You can read my contribution to the Baseball Analysts’ “What Went Wrong” series here. Meanwhile, on with the outfielders.
Overall AL Average: .268/.328/.424
AL Average: .270/.332/.451
Gary Sheffield .291/.379/.512 (.302)
Sheffield has been an absolute masher for the Yankees in his first two seasons in pinstripes, but both years he’s suffered a fall-off in September. At first blanch those September swoons might appear to be evidence fatigue exacerbated by Sheffield’s age. Indeed, his production in 2005, though still placing him among the top hitters in the game, marks a continued decline from his fantastic 2003 season. On second glance, injuries appear to have played a role. After playing all of last season with a torn shoulder muscle, Sheffield simply wore down at the end of 2004. A pair of cortisone shots in that shoulder on September 19 helped him put up strong postseason numbers, but robbed him of his power for the remainder of the regular season. Looking at this year, one is tempted to point to the mysterious upper leg muscle pull Sheffield suffered while playing the field against the Devil Rays on September 7 as the cause for his September swoon, noting his lack of an extra base hit in 21 post-season at-bats as further evidence of the effects of the injury. In reality, after missing five games due to that injury, Sheffield hit a robust .299/.383/.545 over the remainder of the regular season. Rather, it was the six games prior to the thigh injury, a plain old slump in which he went 2 for 19, both hits being singles, that sunk his September numbers.
Despite the slight fall off in production from 2004, Sheffield finished second among American League right fielders in VORP in 2005 and a very close fourth among major league right fielders (behind Vlad, free agent Brian Giles and the still underrated Bobby Abreu). As an added bonus, after a dismal 5 for 11 performance on the bases in 2004, Sheffield rebounded by stealing 10 bases in 12 attempts in ’05.
AL Average: .268/.322/.407
Bernie Williams .249/.321/.367 (.242)
After what was actually one of his finest offensive seasons in 2002 (.333/.415/.493 – .312), Bernie appeared to take a step down to an inferior, but consistent level of production in 2003 and 2004 (something along the lines of .260/.360/.420 – .270). Alas, Bernie’s production fell off yet again in 2005 to the point where, after clearly not being able to field his position for the past several seasons, he could no longer hit well enough to carry it either. One would think that this fall off in production is what motivated the Yankees, ever the offensive-minded organization, to take desperate measures to get Bernie out of center field. Curiously, that was not the case. Instead it was Bernie’s defense that prompted the move,
In the seventh inning of a home game against the Blue Jays on May 1, Eric Hinske stood on third with one out when Gregg Zaun lifted a fly ball to shallow center. Charging, Bernie made the catch for the second out, but, suffering from an elbow injury, couldn’t even get his throw to the pitcher’s mound on the fly, allowing Hinske to tag up and score. It was then that Brian Cashman realized that, after ill-advisedly sending Bernie out to the middle pasture for the past several season, the time had come to send Bernie out to pasture somewhere else.
Unfortunately, Cashman chose to replace Williams in the outfield with Tony Womack, which assured Bernie’s return to the starting line-up. A later attempt with 20-year-old Melky Cabrera in June lasted a mere six games, as did a mid-July stretch of starts by Bubba Crosby. Ultimately, the Yankees simply didn’t have anyone on hand who could clearly out-produce what remained of Bernie’s bat. It wasn’t until Crosby kicked off a hot streak at the plate with his first extra base hit of the season, a triple on September 11, that Joe Torre was able to find a reliable replacement for Williams in center. Meanwhile, in a curious turn of events, Bernie’s defense improved upon his return to center, continuing a trend back to league average that had stretched back to 2001, which was statistically his worst defensive season. Unfortunately, Bernie’s bat never did recover.