With Mark Teixeira‘s injury coming at a bad time for the New York Yankees as the season enters its final month, the team is counting on one of the organization’s top prospects Gregory Bird to fill Teixeira’s big shoes. Thus far Bird has performed as expected for a rookie in the heat of a pennant race, posting a below average 90 wRC+ as he adjusts to MLB pitching. Like many young players Bird is striking out too much– 28% of his at-bats thus far– but his walk numbers are similar to his minor league numbers. Bird is still young, he has not turned 23, and come next season may find himself back in the minors as Teixeira will be returning to his normal first base position. However, in Bird’s limited plate appearances thus far in his MLB career, an extremely interesting and promising trend has emerged.
Through his first 67 plate appearances across 17 games, Bird has posted a GB/FB ratio of 0.74. To the causal fan that may not make a ton of sense but what it means is that Bird hits more fly balls than ground balls. This is not typical of most hitters as from the seasons between 2002-2014 Fangraphs.com data shows that league average GB/FB ratio has ranged between 1.15-1.33 and in the past three seasons it has been over 1.30 each season. What makes this skill set so interesting, is exactly what it means for Bird’s potential as a player.
Out of the 1971 qualified player seasons from 2002-2014, only 650 players posted seasons with a GB/FB ratio of less than one. Over this same time period, the league average ISO– a measure of extra base hits– ranged from .135-.163. The median ISO value of these 13 seasons was .154. Using this value as a baseline for the average over the course of these seasons, 556 of these 650 player seasons ended with an above average ISO. Meaning that almost all of the players that have carried the ability to hit Fly balls than ground balls have been above average power hitters. Also, among all 650 different individual seasons, the median ISO value was .210 which is considered a well above average ISO value. For comparisons sake Adam Jones has posted a .210 ISO thus far in 2015 good for 35th in the league and has come along with 24 homeruns at this point.
This is explains why the Yankees were hesitant to trade the lefty Bird this July. They see the unique skill set that Bird possesses and the huge power upside that comes with this skill. So far Bird has struggled to make contact with the same frequency he did in the minors, but when he does make contact its tends to be hit in the air. At a small park like Yankee Stadium and the famed short porch in RF that ability to hit fly balls could turn into elite home runs numbers down the road. Look for Bird to be a fixture in the heart of the Yankees’ order not too far down the road.