We all have “what ifs” in our lives. What if I was a few inches taller? You’d probably be writing about me right now, explaining why Grey has me outside the top 80 starting pitchers for this year. What if any other team drafted Mike Trout in that first round? He may have actually won a playoff game. These “what if” moments don’t come with second chances. They are a moment in time that cannot be changed. Some people are still in their “what if” moment trying to ensure that they come out on the right side of history.
The 2018 season might be Greg Bird’s third chance. First, he came up in August of 2015 and had a promising premier. In 2016, Bird missed the whole season recovering from right labrum surgery. Second, in 2017, he was back; another chance to start his career. After a month of misery the Yankees decided to put him down. Actually, he just bruised his right ankle. That’s nothing to worry about. He’ll take a few weeks off and be right back. Bird missed all of May, June, July and most of August before returning in September. Bird can’t seem to stay on the field due to injuries major and minor. However, in 2018 Bird is ready to take on his dreaded “what if.” A young highly touted prospect succumbing to injury after injury is a classic tale of sports tragedy, but Bird is ready to break out of his cage.
Evaluating Bird is a bit more difficult than the other players I have looked into already, since he has little play experience. He had a short stint as a rookie in 2015, but that was so long ago and before missing an entire season due to injury. The start of 2017 was similar. It was only a few games and the first few after missing a whole season. I would like to dig into just his return in 2017 and into the playoffs as that has been his most recent and consistent play time. It should be the most representative of future impact.
Initially, let’s look at how Bird performed after coming back from his injury. His first month was awful, coming back from missing a whole season. After he returned from the 2017 injury he was much better, including the playoffs.
He played just under half the amount of games most players played in the second half. Of course, I am looking at a small sample size, however, those slugging, ISO and wOBA numbers are top ten first baseman caliber numbers. He didn’t walk a whole lot but wasn’t strikeout prone either. He showed some patience and power. It was certainly a solid end of the year for Bird; promising signs for this year. Furthermore, the playoffs came, and he kept playing at that level. Only 13 more games and 54 PAs, but his OPS was in the .900s.
Additionally, he finished the second half with an outrageously low BABIP. His hard hit rate isn’t notable, but he rarely made soft contact. Most of his hits were medium pulled contact, and he rarely hit the ball on the ground for a routine play to the right side of the diamond. His ground ball rate during that span was extremely low. All that meaning the low BABIP can more than likely be attributed to being a bit unlucky. Moreover, his launch angle averaged around 21 degrees last season, much higher than the MLB average of about 12 degrees. You may be concerned about the high HR/FB rate, which may drop. He didn’t hit the ball particularly hard and his average home run distance was lower than the MLB average. Keep in mind, he’s a lefty on the Yankees. He pulled the ball 60% of the time last year with 50% of the balls hit in the air. Ultimately, he seems to know his park, and he can keep taking advantage of it.
On the other hand, can this all translate to a full season? He’ll keep the job at first base as long as he stays healthy. He has been a top Yankee prospect for a while waiting to finally catch his break. This season he’ll shake off the cobwebs of his injuries and break through his “what if” moment. He was waiting for his time to shine. He let Judge have his time last year, and now he’ll be right in the thick of one of the best offenses in baseball. He’ll be hitting around Judge and Stanton and will have either plenty of opportunities to drive in runs or get driven in. Everyone is eager to see the pair of Judge and Stanton (as well as Sanchez), but we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by the fourth head of the Yankee hydra that will grow.
A full season from Bird will give him the time needed to flourish in what can be the best lineups in the league. He showed he can hit down the stretch. Despite the limited sample, Bird has always been one of those young Yankees everyone has been waiting for. I would put him closer to what Steamer has him projected for than Grey. As Grey noted, Bird’s projections remain consistent. The main downside is the injury risk. If he plays the games he’ll put up big numbers. I expect him to be in the top 15 for first basemen as long as he’s in the lineup.