Mike Yastrzemski missed nearly the entire month of August, which is a nice cutoff point to look at how the SF Giants fared in his absence. It is hard to ignore that the team's outfield defense took a noticeable step back when he was on the shelf, but how bad was it?
Mike Yastrzemski's absence highlighted his worth to the SF Giants
I think Yastrzemski is a nice complementary player. I know that there have been squabbles within the fanbase as to why the Giants keep him. When he is healthy, he has proven to be a solid contributor, but with three trips to the injured list in 2023, it might not be inaccurate to say he is prone to injuries. That is a fair criticism, but his overall play is quality.
Sure, some of the criticism of Yastrzemski has to do with the fact that he is not an impact bat. Giants manager Gabe Kapler will often use him in the middle of the order, which is probably a stretch. That said, the left-handed bat still a quality hitter whichever you slice it up.
Though, he has value to the Giants and it was highlighted during a rough month for the defense in August. The 33-year-old is not necessarily a fast runner and does not have an above-average arm in the outfield, but he continues to post solid defensive numbers because he has good instincts. He has a good first step and runs efficient routes, and oftentimes, that is the difference between catching and missing the ball.
Overall, his numbers have been excellent in the outfield. He has been worth +25 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and + 9 Outs Above Average (OAA) across five seasons. Right field is his better position from a metric standpoint (+13 DRS, +6 OAA), but he is a competent center fielder as well (+11 DRS, +3 OAA) despite not having the traditional tools of a center fielder such as elite foot speed.
The 2023 campaign has been no different as he has been worth +3 DRS and +1 OAA in center field. These are solid numbers at a position where you cannot get by with a poor defensive outfielder. My concern whenever he hits the injured list is who is going to take his place in center field?
And, the answer or lack thereof is what solidifies his role with the team now and in the immediate future. In his absence, the Giants had to shift roles a bit, meaning that Joc Pederson saw more time in left field, whereas Luis Matos and Wade Meckler shared the duties in center field.
Matos has the sprint speed and the arm strength to be a future center fielder. Though, as he demonstrated during his time with the Giants, he does not get good reads on the ball, leading to a lot of shallow fly balls finding outfield grass.
On the other hand, Meckler does not take the most efficient routes and is likely slated for a future role in one of the corner spots. Similar to Matos, he has the sprint speed of a center fielder, but he needs to improve on his routes.
In August, there were a lot of funky plays in the outfield that, unfortunately, reminded me of the 2017 season when the Giants' outfield defense was the worst I have seen. There were too many fly balls not being caught due to late breaks and a pair of inside-the-park homers with at least one being due to a bad read on the carom from the wall.
Not surprisingly, the Giants had the worst outfield defense in August at -5 OAA. Overall, they are at -11 OAA in the outfield, so that unusually bad month really swayed the numbers.
Since Yastrzemski has returned, he has already made a couple of nice plays in the outfield. Nothing spectacular necessarily, but there is a comfort when he is out there. So, he adds nice value defensively while swinging a good bat when he is healthy and the Giants do not have an obvious replacement for that yet. Until then, the veteran outfielder will continue to have a role for the Giants.