Yankees Greg Bird: Should he stay or should he go?
Just when everyone was about to give up on Greg Bird, he begins hitting. Should the Yankees now plan to retain him, or should they use him as trade bait for a quality ballplayer who can fill a needed position during the offseason?
Generally speaking, baseball players tend to follow very different career paths. Some play exceptionally well at the major league level right out the gate and become stars overnight (e.g. Yankees great Derek Jeter). This is the least common path.
Then there are players who show promise, take time to develop, and eventually become solid additions to the roster (e.g., Didi Gregorius). Many players fall into this category.
A large number of players are invited to play at the major league level, never perform well, and are cast aside following a relatively short stint (e.g., too many to mention). This is the most common scenario in MLB.
Still, others are brought up from the minor leagues, show occasional flashes of greatness, play inconsistently, barely hang on, and are finally let go by a ball club. Such players test the patience of general managers and on-field managers (as well as the fans).
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We can safely say Greg Bird does not fall into the first and third group of players. The jury is still out, however, as to whether he belongs in the second or fourth category of players.
Most fans may not know that Bird was a catcher in high school and was drafted by the Yanks as a backstop in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He was moved to first base once he began playing minor league ball.
At 22-years-old, Bird debuted in August 2015 for the Yanks, serving as a backup for Mark Teixeira at first base and Alex Rodriguez as designated hitter. Bird eventually replaced Teixeira after he was diagnosed with a season-ending shin fracture.
In 2015 Bird played in 46 games. He had 157 at-bats, 11 home runs, and 31 RBIs. Most analysts, including me, felt that he had a very good start and that he demonstrated a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, as most Yankees fans are aware, Bird suffered serious injuries in 2016 (torn labrum) and 2017 (ankle and foot) and missed a lot of games. Adding to his injury woes, he was forced to have ankle surgery at the beginning of this season and did not return to action until the end of May.
Clearly, Bird’s various physical problems led to a significant lack of playing time, and possibly affected his mental approach to the game. The injuries have made it very difficult for Bird to develop momentum and become a consistently high performer on the field.
Including Sunday’s August 19th game against the Blue Jays (which the Yanks won 10-2), Bird has 237 at-bats, a .211 batting average, 11 home runs, 35 RBIs, a .303 OBP, and a .414 SLG thus far during the 2018 season. His fielding percentage is a respectable .998, and his range factor is 7.26, among the bottom third for all first basemen in the American league.
Bird homered (a grand slam) for the second time in two days to put the Yankees ahead for good against the Jays, as this was his third home run off a left-hander this season. Perhaps he is poised to break out of his summer-long slump. We will obviously have to wait and see.
While Bird has shown recent signs of overcoming his problems at the plate, I would argue that he has had a sufficient number of at-bats (237) to turn things around by now.
In watching him play this year, it seems that he has been tentatively swinging the bat most of the time, especially when he falls behind in the count. It is not clear whether he loses his confidence and becomes defensive at the plate, or whether he is simply thinking too much and not relying on his good instincts and just letting his hands and bat fly.
Given his poor performance at the plate in 2018, Bird also may be feeling increasing pressure to play an essential role in the division’s race. And, as we know, he has had problems hitting left-handed pitching.
Also, while he has not made a lot of errors at first base this year, his fielding has not always come through in crucial situations (e.g., on Miguel Andujar’s throw in Boston and a thrown ball he failed to catch during the Blue Jays series). I consider him to be an average fielder at first base.
Then what should the Yankees do?
The wisest thing the Yankees should do at this point is to wait and see what kind of numbers Bird puts up at the end of the season. He has a beautiful swing, and he should definitely have more home runs by now, especially given the short porch in right field in Yankees Stadium. The meager batting average and his less than spectacular play in the field is most troubling to me.
I am a huge fan of Greg Bird, and I sincerely hope that he is able to turn things around soon in a significant way. This means that he must become a more aggressive hitter at the plate, particularly when he is behind in the count. If he does not improve his performance, then the Yankees should make finding a replacement for him a high priority during the off-season.