When Greg Bird was summoned from the minor leagues by the New York Yankees the goal wasn’t for him to replace Mark Teixeira. That would have been foolish. When Bird made his MLB debut on August 13th, Teixeira was performing like a fringe MVP candidate in the midst of his best season with the bat since 2008.
Instead, Bird’s directive when he arrived was simply to give the team a boost offensively and fill in for the Yankees’ aging sluggers from time to time. He arrived with a great deal of fanfare given his success in the upper minors, but he was not meant to play a glamorous role.
Since August 13th, things have changed. Teixeira is injured and Bird has stepped in hitting sixth for a team that is in the midst of the closest division race in baseball. In theory, it’s not ideal to throw a rookie into this kind of situation, but Bird is very talented and he’s their best option.
Usually when discussing injury replacements the term “best option” simply means “least significant downgrade” and for good reason. No team has the depth to have a number of all-star level performers sitting on the bench waiting for their chance to play. That would be an incredible irresponsible allocation of resources, even for the Yankees.
Instead the type of replacements on hand when a key player is injured are either not particularly good, or very inexperienced. Bird is the latter, which carries much more upside but also a fair amount of risk. Even so, the rookie represented the best chance for this team to suffer the least from Teixeira’s absence. That was clear since they put him in the everyday lineup.
What was less clear was that the team might not suffer at all. So far not only has Bird been productive at the plate, he’s been a great facsimile of Teixeira.
The gap in power here isn’t insignificant, but the basic rate stats are undoubtedly similar. More interesting than the result themselves is the similarity in the process used to achieve them. Bird’s approach at the plate is just like Teixeira’s.
|Player||Outside-Zone Swing %||Zone Swing %||Swing %||Contact %|
When Teixeira does take the bat off his shoulder he’s a better bet to make contact, but the swinging patterns are virtually identical.
None of this is to say that Bird is as good as Teixeira, or even that he ever will be. Even for a highly-touted prospect like him that’s an unfair expectation. Most projection systems have him as only a slightly above-average hitter from here on out.
However, for now it’s interesting how closely Bird has replicated the production and approach of the man he’s been called upon to replace. While there are some stylist differences between the two, the bottom line is that Bird has stepped in more admirably than the Yankees possiblly could have expected. This effort is one of the biggest reasons the team has remained in lockstep with the Blue Jays in Teixeira’s absence.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Bird down the stretch. These numbers come from a small sample, and projections probably still give us a better baseline of what he might do from here on out.
For the time being he’s shown himself to be a talented impressionist, and he’s impersonating one of the best.
(Editor’s note: numbers in this article are as of Monday September 7th)
(Photo: Brad Penner-USA Today Sports)