Mar
09

Gardner vs. Gathright

By

Gardner's Great CatchLast week longtime RAB reader and commenter whozat shot me an email asking me if there was any reason to expect Brett Gardner to develop into a better Major League player than Joey Gathright. The comparison between the two players obviously makes sense since they’re both speedy outfielders who don’t hit for much for power, except that Gardner is called gutty and gritty because he’s white while Gathright is called exciting and athletic because he’s black. I noted in my reply that Gardner had hit for more power in the minors, but overall they had similar career paths and I really wouldn’t expect Gardner to be all that much better than Gathright in the future.

However, I took a deeper look at the numbers over the weekend, and there aren’t many similarities between the two players beyond physical attributes. One obvious difference is that Gardner was a third round draft pick out of a solid college program while Gathright was a 32nd rounder after the then-Devil Rays found him in a Louisiana adult league. Luckily though, the two players took an extremely similar path to the big leagues, although Gathright’s career began four years before Gardner’s.

Both players were drafted at age 21 and then assigned to a low level squad in the minors (Gardner went to the short season NY-Penn League, Gathright to the Low-A South Atlantic League). Both players started their age 22 season at the High-A level and earned a midseason bump to Double-A, then started the next year back at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A in the middle of the season. In their age 24 season, their third full professional season, each player started the year in Triple-A before being called up to the big leagues during the summer and finishing the year there. It’s amazingly awesome and convenient that both guys spent their same age seasons at the same levels (and had similar plate appearance totals, no less) despite all the promotions. It made this analysis a ton easier.

I’m going to use three factors to compare Gardner and Gathright: Isolated Discipline, Isolated Power, and Stolen Base Success Rate. Isolated Discipline (or IsoD) is OBP minus AVG, and measures a player’s on-base skills beyond batting average. Isolated Power (IsoP) is basically the same thing except with SLG instead of OBP, and measures a player’s extra base hit power. Stolen Base Percentage is what it is, that’s self-explanatory. Let’s start with the most important thing, on-base skills.

isod

Along the x-axis is the player’s age and level, and you can click on any graph in this post to get a larger view. Since the players didn’t play in the same leagues or ballparks, I used the wonderful MLE Calculator to neutralize each player’s stats. Gathright earned a September call-up in his age 23 season, but we’re talking about 19 games and 52 at-bats, so I left that data out. It’s irrelevant here.

So, there’s some interesting stuff going on here. Gathright shows the same tendency as Gardner of struggling in his first attempt at a new level, however Gardy’s demonstrated much stronger overall on-base skills, typically around forty IsoD points better. Each player’s IsoD declined as they climbed the ladder, which is somewhat expected, although Gardner’s rate of decline was roughly twice that of Gathright’s (the slope of Gardner’s trendline is -0.0031, Gathright’s is -0.0016). If we were to remove the Major League stats at age 24, the declines become less drastic, so don’t worry too much about it especially when the players have already shown the propensity to struggle in their first attempt at a new level.

Forty IsoD points is a huge difference though, especially when there are concerns about a player’s ability to hit at the big league level. Gardner appears to be a much better bet to remain productive in the big leagues than Gathright because of his superior ability to get on base via secondary methods. It’s worth noting that in his four Major League seasons, Gathright’s IsoD has remained in line with his minor league totals, right around .060 each year. Let’s move on to IsoP.

isop

Again we see the same “struggle initially at a new level” trend, but Gardner’s ability to hit for power basically hasn’t improved in his nearly four year long career. Gathright, on the other hand, showed considerable improvement in his power hitting ability as he matured both physically and as a professional player, making very encouraging progress every year as he advanced. While all that improvement is nice, the fact of the matter is that Gathright never hit for the kind of power Gardner has, and that’s kinda sad when you think about it. Gathright’s improved ability to hit for power didn’t last long either. His IsoP during the four years in which he spent significant time in the majors (2005-2008) has steadily declined, going from .064 to .055 to .035 to a measly .018 last year.

Lastly, let’s briefly touch on each player’s ability to steal bases.

sb

There’s really not much to see here. Both guys are high volume base stealers and are both above that 72-74% break even point. Gardner’s a bit more efficient and has improved his base stealing ability over time, while Gathright has consistently been around that 75.5-76% mark (save for that age 23 outlier at Double-A). When you’re talking about as many stolen bases as these guys attempt, that 8 or 9% separation between the two players can mean a difference of as much as five swipes a year. But you can’t steal first, of course.

In conclusion, I want to change my response to whozat’s email and say that yes, we can expect Gardner to be a more productive big leaguer than Joey Gathright. He’s shown better on base skills and a better ability to hit for power throughout his minor league career, and he’s a much more efficient basestealer. Simply put, Gardner’s proven to be much more capable of turning his physical gifts into baseball skills, and in turn, offensive production. Does this mean that Brett Gardner will be the next Rickey Henderson? Hells no, it just means that there’s enough evidence for me to expect him to be better than a .293 wOBP player.

Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures

Categories : Analysis
  • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

    Great stuff, Mike. I think that at worst, Gardner can be a really strong asset as a pinch runner/defensive replacement type who could start in a pich, sort of like Dave Roberts towards the end of his career.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      It’s funny you say that, I’ve been pushing a Dave Roberts comp for a while (even calling Brett “The White Dave Roberts”).

      Can you graph up the beginnings of their careers as well? IIRC, Roberts’ minor league slash stats are somewhat similar to Gardner’s…

      • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Dave Roberts, career Minor Leagues- .294/.381/.405/.786
        Brett Gardner, career Minor Leagues- .291/.389/.385/.774

        • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Also, they’re both 5’10″, 180lb. lefties.

          • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

            How dare you spout a cross racial comparison!!!! Gardner is scrappy, Roberts is thrilling and athletic. Didn’t you read the post? These comparisons never work!!

            • steve (different one)

              so funny how people always do that, usually accidentally.

              in one thread, i remember we had the following comps for A-Jax:

              Mike Cameron
              Torrii Hunter
              Curtis Granderson
              Carl Crawford

              • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                I should have said Aaron Rowand or Andy Van Slyke to see how many heads would explode.

                • Ban Bud

                  Boy, if Jackson became another Andy Van Slyke I’d weep to the baseball gods in appreciation.

                • http://everythingbaseball.wordpress.com Aaron

                  Would it be such a bad thing if Gardner develops into Van Slyke with more speed? Van Slyke at least was a consistent piece of Pittsburgh’s OF for a number of years with his solid defense, tough tenacity, and never-give-up attitude. I’d take that from Gardner, plus the potential he gives to do more.

          • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

            That’s actually a pretty damn interesting comparison. I’m sure we’d all take a Dave Robertian major league career OPS of .700 for Gardner without much complaining.

            • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              Damn straight I would. Dave Roberts is a useful, useful ballplayer.

            • A.D.

              with much better defensive upside that Roberts

        • Chris C.

          Terrific.

          Now compare Bernie Williams and Ruben Rivera’s minor league numbers. It will then become blatently obvious who will go on to become the better major leaguer.

          • A.D.

            You mean the Ruben Rivera that OPSed .706 in AAA at 22 vs the Bernie Williams that OPSed .878 in AAA at 23?

      • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

        I guess I owe you a coke….oh wait….

  • A.D.

    Gardner also has the chance to be a better defensive CF. Gathright has put up a +9.4 UZR/150 in CF in his career, where at least some have BG projected higher than that.

  • MrJigginz

    Great breakdown,Mike.You guys never dissapoint.

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Gardner, to me, is comparable to Scott Podsednik. Nice player, not a lot of power, fast. Brett will probably steal at higher percentage than Podesednik, but I think their OBP will be about the same.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Brett Gardner, career Minor Leagues- .291/.389/.385/.774
      Scott Podsednik, career Minor Leagues- .267/.344/.349/.693

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        Scott Podesednik Major League Career – .271/.337/.374/.711

        So I guess he did better in the majors than the minors.

        BUT THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!!111!111!1

        • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          MIKE FRANCESA, YOU LIED TO ME!!!!!!!!

          • http://incumbentgm.wordpress.com The Third Yip-Yip

            I lol’ed

            • Andy In Sunny Daytona

              Should it be l’edol?

              • http://statspeak.net dan

                lol is one word these days

        • A.D.

          Well Podsednik’s minor league numbers were dragged down by his age 18-21 seasons & his atrocious age 23 season.

          Garnder & Roberts benefit from playing college ball

          • Andy In Sunny Daytona

            I honestly never looked at his minor league numbers, but since they are worse than his major league numbers they are irrelevant.

            Podsednik was a decent enough player, but his career was derailed by leg injuries. When a player who’s main attribute is speed suffers leg injuries, that’s pretty much it for them.

  • Jeremy

    Where is the chart for Isolated Grit?

    • pat

      Isolated grit can only be measured in dirty jerseys and disregarded razor blades.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Go make love to your Excel Spreadsheet, you NERD!

      BASEBALL IS PLAYED ON THE FIELD, NOT ON A COMPUTER!!!!!!!!!

      • anonymous

        Gardner just hit a 2 run home run. +234 URGrit rating

        • pat

          Holy smokes. Big Game Gardner really wants the CF job.

          • jsbrendog

            BGG haha

            • jsbrendog

              or BBGG Brett “Big Game” Gardner.

              i bet he can hit the high inside pitch.

              • pat

                Double B Double G BABY

                • jsbrendog

                  sylin and profilin all the way to cf.

              • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                i bet he can hit the high inside pitch.

                Of course he can. Why, do you know any major leaguer who can’t?

                http://www.posters.ws/images/8.....ustino.jpg

                • jsbrendog

                  other than you? hmmm

                • Andy In Sunny Daytona

                  I actaully know Faustino’s ex-wife. She’s from…..wait for it…..Daytona.

                • anonymous

                  Oh excuse me I was just polishing my 2008 KEVIN LAWN “PLAYER OF THE YEAR” award.

                  http://community.thetimes-trib.....nners.aspx

                • pat

                  O god, look at the list of previous winners… YEEESH

                • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  MATTY ICE!!!

                • A.D.

                  Good old Jay Tessmer

                • Jeremy

                  pat, are you denigrating two-time winner Andy Phillips? AKA Gutsy Gritlips? Shame on you.

                • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Wait, we had a Julio DePaula AND a Jorge DePaula? How many DePaula’s are there? Is this like the pitching version of the Flying Molina brothers? Do both DePaula’s rock jheri curls like Pascual and Melido Perez?

                • pat

                  I’m guessing the Andy Philips/Carl Pavano impersonator was responsible for at least half of those Kevin Lawn plaques

                • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  I also like that our list of former winners includes the inspiration for a popular Yankees blog (Maas), our current pitching coach (Eiland) our former bench coach (Mattingly), TV color commentators for the Astros (Deshaies), and Red Sox (Tewksbury), and the man at the center of the Esmaylin Gonzalez firestorm that just brought down Jim Bowden (Rijo).

        • Jeremy

          I think your math is off. Hitting home runs is not that gritty.

          A big climb in grit like that can only come from an infield single or a head-first slide.

          • pat

            Or a headfirst slide into first after an infield single.

    • UWS

      There’s no chart big enough to plot Gardner’s IsoG, and Gathright doesn’t have any.

      • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Gathright’s IsoG is actually -1.000. Just like Ken Griffey Jr. and Bernie Williams.

        • pat

          Yeah but none of those guys ever made a pitcher tremble in fear like Bernie used to.

          • jsbrendog

            bernie was one of the most feared cf of his time.

            • jsbrendog

              esp from the right side, where he crushed the ball

              (disclaimer, this is based on what “i saw with my own eyes” not my beloved spreadsheets)

              • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                You are both correct.

                Just like Jim Rice in Boston, for some reason that I can’t quite quantify, it’s impossible for guys like Paul O’Neill or Scotty Bro to be “feared”. Only Bernie Williams was “feared”. Not quite sure why, but AL pitchers constantly pissed their pants whenever he stepped into the batters box.

                There’s a reason John Burkett used to always smell like urine…

                • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                  Career averages, per 162 games:

                  Bernie “The Barbarian” Williams: 83 BB, 8 IBB

                  Jim Rice: 52 BB, 6 IBB

                  Pitchers were clearly more afraid to pitch to Bernie.

                • jsbrendog

                  wow, the numbers dont lie! FEARED!

                • Jimmy

                  The man hadn’t played in two years and Panama gives him an IBB. That is “feared”!

  • A.D.

    So far its looking Brett Butler > Gardner ~ Roberts > Gathright > Podsednik

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I’d agree with that, more or less.

      Brett Butler > Gardner ~ Roberts > Gathright ~ Podsednik ~ Taco Bellsbury

      • jsbrendog

        but peter gammons said Ellsbury is one of the best cf in the AL and that bsoton is the smartest team in baseball for locking up a young kid who already had cancer and who went way over his innings limit from tbe yr before for 5n years!?!?!?!!?!?!!?!

        • A.D.

          But teh eyebrows!!!1!

  • jsbrendog

    the way gardner is hitting in ST is there really a chance he doesnt get the gig in cf?

    • A.D.

      Adding to the resume today

    • steve (different one)

      if he keeps this going, i would think he gets the gig.

      still a long time to go.

    • Jeremy

      I think he will get the job, plus the team will make him change his name to Gritt Gritner.

      • jeremy

        Maybe I’m easily amused, but that was the funniest shit I’ve read all day.

        • steve (different one)

          i like that it would have been funny if you called him Grit Gardner, but then you took it up another notch.

          • anonymous

            BAM!@

          • Jeremy

            I thought it would sound more gritty.

    • Chris C.

      Joe Girardi refused to acknowledge who he felt had the lead in getting the CF job. Because it’s a top freaken secret and all opinions must be under lock and key……and we’re all stupid, and just can’t tell which guy is playing better right now.

  • Joe R

    I know it’s only BP but watching Gardner do a HR comp with Swisher, that little man can get it over the fence. Wonder why he cant traslate it to ingame.

    • jsbrendog

      in bp you know whats coming. and its usually not A type stuff.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        How can you say that 70 mph fastball at 50 feet is not A stuff? You owe Gritt Gartner (love the name, Jeremy) an apology.

  • Jeremy

    “Does this mean that Brett Gardner will be the next Rickey Henderson? Hells no.”

    So we are talking second ballot then?

    • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

      No, but he’ll only get about 94% of the votes on the first ballot. Lousy bum.

    • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I can’t wait for Corky Simpson to put Gritt Gardner on the first ballot.

      -“Corky, why Gritt first ballot but not Rickey?”
      -“I’m just a ‘Gardner kind of guy’, I guess…”

      • pat

        I can’t wait for Corky Simpson‘s kryogenically frozen head to put Gritt Gardner on the first ballot.

        • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          By then they’ll be calling it the Corky Simpson Memorial HOF Ballot.

          /Rush’d

          • http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/CRsmithT1.jpg tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            /Rush’d

            Heh.

    • Drew

      Yes because he did it(will do it) the right way.

  • anonymous

    “UPDATE, 2:46 p.m.: Brett Gardner, the Maury Wills of his day, just reached on a bunt single. He went to third on Melky Cabrera’s single. But when Cabrera got hung up between first and second with two outs, Gardner did the right thing and broke for the plate. Alas, he was tagged out.”

    Melky needs to be put on suicide watch.

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Melky trying to embarrass Gritt by hitting the ball to hard at the right fielder and getting Gritner thrown out at third. Fuckin Melky.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      nevermind

      ME=FAIL AT EVERYTHING TRUE AND PURE

  • http://www.theyankeesuniverse.com EJ Fagan

    This seems like an excellent way to analyze similar players visually. There are a lot of other players for whom comparisons would be interesting.

  • http://statspeak.net dan

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned that he named his son Hunter. It doesn’t get much grittier than that.

    • Drew

      Not only that, but in true grit form, he eats thunder and craps lightning.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      His favorite show is ER.

      • jsbrendog

        john stamous = NOT gritty

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          No, it’s pronounced “errr”

    • Joe B.

      Hunter Gardner? That’s going to be one confused kid.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        His middle name is Gatherer.

        • jsbrendog

          IETC

        • http://statspeak.net dan

          lol

        • SmittDogg

          HAHAHAHAHAH

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