Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 unanimous AL Rookie of the Year, is ready to come back to the Houston Astros. His bat will be a welcome addition, to provide extra run support to a depleted and inexperienced pitching staff that needs all the run support it can get.
However, manager Dusty Baker has stated that he will not play Yordan in the field. He will serve only as a designated hitter, due to knee soreness.
This was his role, for the most part in 2019, when he had the uncommon situation of spending the majority of his rookie season as a DH, which I wrote about last year after his debut.
The problem is someone is in his spot. Since July 29, Michael Brantley has been slotted exclusively at designated hitter. Brantley has a quad injury that has precluded him from playing the field, but not from swinging the bat.
So as Jake Kaplan of the Athletic reports, if Dusty isn’t willing to play either Brantley or Alvarez in the field, he has an interesting decision to make.
As of Wednesday, there was still doubt as to when the Astros would clear Michael Brantley (quad) to play the field. Dusty Baker has said Yordan Alvarez won’t play the field. So unless Brantley can play the field effective tonight, Baker has an interesting decision to make.— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) August 14, 2020
The decision doesn’t seem that hard really, at least for the short term. If Brantley is cleared to take the field, place in in left, and let Alvarez DH. Or give him a day off to rest his quad, and let Alvarez DH.
But long term, this can get tricky.
How long Brantley’s quad will keep him off the field and the status of Alvarez’ knees are the critical issues.
“We tried to have Yordan play the field in spring training and his knees got sore and he couldn’t play for a couple days,” Baker said. “That’s why we got to try to get Michael back well enough for him to play the field.”
Brantley’s soreness, coupled with Alvarez’s absence, has made him the team’s everyday designated hitter. Baker acknowledged on Wednesday he “doesn’t know” when Brantley may be healthy enough to play left field again.
Ideally, Brantley’s quad recovers sooner rather than later. Hopefully by tonight. But if the timetable is so uncertain, how long can the Astros afford to treat Brantley and Alvarez as an either/or decision in this short season?
Without question, designated hitter is the ideal spot for Yordan Alvarez to be in. But if the designated hitter position is not available, if Alvarez’ knees get to a point that he can tolerate being in the field, the Astros should let him do so.
This is a question not only for now, but for future seasons as well. The situation will comes up again where the DH spot is not available, and the Astros must decide between benching Yordan, benching another star, or sending Yordan into left field.
If the knees are there, don’t hesitate to send Yordan into left field every once in awhile at home.
- Alvarez’ bat must be in the lineup somehow. Alvarez’ offense is not merely good. It’s amazing. By the end of 2019, he not only ended up being having the best season by a rookie spent primarily at DH in MLB history (besting Eddie Murray, Fred McGriff, Shohei Ohtani, and Bob Hamelin’s rookie seasons), he had the best offensive rookie season ever in AL history. Yordan’s 2019 OPS of 1.067 was the highest of any AL rookie with at least 75 plate appearances ever. You don’t keep an offensive weapon like that out of the starting lineup.
- Minute Maid Park has one of the smallest left fields in the majors. With the Crawford Boxes in left field. Minute Maid Park’s left field measures only 23,200 square feet. That is the second smallest left field in the majors after Boston’s Fenway Park that measures 21,100 square feet. It is well smaller than the next 3 closest left fields: Citizens Bank Park at 25,700 sqft, Progressive Field at 25,800 sqft, and Guaranteed Rate Park at 26,500 sqft. And considering the Green Monster (37 ft 2” in) is almost double the height of the left field wall in Minute Maid Park (19 ft), Houston’s left field is even easier to man. Balls that a left fielder would have to play off the top of the Green Monster would simply just hit cardboard cutouts in the Crawford Boxes in Houston.
- The left fielder barely does anything anyways. In 2019, AL left fielders recorded 1.5 outs per game. That’s it. The amount you sacrificing by having a poor left fielder over a good left fielder is not the same sacrifice as having a poor defensive catcher or shortstop. The difference between a good (90th percentile) and bad (10th percentile) defensive catcher and shortstop is around 30 runs and 10 runs respectively over the course of 820 innings. The difference for a left fielder who is markedly less involved is considerably less. The sacrifice is minimal.
- Other players are going to need that DH slot too. If other stars like Jose Altuve , Carlos Correa or George Springer get dinged up a little, Alvarez will need the flexibility of being able to be placed in left field to free up the DH slot for them.
- If the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) can trot this out into right field. . . I present to you Jo Adell’s first major league “outfield assist”:
I…. pic.twitter.com/bhfYqxhq5V— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) August 9, 2020
Yordan can’t be worse than that, can he?
I am not advocating for Alvarez to be a full-time left fielder. He is a designated hitter, and has a good chance to be a recurring All-Star at that position. And I am not privy to how severe or bothersome his knees are. But it should be his knees and only his knees that keep him out of left field in Minute Maid Park, not his defense.