Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Case Of Melky v. Gardner

Aside from debating the merits of Jose Molina catching a playoff game over Jorge Posada, which has already been done pretty extensively, there is really only one other marginal decision that Joe Girardi has to make in terms of configuring his starting line-up. Center field is that one area of debate, where both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner have a case to start.

They've both had up and down years and each has skills that the other doesn't. Melky hit 13 home runs this year while Gardner still stole 26 bases despite being on base just over 100 times. His speed also makes Gardner far less likely to ground into double plays. Melky has about twice as many plate apperances but has bounced into five times more twin killings.

Gardner offers much better defense, but Melky is still above average in center. For what it's worth, Melky has shown a penchant for big hits this year even though Gardner has better "clutch" stats. The Melk Man had a decidedly better September/October although that isn't very important either.

If either are left out of the line up and substituted for each other late in the game, Melky can provide the power as a pinch hitter while Gardner can add some speed (and better range in center) as a pinch runner or defensive replacement.

Being a switch-hitter, Melky offers better production against lefties although Gardner's tiny split of 55 PAs with a .356 BABIP doesn't bear that out quite yet. What you might not have expected is that Cabrera also has a better OPS than Brett the Jet against righties (.747 to .708). However, he's better in terms of average and power but is comparable in OBP, which is easily the most important of the three categories, especially over a limited sample.

Each of the three starters the Twins is likely to use in the ALDS is right handed: Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, and Scott Baker. Ditto for the Tigers with Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello.

How should Girardi fill the CF slot, and presumably 9 hole in the line up in the games where Jose Molina isn't catching? Gardner brings two assets (speed and defense) to the table which would seem to be valuable in playoff games, but Melky has been a better hitter over the course of the season and has proved it over more at bats.

Considering all of the pitchers the Yankees are facing are right handers, should one guy start every game until further notice? If you figure that one is better than the other, is there a reason to divide the starts? Have they both earned the right to play in the postseason? Should that matter?

[Update 12:50: Greg from Pending Pinstripes has explored this topic in-depth and feels that Gardner is the clear answer. Here are three of his posts... Missing Brett Gardner, Brett Gardner's Off the DL, Should Melky Still Be Starting?, and Melky Cabrera Is Not As Clutch As You Might Think. There's good stuff in all of those entries and it's a slow day for baseball news on the internets, so check them out. If you weren't already leaning towards Gardner, that might be enough to push you over the fence.]


  1. I've written about this topic way too much, and every time I've concluded that Gardner should be the starting center fielder. When using OPS, remember that a combination of high-OBP/low-SLG is better than low-OBP/high-SLG. Plus, Gardner seemingly tracks every single ball down in center.

  2. Greg, feel free to drop the links here or email to me and I'll put them in the post.

  3. Sure, Jay, here are the various links:




    Freddy Guzman is a lock for the postseason roster, so even with Gardner starting, the Yanks will still have a very formidable pinch runner on the bench.

    Also, I plan on picking up a six-pack of southern tier pumpking tonight, I hope it's as good as you say.

  4. Thanks Greg, the post is updated. I'm not sure you can get the Pumpking in six packs but you can certainly find the 22 oz bombers. Enjoy.

  5. Give me Gardner's range and OBP. Also, his speed will make up for his lack of SLG.

    Unfortunately, I think Girardi will go with Melky.

  6. It's Official: Molina to catch AJ...

  7. Delta Suite takes my $$$10/6/09, 3:08 PM

    Gotta love Gardner's speed and range in center. I just can't get the image out of my mind of him striking out in a big moment at some point in the post season. Expect Girardi to catch hell with either pick.
    Playoff tickets are in, I'm psyched!