When the New York Yankees traded left-handed starter Jordan Montgomery to the St. Louis Cardinals for injured outfielder Harrison Bader, they were hoping to overhaul the centerfield position come the playoffs.
Bader is expected to make a recovery and return from plantar fasciitis, which currently has his foot in a walking boot. His projected timetable for return is mid-September, and the Yankees are learning why he could be of exponential value when the playoffs roll around.
Aside from Aaron Judge, who has transitioned to CF this season, he’s now back in right field with Aaron Hicks manning center. Hicks is currently going through an abysmal stretch of games, tallying three hits on Sunday but failing to record a hit for nine consecutive games. To start August, he hosts a .136 average with a 20.8% on base rate.
At this point, the Yankees can’t depend on Hicks to be a consistent hitter during the postseason, especially since he’s been unable to put together consecutive months of above-average play.
In July, he looked far better, hitting .275 with a 41.2% on-base rate, three homers, and 13 RBIs. However, his defense has also been spotty at times, lacking the necessary range and athleticism in center field, allowing Yadier Molina to score from third base after bobbling the transition over the weekend was a bad look.
While Hicks features a perfect fielding percentage in the outfield this year, he represents -5 defensive runs saved above average. He’s been far more effective in left field with five defensive runs saved above average over after GM Brian Cashman acquired Andrew Benintendi from the Kansas City Royals.
Hicks quickly running out of options if Bader makes a full recovery. It was no surprise that the Yankees were trying to unload Hicks and Josh Donaldson to clear their massive salary expenses at the trade deadline.
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What the Yankees will get from Bader when he returns:
On the other hand, Bader is hitting .256 this season with a 30% on-base rate, five homers, and 21 RBIs. He’s also stolen 15 bases with a 17.8% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate. Defensively, he’s one of the best centerfielders in baseball, showcasing unbelievable range and a plus arm.
This season, he’s recorded -2 defensive runs saved above average, showing far better production than Hicks over 588.2 total innings. Historically, though, he’s been a well above-average defender. In 2021, he earned 15 runs saved above average over 886.2 innings in center field.
That type of speed and athletism won’t only help defensively but also on the base paths. If he can take a few more pitches and show that underrated power he contains, smashing 16 homers last year, the Yankees could get far more value out of him.
The immediate return obviously favors the Cardinals since Montgomery was a reliable left-handed starter, but the Yankees were trying to play the analytics game. It’s a big risk but one they were willing to take, clearly.