Why Did the Yankees Claim Darnell McDonald Off Waivers?


Wednesday, the New York Yankees claimed Darnell McDonald off waivers. McDonald has spent most of his career as a part-time outfielder for the rival Red Sox and the other half in the minors. His role, as a right-handed bat, has been as a platoon player against left-handed pitching. Most fans outside of New England might know him best for his recent Sports Center diving catch on a fly ball hit by Blue Jays 2B Kelly Johnson. So why would the Yankees pick up a limited novelty player cut by their arch rival? Let’s explore…

McDonald has a career .248 BA with a .709 OPS. However, his real value is as a lefty specialist. Against left-handed pitching he has a career .277 BA and .786 OPS; compare that to his .213 BA and .620 OPS against right-handed pitching and it becomes clear he is a limited but effective player if used properly.

In 2012 McDonald has struggled mightily, even against lefties. Thus far, he actually has a .214 BA against both right-handed and left-handed pitching (only .011 better OPS vs. left-handed pitching). Interestingly, McDonald is still having success against left-handed starting pitching. Against left-handed starting pitchers this year, he is hitting .259 with a .847 OPS. So, while McDonald has struggled in 2012, there is still reason to believe he can still handle southpaws. He also has typically been a better second-half player over the course of his career.

McDonald’s speed and defense have always been a part of his game but at 33-years-old both are declining. Another interesting note about McDonald is that while he has always had good speed, according to Fangraph.com’s SPD Factor, he has never been a great base stealer; 14 stolen bases vs. 5 caught stealing for his career. Also, according to advanced defensive metrics, he is now a well below-average center fielder, average right fielder, and a slightly above-average left fielder.

In McDonald the Yankees picked up a 33-yeard-old right handed bat that hits lefties, cannot steal bases efficiently, and plays a solid left field. This brings me back to my question of why did the Yankees make this move? It’s not like the NFL where you can gain a tactical advantage over your opponent by signing one of their castoff players. They must think he can contribute this year but I just don’t see how.

The Yankees already have an aging right-handed bat that hits lefties in Andruw Jones who in 2011 had a .923 OPS against left-handed pitching and a .920 OPS against left-handed starting pitching. This year he has struggled more against lefties but still has a .787 OPS against left-handed starting pitchers; higher than McDonald’s career average. Jones and McDonald are both average corner outfielders.

The other Yankees reserve outfielder, Dewayne Wise, is hitting a respectable .271 with a .842 OPS. He is also a better base-stealer and fielder than McDonald. My only concern with this move is it might signal that Brett Gardner’s injury is more serious than we originally thought and the team is desperately looking to add depth. Due to Gardner’s injury, Raul Ibanez has played a lot more games in the field than expected and might break down come September/October. I would rather keep Wise as the primary backup and stick with Jones as the right-handed bat off the bench. I just don’t see a need for McDonald but I guess with both Jones and McDonald on the roster, opposing lefty starters should take notice.