Yankees could get surprise breakout from 2X Gold Glove-winning centerfielder in 2024

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Yankees pulled off the trade for superstar outfielder Juan Soto, an under-discussed acquisition came in the form of Trent Grisham. The 27-year-old outfielder is one of the best defenders in the league and has shown an ability to generate power from his left-handed swing. He’ll start the season as the fourth outfielder, with Alex Verdugo playing in left field, Aaron Judge in center field, and Juan Soto in right field in the projected Opening Day lineup.

Injuries have been a common theme for the Yankees, and there will certainly be opportunities for Trent Grisham to get at-bats and show his stuff as he looks to take advantage of the short porch in right field and have a breakout season.

Getting Out in Front Of The Ball More

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Yankees
May 27, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; San Diego Padres center fielder Trent Grisham (1) at bat against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Left-handed hitters have a distinct advantage at Yankee Stadium when they pull the ball in the air, and while Trent Grisham puts it in the air at a high frequency (42.8%), he pulls it under 25% of the time. Hitting the ball in the air is a good thing, but only if you’re pulling it, as there’s a stark difference in wOBA when we consider spray angle. The Yankees are among teams who have realized that to get the most out of a flyball, you have to pull it with the fifth-highest pulled flyball rate in the league (28.6%) since 2022.

Average wOBA of Flyballs Based on Directions (2022-2023)

Pulled flyballs are the ideal batted ball, and Grisham could be the kind of hitter who benefits from being more aggressive and getting out in front of the ball. He’s a passive hitter, taking over 40% of hittable pitches and having the approach of a hitter who can’t rely on power or damage contact to generate run production. Trent Grisham has good power, setting a new career-high in Max Exit Velocity (112.3) and Barrel Rate (11.8%) this past season, and if the Yankees can help him take advantage of mistakes more often, he could return to his 2020-2021 form.

The reason for Trent Grisham’s low average (.198) stems from the fact that he relies on elevating the ball without pulling it, creating harmless contact even when hit hard. Yankee Stadium is a step up over Petco Park for Trent Grisham, with a 123 HR Factor versus an 84 HR Factor in San Diego for left-handed hitters. While much has been said about the Yankees’ hitting philosophies, throughout the organization, pulling the ball in the air has been a staple, and new hitting coach James Rowson was a huge part of a Minnesota Twins offense that took full advantage of that concept.

  • 2017-2019 Pulled Flyball%
    • Astros (28.5%)
    • Guardians (28.0%)
    • Angels (28.0%)
    • Twins (27.0%)
    • Blue Jays (26.9%)

Rowson might be able to get the most out of Grisham and help him play to his physical strengths to find more production at the plate. This doesn’t require being an elite hitter, especially with how great of a defender he is in centerfield, but getting league-average production could make him one of the 10 best centerfielders in all of baseball this upcoming season. Projections love his outlook, with various systems giving him a median outcome of an above-average hitter at the plate.

Any of these three outcomes would be incredible for the Yankees, since last season they got a mere 80 wRC+ from centerfield last season. The outfield was a disaster for them offensively, and getting any sort of production from that unit could greatly improve their run production from their ghastly 2023 team. Whether he takes a step forward or not remains to be seen, but what we do know is that he’ll be one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game.

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Bringing Gold Glove Defense to the Yankees

Syndication: The Enquirer
San Diego Padres center fielder Trent Grisham (1) makes a catch in deep center field in the second inning during a baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, July 1, 2023, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

Trent Grisham is known for his glove, and the numbers reflect his defensive brilliance as he only trails Harrison Bader for the most Outs Above Average in centerfield since 2020. He’s a two-time Gold Glover out there, most recently winning the award in 2022, and he could be a huge asset for their outfield defense this season. Aaron Judge is their projected centerfielder, but in the interest of keeping him healthy and giving Giancarlo Stanton some rest days, having an elite defender slide into centerfield when needed is a huge advantage.

He’s a maestro in the outfield and could be a late-game substitution for the Bronx Bombers, but he would also start on a lot of teams out in center field. In terms of projected WAR, ZiPS believes he’ll be the ninth-best centerfielder in baseball, and while they’re projecting him for a full-time role instead of the bench one he’ll have with the Yankees, it’s pretty remarkable to go from Isiah Kiner-Falefa as your fourth outfielder to a legitimate starting-caliber option.

Last season was his worst in terms of WAR (1.7) since being traded to the San Diego Padres, but that’s still decent for an outfielder. The Yankees are looking to get a lot of production from the dynamic duo of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto, they just need to get enough support from other players on the roster to make it work. People mention Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton as players who have to rebound for the team to succeed, but FanGraphs only projects them for 2.1 fWAR combined, and yet they still believe New York will win the division.

In theory, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton could return to their All-Star form, but entering the later stages of their careers, it’s hard to rely on that. Projections rightfully view them as overpaid veteran bats, and the Yankees will have to keep close tabs on them as the season carries on. Rizzo is in a bit of a more favorable position, projected for around a 110 wRC+, which should make him a strong option at first base, given his excellent glove at the position. As for Giancarlo Stanton, all signs point to what could be an ugly downturn.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
Aug 18, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) stays on the field after an inning ending double play in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

If the Yankees end up relying on Trent Grisham, there’s a very good chance that it’s because Giancarlo Stanton lives up to projections that believe he’ll play to around 1 WAR while missing about 50 games. Brian Cashman even publicly mentioned that injuries are part of his game, and it would be foolish for a team to center their strategy around having a healthier version of Giancarlo Stanton with a 130-140 wRC+, and the acquisition of Grisham serves as their insurance policy.

Jasson Dominguez could return from Tommy John Surgery and usurp Stanton in the starting lineup as well, but he won’t be back until the summer, and it’s unclear how aggressive the Yankees will be with a promotion. Spencer Jones is another name in their farm system who could emerge in their outfield this season, although that depends on skill progressions at the plate that are hard to attain in a short period of time. Instead of relying on prospects who won’t be ready before the All-Star Break, they can instead turn to a Gold Glove centerfielder when injuries arise.

Trent Grisham himself is extremely reliable, playing over 150 games in each of the last two seasons, and that’s something the team has lacked in recent years. Injuries have killed this team year in and year out, and you can point to them as the biggest reason they haven’t won a World Series title in the Aaron Judge era. Whether this team is the one or not remains to be seen, but what we do know is that they have more depth than years past, and Grisham is a huge part of that change.

We don’t know how much playing time he’ll get, but Trent Grisham could end up playing a larger role on his team than people think, and he could be an unsung hero for the Yankees.