Perhaps all a guy needs is a little competition. Melky Cabrera fell apart last year. He wasn't spectacular in 2006 and 2007, but he was at least useful. His OPS+ of 95 and 89 were less than league average but his defense was a little better than league average and he played with enthusiasm which was something the Yankees needed. Last year, there were times when he couldn't hit a ball safely if he there were ten strikes instead of three. His OPS+ fell to 68 and he even found himself back at AAA for a while.
He came back to Spring Training and got off to a slow start. He had been told that he was in a competition for the starting centerfield position with Brett Gardner and it was all but assumed that it was Gardner's position to lose. Gardner did really well in the competition and after a slow start, Melky finished the preseason strong but not strong enough to catch Gardner.
Then Gardner started slowly in the regular season and Melky produced when called upon. Slowly, he started more than Gardner. Then exclusively. His OPS+ thus far is a hefty 137. Tonight, he had his second walk off base hit of the season. Things are going really well.
Gardner got a chance Friday night because a red hot Johnny Damon was kicked out of the game after his second straight strikeout. Apparently, Damon and the umpire didn't see eye to eye. So Gardner was put into center and Melky moved over the left. Gardner went three for three with an inside-the-park homer (his second homer in as many games) and two runs scored.
Gardner is by far the better centerfielder. His RTZ and Zone Ratings are off the charts. It still feels like the Yankees are a better team when he is in there. But you don't want to lose Melky the way he is going either. So here's what the Fan thinks the Yankees should do:
Lefty pitching: Swisher in Right, Melky in Center
Righty pitching: Melkey in Right, Gardner in Center.
Swisher does have 8 homers. But he has three hits in the entire month of May (you called it, Josh!) He's coming off a year where he batted .219. Yes, both of those numbers are incredible: three hits in May, .219 in 2008. You don't lose anything in right field when Melky plays in place of Swisher. The only position you can't play Melky is in left (according to the fielding stats).
Now that A-Rod is back and Teixeira seems to be coming around, Swisher seems less and less necessary and the Yankees might be better off with Melky and Gardner running down balls in the outfield and running around the bases. Oh, and by the way, Gardner has more homers in May than Swisher does.
That should be qualified a bit. One of the two homers Gardner has hit this year (and this month) was the inside the park homer mentioned earlier. It was one of the strangest ever. He hit a little cue shot to left and when it landed, it took a weird hop and skipped by the left fielder. By the time the fielder picked up the ball by the wall, Gardner was already at third and heading home.
That's the kind of excitement that speed brings. That speed also brings fantastic defense and the defense is much better if Gardner is in center and Melky in right.