Back in November New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi mentioned the possibility of moving Brett Gardner to center field and moving Curtis Granderson to left field. It appears the Yankees might flirt with this idea in spring training which would improve the team defense.
Gardner is an elite defender in left field and his speed and range should play well in center. Granderson, on the other hand, is a little below average in center and should be a little above league average in left. Granderson’s ultimate zone rating, or UZR, rates as a -18 which is terrible. However, his defensive runs saved, or DRS, is a more realistic -10 which still isn’t good but it is better than -18.
In 2011, Gardner’s last full season, he posted a 3 Rtz, or total zone fielding runs above average which is pretty good. Shifting Gardner to center field would be the optimal route at this point. Granderson, whose speed used to make up for a lot of bad reads, is not the same outfielder he was three years ago, or even two years ago. Granderson’s value has always been in his power since coming to the Yankees and switching Gardner and Granderson could save the Yankees one or two games at this point.
It is never an exact science when measuring a player’s sabermetric defensive score. However, they are sometimes eerily accurate while sometimes drastically off. Predicting what Gardner’s value in center field is almost impossible except from using his past experiences on the rare occasion he played center. However, given Gardner’s speed and the fact he is much better at reading the ball off of the bat than Granderson, it only makes sense for the Yankees to flirt with the idea.
The worst-case scenario is Gardner doesn’t perform well in center and the Yankees are forced to move him back to left and give Granderson his old spot back. Right now the Yankees don’t owe either player anything so it isn’t like moving Derek Jeter off of shortstop. I think Gardner will reward the Yankees with improved play in the field and Granderson will look much better in left field as well. This is a move the Yankees need to make.