryan Braun
Speaking of Ryan Braun, he began his MLB career in 2007 as a third baseman. Believe it or not, he actually had a worse defensive season than Andujar. He recorded -32 Defensive Runs Saved and a -42.8 UZR/150 (Andujar’s was -24.5). Braun, though, had a productive offensive season slashing .324/.370/.634 with 34 home runs and 97 RBI, so the Brewers had to find a remedy to his defensive issues.
The next season, Braun started in Left Field and has remained in the outfield since. Braun’s DRS numbers would immediately improve. Since that horrid defensive rookie season, Braun has not once recorded a season with worse than -10 DRS. Because of that, too, his overall WAR improved as well. While he posted slightly worse offensive numbers in 2008, the first year he moved to left field, his WAR improved from 2.5 to 4.5 year over year. The effect of defense cannot be overlooked when it comes to a long season, it very much so impacts winning and losing games. So though Andujar had a nice 2018 season at the plate, he was hurting the team with his glove.
It’s somewhat of an encouraging sign that Braun was OK in a different role. But the Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier as further left-field options. There are barriers to entry for Miguel Andujar.
The Gio Effect
Much to the enjoyment of the Yankees and their fans, though, they don’t have defensive issues at third base anymore. After all, Gio Urshela is the reason Miguel Andujar is being pushed towards picking up a new position. That, and Andujar’s defense.
Gio Urshela comes into the 2020 season as the Yankees starting third baseman. Not only did he have a breakout season at the plate slashing .314/.355/.535 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI, but he was an improvement over Andujar at third defensively. He recorded just -4 DRS and has some flashy defensive highlights to show for it.
It’s hard to know for sure how this season will shape out for Miguel Andujar. The Yankees hope that he can crack the opening day roster, but there’s a good chance that does not happen. Brian Cashman has raved about Andujar. He said, “his makeup is off the charts.” Though those are nice words, Cashman knows that Andujar comes with many flaws. He also still wants him to be at least somewhat of a marketable trade piece. Personally, I don’t think he is much of an asset.
Now that he is presumably healthy, it will be interesting to see how Andujar’s season plays out. If you had to ask me, though, I don’t think Andujar will have much of a season barring any serious replacement needs should the Yankees get struck by the injury bug.