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Pinch hitting: Emilio Estevez

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This is how today’s Pinch Hitter introduced himself in an email: “My name is Emilio Estevez (yes, just like the actor).”

Obviously, the name had to be addressed. With that out of the way…

Our Emilio was born in the Dominican Republic, “where baseball is more of a lifestyle than just a game,” he wrote. His family moved to New York when he was 4 years old, and now that he’s 27, Emilio is living in Kansas City, working as an engineer and still following the Yankees “like my life depended on it.”

Although he says Mariano Rivera is his favorite player, it’s not the return of the Yankees closer that Emilio wrote about.

[2]The biggest improvement for the 2013 Yankees over the 2012 Yankees could be a healthy Brett Gardner.

To put it mildly, the Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones duo was not good last year. Ibanez had the most memorable moment of the Yankees season with his pinch hit home run in Game 3 of the ALDS — and for that I will always be grateful — but the truth is that a .240/.308/.453 line is not good. If you like sabermetrics, his WAR of 0.3 (according to baseball-reference) should be a pretty good indicator of his value. Jones was just plain bad, hitting .197/294/.408 in 94 games.

Having said that, I will now spend the next 400 words gushing over how much I like the alternative.

Gardner has two major skills on offense: he can get on base and he can steal bases. During his two healthy seasons (2010 and 2011) he stole 96 bases; only Michael Bourn had more with 113. During this time, Gardner had an on-base percentage of .364, which gave him the highest on-base percentage of any player who had more than 50 stolen bases during those two seasons (Andrew McCutchen was tied with Gardner with an OBP of .364). The big advantage of Gardner over other ‘speedy’ players is that he is good at getting on base; you can’t say that about many of them.

Defensively, whether you like advanced defensive metrics or if you prefer the “eye test,” Gardner rates as an elite defender. He led all left fielders in DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (ultimate zone rating) in both 2010 and 2011. He has excellent range and a very good arm; Gardner had the fourth most outfield assists among left fielders during 2010 and 2011 combined. We can safely say that he is a huge improvement defensively over Ibanez or Jones.

The Yankees last season ranked 22nd in stolen bases. With a healthy Gardner, this area will be much improved in 2013. The Yankees were also last in triples with just 13 all season; Gardner hit seven triples in 2010 and eight in 2011. My point is that Gardner gives the Yankees offense another dimension which was lacking last year, and that is the ability of creating runs on the base paths.

Having an elite defensive left fielder, who is also one of the base-stealers in the game, who can also get on base regularly, on a team that is otherwise very slow on the bases is a big improvement over a worse-than-average left fielder who can’t get on base and who will occasionally hit a home run.

I, for one, can’t wait to see Gardner back out there making pitchers nervous and chasing down fly balls in the outfield.

Associated Press photo