The fifth outfielder job for the Yankees, in the grand scheme of all things, means very little. Hell, in the grand scheme of the New York Yankees’ roster, it still will, in all likelihood, have little or no bearing on the success or failure of the team. Unless injuries ravage the outfield, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez, when not filling the DH hole, will serve as an entirely able-bodied fourth outfielder between the two of them.
That said, it could still be fun to speculate on whether the Yankees will make the right choice in their fifth outfielder. It’s seen as a two-horse race between the soon-to-be-30 Chris Dickerson, and the 28-year-old minor league journeyman, Justin Maxwell. Let’s do a little tale of the tape:
*Dickerson got only 50 at-bats with the big league club in 2011, and put up a 30.9% strikeout rate in his cameo.
So firstly, a few clarifications:
-wRC+ compares the performance of a player to the major-league average, and is league and park adjusted. So if Dickerson’s performance, for example, was inflated by his playing in Great American Ballpark for a brief stint, it doesn’t show in the number. Each point above 100 indicates a player being one percent above league average offensively. Thus, Maxwell’s 104 wRC+ versus southpaws would amount to him being four percent above average offensively against them.
-UZR/150 measures the defensive performance of a player, scaled to 150 games. So the number next to Dickerson’s name will not be higher by nature of him playing in more major league games; rather, it will be scaled to 150 games to show how he performs (using only one metric, to be fair) over such a time period. A UZR above zero indicates an above-average fielder.
-Net Stolen Bases, as described above, measures how many steals a player adds to his team in a given amount of time (in this case, I scaled it to 600 at-bats). Net SB is found by subtracting total caught stealings from total stolen bases.
-Isolated power measures how powerful a hitter is roughly by dividing total extra bases from at-bats. A .133 ISO (Dickersonian) is considered a tad bit below average while a .178 mark (Maxwellian) is above average.
Why the Yanks should keep Dickerson: Dickerson is more seasoned, has less of a glaring weakness (Maxwell’s strikeout rate), is adept versus the most commonly seen pitcher (the righty), is incredible in center fielder (known as the hardest outfield position to play), and is faster. What do you want in your fifth outfielder? A guy who can pinch run, steal bases with success, fill in adeptly at any of the three outfield positions for a few innings, or, in certain cases, simply make contact. A big plus for Dickerson is the aforementioned outfield flexibility. He’s plus at all three defensive positions, and can fill in for Brett Gardner in left and provide above-average defense where Justin Maxwell cannot.
Why the Yanks should keep Maxwell: Fifth outfielders are used sparingly, but why not maximize your “bang” with the selection. Maxwell has above average raw power, as his 16 minor league homers in just 204 plate appearances will gleam. He can hurt lefties, especially with that power, and his strikeout rate won’t catch up to him if he barely gets at-bats. Plus, when will Brett Gardner, the left fielders of all left fielders, really need spelling? More likely to take an outfield off day is Nick Swisher, who can spell Mark Teixeira at first. Maxwell’s excellent right fielding will do. He has some speed, too, and is a successful base-stealer.
Why the Yanks shouldn’t keep Dickerson: Dickerson strikes out a lot for a non-threat at the plate, struggles versus lefties, and isn’t a sure thing on the base paths despite his noteworthy speed.
Why the Yanks shouldn’t keep Maxwell: Maxwell strikes out in nearly a third of his plate appearances, can’t hit righties (who he’ll face most often as a pinch-hitter), and is well below average in one of three outfield spots.
Verdict: The speed exists for both, and the defense does as well. Dickerson, however, is adept at all three spots, which is a plus, and isn’t a sure strikeout. He’s been three percent above league average on offense over his career, where Maxwell has been nine percent below the league average mark. More polish, more experience, fewer elephants in the room (zero, compared to one for Maxwell: his strikeout rate). Dickerson seems like the choice.