If you’re a baseball fan and you hadn’t heard the name Greg Bird by March 31st of 2017, you must’ve been living under a rock. The preseason hype around Bird was so intense that his ADP in fantasy was 205.14 (according to NFBC), despite missing the entire 2016 season. He led this year’s spring training in HR’s, OBP, SLG, OPS and was 2nd in BA. He won the 1B job for the Yankees and it looked like he had no setbacks from his year-long absence. That is until he fouled a ball off his ankle in the last game of spring training.
It was obvious the foul ball affected Bird, as he came out of the gate hitting a terrible .100/.250/.200/.450 with only 1 homer and 3 RBIs through his first 60 at-bats before finally being put on the DL on May 2nd. Many thought he’d just need rest and some time to let it heal, and he was sent on a rehab stint on June 8th, which didn’t last very long. He wasn’t hitting and still complained about severe discomfort in the ankle, which led to the team removing him from the assignment, and eventually transferring him to the 60-day DL on June 29th, and on July 17th it was announced he’d need ankle surgery to repair the injury. The thought was that Bird wouldn’t be able to play again this season, and many people started to lose faith in him as the Yankees long term answer at 1B.
One Yankee executive went on record and said: “You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,” a Yankee insider complained to me earlier this week. “You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.”
When this came out, it also was revealed that the Yankees were preparing to move on from Bird this upcoming season. Everyone really started to lose faith in the guy.
For obvious reasons, this statement must’ve made Bird angry and more motivated than ever to get back on the diamond. When the surgery was announced, Bird also said that his season wasn’t over and he’d be back. Luckily for him, he kept his word.
Bird finally returned on August 26th, and he looked more like the Greg Bird that was expected all this time. He went 1-2 with 2 BB’s, and showed to everyone he wanted to be there with the Yankees. He came back hitting extremely well, slashing .253/.316/.575/.891 with 8 home runs and 25 RBIs in only 87 AB’s. Over 600 ABs (a full, healthy season) That equates to 44 home runs and 140 RBI’s over 162 game span. He probably won’t actually reach those numbers in a healthy year, but that alone shows what kind of player he has the potential to be. His batting average was still pretty low, hitting only .258 after his return, but this could be attributed to his .230 BABIP, which is well below the average of .300. This shows that Bird has been hitting into some bad luck, which luck is a big factor in such a small sample size, but over a full season you can expect that number to stabilize. Even with the low BA, he was able to mash. He had an .891 OPS, which would sit 25th in baseball ahead of George Springer and Gary Sanchez if it was over a full season.
Where Bird also stands out is in some of his sabermetric stats. His 2017 ISO is at a .231 (with the major league average at .171) and his wOBA sat at .303(.321). While his season long wRC+ (86) is well below the major league average (97), after his return from the DL his wRC+ sat at 128, which would have him tied with Buster Posey and ahead of guys like Corey Seager, Jonathan Schoop and Francisco Lindor.
Bird has shown when fully healthy he can be an above average hitter and only strengthens a young Yankee core. Bird was overshadowed by Didi and Judge in the Wild Card Game, but his RBI single is what gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead over the Twins. Bird can really be the X-factor in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians. The health risks are a big issue with Bird, and with the strong finish to the season he’ll earn the chance to prove himself next year. If you’re a Yankee fan, don’t let your frustration of him from this year completely dismiss him. Bird has a chance to be one of the best hitting first baseman in baseball, and with some better health he’ll be able to prove he can do it.