Yankees first baseman Greg Bird is off to a much slower start than anyone expected after an exceptional spring training. Despite Bird going 5-for-37 with a .535 OPS in 42 plate appearances, he should not be benched each time there is a left-handed pitcher on the mound.
I completely understand that the Yankees brought in Chris Carter's right-handed hitting power bat to complement Bird, but to enact a strict platoon would be a mistake in my opinion.
I bring this up because the writing is on the wall. Bird entered Sunday's game in a 0-20 slump and went 3-for-3 with a home run, double, single and two walks. The following game, Bird was on the bench in favor of Carter, who mind you came in slashing .182/.240/.273, because "lefty killer" Derek Holland was on the mound. Bird has two plate appearances this season against lefties, while Carter has nine. Neither player has a hit against a lefty.
The way I see it, Yankees manager Joe Girardi should have allowed Bird to play the day after snapping a skid - caused in part by missing time due to a cold and a bruised ankle - and use the good vibes from the previous night to potentially fuel another. Instead, Bird sat, and any rhythm he found at the plate was lost. Bird has gone 1-for-8 since, though he had a few good at-bats Wednesday night, including an opposite field double.
My contention is that Bird needs a bulk of the at-bats versus lefties (think two-thirds of them) and continue to get all the reps against righties. Bird is the first baseman of the future and a one-dimensional strikeout machine like Carter should not be taking away at-bats from the lefty hitter each time a southpaw is on the hill.
The counterargument is that Carter brings immense power and provides the Yankees a better chance to win if he's in the lineup against a lefty. However, Bird's OPS against LHPs in his major league career is .765 in 42 plate appearances (yes, small sample alert), and it was .733 in his last full season in the minors (144 plate appearances versus lefties in 2015). Carter handles lefties to the tune of a .788 OPS in 849 plate appearances. Sure, there is a difference, but it is not as dramatic as one might think.
Moreover, for all the talk of Carter's power bat, the one thing that people are failing to count as a variable is that he is not getting everyday reps of his own. This is a player who averaged 565 plate appearances over the last four seasons. However, Carter is rightly not playing against righties (except for an occasional day off for designated hitter Matt Holliday) so he's already on the wrong end of a platoon. Each day Carter sits, he gets further away from being settled at the plate.
Some might argue, that is enough of a reason to create a strict platoon between Bird and Carter. However, the notion that Carter, a one-year filler for the bench, take away 150 at-bats from Bird infuriates me. Of course the Yankees want to win, but they also need to see what the young players have to offer the club for the future. Carter's ability to "get into one" every once a while is not exactly an assurance of better production or a win.
I believe the 24-year-old Bird is going to be a very good player. He has a smooth swing and the ball jumps off his bat when he is right. However, if the Yankees are going to keep Bird in a strict platoon with Carter, what happens to the youngster's ability to hit lefties? Just as Carter has shown to be even worse than career norms without consistent reps this season, Bird could be unable to correct any "problems" he has against left-handed pitching if he is not allowed to face them.
I also feel the reasoning that sitting Bird against lefties allows him to remain focused and confident with his at-bats against right-handers is short-sighted. I don't think Bird will lose confidence by sitting against lefties, however he will be put at a disadvantage when he does have to face them late in games in which he started against a righty.
I concede that Carter has to get some time at the plate. Nonetheless, I was unhappy with the signing because of this very issue. I felt then, as I can see developing now, that Girardi might lean toward the veteran when handedness comes into play. While Carter has to see time at the plate, his should be limited, not Bird's. Instead of a strict platoon, the Yankees should think about resting Bird against every third lefty the Yankees face so that Carter gets some work, but also so that Bird sees as much left-handed pitching as possible.
The Yankees will be better off if they allow Bird to work through this slump and it has to include time against lefties. Completely eliminating Bird from at-bats against same-sided pitching could perpetuate (or actually create in my opinion) any problems he might have versus southpaws. How will the Yankees know if Bird can handle lefties at all if he sits each time there is one on the hill?
The bottom line is Bird will be here next season and Carter will not. Taking at-bats away from an important player of the future like Bird in hopes that Carter hits a home run under the guise of a providing the team a better chance to win is a mistake.