Before the offseason got too far in, I identified two outfield options I liked for the Yankees’ bench: Eric Hinske and Reed Johnson. The reason I liked both players was for their bats; Hinske has a lot of power off the bench and Johnson hits lefties well.
As everyone knows by now, the Yankees opted in favor of signing Randy Winn to be their backup outfielder.
The move kind of puzzled me at first, primarily because Winn was never really on my radar. I immediately went to baseball-reference.com and was surprised to see Winn is coming off a terrible season in which his was particularly putrid against lefties. So what gives? Could this really be Cashman’s answer?
Well, if you look at Winn’s pre-2009 seasons, you see that he was a consistently league average bat, if not a bit better than that. So was 2009 a fluke or is age catching up with Winn? Clearly, the Yankees think the former and actually there are many numbers to support that. From the guys at RAB:
Winn’s .262-.317-.353 batting line in 2009 represents the wors[t] full season offensive output of his career, an ominous sign for a 35-year-old. His .158-.184-.200 line against lefties was the worst mark by a righty batter in 54 years, however that comes with the disclaimer of a microscopic .178 BABIP. One-seventy-eight. If he had posted his career average BABIP against lefties (.301), he actually would have picked up an extra 17 hits, nearly doubling his average to an even .300. That is some horrific luck ladies and gentlemen. It’s so horrible that even at his age, a rebound is all but guaranteed. Bouncing back against lefties alone will improve his overall offensive output, but moving from cozy AT&T Park Park to the New Stadium will help as well. I’m not saying Winn will revert to his ~.350 wOBA ways of ‘07-’08, but matching Melky Cabrera’s .331 wOBA from a year ago isn’t out of the question. He did have 22.3% line drive rate in 2009, his highest in at least eight years, so Winn’s bat hasn’t gone totally limp.
As always, you have to sign the player based on what he will do, not what he’s done, and clearly the Yankees think Winn will still be a productive bat. Will he hit as many homeruns as Eric Hinske would? Doubtful. Would he hit lefties as well as Reed Johnson? Probably not. But let’s not forget that neither Hinske or Johnson are everyday players. They are reserves, just like Winn, and if you take a look at what the Yankees really need from a 4th outfielder, it’s easy to see Winn’s appeal.
How many times will the Yankees go to the bench in search of offense? The only player in the lineup they’d ever do that for is Brett Gardner or perhaps Curtis Granderson against a tough lefty. The Yankees already traded for Jamie Hoffmann to fill (at least for now) the lefty-masher role but Winn will be a serviceable pinch hitter and spot starter as well.
What the Yankees will certainly utilize quite frequently from their bench though is defense and base running, and Winn excels at both. Late in games, he can play rightfield, joining Granderson and Gardner to form an outstanding defensive outfield. Winn’s stolen base percentages are fantastic, and he’ll be a great option to pinch-run, especially with Gardner already in the lineup.
Those skills the Yankees could utilize literally every single game. However, the singular skills that Johnson and Hinkse offer, while certainly a plus, are limited to very specific situations.
So yes, if you just evaluate Winn’s bat as a pinch hitting or spot starter option, he’s not an obvious first choice. But when you factor in the myriad of things he can do to help the Yankees every single game, it’s easier to understand why he makes sense as a bench player.