Is Brett Gardner disciplined, or does he just not swing at pitches?


Over the weekend, Ben commented on an article by Chris at iYankees about Brett Gardner‘s swinging habits. Chris emphasizes how Gardner lays off pitches out of the zone and how his contact rate is high when he swings at either type of pitch. I think Ben was leading up to a good point about what this means for Gardner in 2010, but never quite reached it.

So here we begin to see the problem. Gardner has a very good eye for pitches outside of the strike zone but he seems to be a bit too discerning with pitches inside the zone. He took a lot of strikes — nearly half of them in fact — and seems to have earned a reputation as a player who will take too many pitches.

When I look at the numbers I don’t quite see the same thing. Gardner’s low swing rate on all pitches makes me wonder if he’s disciplined at all. Rather than flashing a discerning eye, he could simply be taking pitches without much regard to location. That could make for rough times in 2010, when he could see playing time as a regular. It would seem that if Gardner continues to lay off pitches indiscriminately, pitchers could easily take advantage.

What happens if pitchers start throwing Gardner more strikes? Will he start swinging at more of them, or will he continue his approach and find himself constantly down in the count? Not that we can draw conclusions based on one similarity, but this is exactly what happened to Scott Podsednik in his sophomore year, as I explained last month.

It happened for Podsednik. In 2003 pitchers threw 49.8 percent of their pitches in the strike zone. In 2004 they threw him 56.2 percent in the zone. Podsednik maintained his contact rate, but predictably saw a dip in his walk percentage. He also hit far fewer line drives in 2004, dropping to 17.7 percent from 23.6 percent. That means more ground balls, which can be good, and more fly balls, detrimental for a low-power player like Podsednik. His fly ball rate rose by 3.5 percent and certainly factored in to his lower 2004 BABIP.

Gardner could help offset this potential adjustment by swinging at more pitches in the zone while continuing to lay off pitches out of the zone. If that sounds a bit simplistic, it is. The idea of a player simply laying off pitches outside the zone while swinging at pitches in the zone reminds me of an exchange in Moneyball.

“If it’s not a strike, how hard is it to lay off?” asks Feiny. He’s still staring into his own screen, watching Alex Rodriguez at bat.

“Oh, it’s hard,” says Mabry. …

“Just lay off the bad pitches, John,” says Feiny, teasingly.

“Feiny,” says Mabry testily. “You ever been in a major league batter’s box?”

Feiny doesn’t answer.

“I’m telling you,” says Mabry, turning back. He points to the screen, on which Moyer tosses another cream puff. “You see that coming at you and it looks like you can hit it three miles.”

“So just don’t swing, John,” says Feiny.

“Yeah,” says Mabryu, turning around again to glare at Feiny. “Well, the time you don’t swing is the time he throws you three strikes.”

“Feiny, have you ever faced a major league pitcher?”

“No, John,” says Feiny, wearily. “I’ve never faced a major league pitcher.”

At this point it’s impossible to predict how Gardner will react if pitchers start getting more aggressive. Will he become more aggressive in turn, swinging at more pitches both inside and out of the zone? What kind of result will that cause? Will he continue to take pitches? Won’t that cause his strikeout rate to skyrocket? So many questions, so few answers. Again, this illustrates the trouble with projecting young players. We just don’t know how the league will adjust to them, and how they’ll adjust in turn.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Categories : Offense


  1. Rose says:

    One would think that pitchers would be WAY more apt to throw strikes to Gardner…because he’s clearly the worst hitter in the line up…AND they wouldn’t want to put him on base because of his speed as well.

    So the fact that people think he’s just not swinging at anything at all wouldn’t really make sense…if the previous were true.

    That being said, he’s also not a superstar…so borderline pitches will probably go the way of the pitcher more often than not…

  2. TLVP says:

    The one think he’s got going for him is that of all the hours the opposing team’s pitchers will spend on how to get Yankees out, 5 minutes will be on Gardner.

    It’s not going to be about getting a singles hitting no. 9 hitter out. It will be about how to get past Teix and A-Rod

    • Mister Delaware says:

      But the Gardner book is going to be simple if he can’t prove himself to be atleast a gap doubles threat. If a pitcher’s worst case scenario is a single, his walk rate will plummet and we could be faced with a .280/.320/.360 corner OF.

      (Although I’d be remiss to mention that its awesome our 1-8 is so good we can afford to wait for a better option to fall into our lap. Yea Yanks!)

      • Mister Delaware says:

        (Nice sentence. “… remiss if I didn’t mention” …)

      • Rose says:

        If a pitcher’s worst case scenario is a single, his walk rate will plummet and we could be faced with a .280/.320/.360 corner OF.


        • A .680 OPS is terrible. But, if that .680 OPS is the 9th hitter, and he adds steals and excellent defense, it’s something we could live with for a year, methinks.

          • Mister Delaware says:

            Sure, we could live with it, we’re the f’ing Yankees. But there’s really no reason to settle for it, atleast not after July 31st.

          • Tom Zig says:

            maybe not even a full year. who knows what the trading deadline can bring us. (probably just Eric Hinske)

            • Mister Delaware says:

              I imagine even better options if the economy stays about the same. At some point, out of contention teams will see tons of value in simply not paying guys for the remainder of the season. 1/2 year contract versions of Alex Rios and such. And probably Alex Rios himself too.

          • Rose says:

            Agreed. I thought perhaps he was going to segway into “We should swap him with Granderson for CF because he won’t be able to put up corner outfielder numbers.” or something like that.

          • Bo says:

            Why would any team want to live with a 680 OPS?

            • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

              Why would any team want to live with a 680 OPS?

              Because it loves you. It has dinner ready. It knows when you dont want to talk. It gives you space, but keeps you from feeling alone. Its a wonderful mother to your child, whom you don’t get to see some days because you’re gone before she gets up and she’s asleep before you get home. And yet, somehow, without your doing, the dogs are alive and there’s a cold beer in the fridge, and every once in a while, there’s a Reese’s peanut butter cup sitting on the counter with a little note saying “your dinner is in the microwave.”

              THAT is why you want to live with a 680 OPS you selfish jerk.

      • vin says:

        Exactly. You know what team had these players in their starting lineup?

        SS – 84 OPS+
        3B – 79 OPS+
        Pitcher’s Spot

        The ’27 Yankees. They still scored 976 runs in 154 games. Of course that team’s awesomeness will most certainly trump the ’10 Yanks’.

      • Bxbomber says:

        We’re assuming everyone 1-8 is going to repeat their 2009 performance. This is very iffy. We got older folks. I suspect Jeter will not have a similar year like last. ARod hip could fail him. We could see 2008 Cano vs 2009 Cano, old catchers have a tendency to fall off the cliff, the Tigers may have known something about Granderson, and we’re praying for Swisher to repeat his 2008. Didn’t even mention Johnson’s health history.

        We’re acting like we have a cushion that may not materialize.

        • We’re assuming everyone 1-8 is going to repeat their 2009 performance. This is very iffy. We got older folks.

          Our two oldest and most likely to decline older folks were Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. We turned them into the younger and likely to improve Granderson and Johnson.

          Daddy likes.

        • A.D. says:

          Well the point is everyone could get hurt an be out for the season, or fall of a clip. In which case we might as well dread the season coming because it can only get worse, but instead we’re going to go what is likely, which is career/trending numbers, and the fact that none of the current starters are injury prone, with A-Rod & Posada having “*” that they more so are due to recent injuries & age.

          • the artist formerly known as (sic) says:

            Right, and Posada won’t start every game at C. He’ll start more like 120-130 at C, which means you lose either Posada or Johnson at DH and slot Cervelli in the 8 hole.

        • Jack says:

          and we’re praying for Swisher to repeat his 2008.

          What do you mean by this?

        • Don W says:

          The only difference between 2008 Cano and 2009 Cano was luck and a few HR’s. Cano had a BABIP of .283 in 2008, that’s insanely bad luck. In 07 and 09 it was right around .325.

          Yes Cano could have a season like 2008 but that could happen to anyone and is EXTREMELY unlikely.

        • Zack says:

          Jeter’s stats have been pretty much the same 3 out of the last 4 years

          They already said his hip is fine. He missed 6 weeks last year and wasnt really hitting on his return, he’ll be much better this year

          Cano had 1 bad year in the last 4 years, yeah lets pick that one for the most likely to happen again

          Yeah, Tigers know that they needed to cut payroll so they had to move their very good CF from a huge ball to a smaller ballpark.

          Swisher had 1 down year in the last 4, again lets pick that one going forward. And lets fail to mention he only hit 8 of his 29hrs at home last year.

  3. A.D. says:

    For BG he had a far better career OBP & avg in the minors than Podsednik ever had

    • SB says:

      Yeah, I was wondering just that.

      BG minor league career: BA .289 OBP .389
      SP minor league career: BA .267 OBP .346

      Difference can’t just be dumb luck. Suggests Brett has a significantly better batting eye than Podsednik.

      • A.D. says:

        SP’s best OBP year came his second year in the bigs, 379, his next best, 369, was as a 22 in A+ ball, and otherwise the best he’s done in the bigs is last year, 353, so the 2nd year numbers seem like quite a fluke.

  4. TLVP says:

    Assuming he really is a UZR +18 layer in center – how bad would his offense have to be for him to be a replacement level LF?

  5. That Mabry anecdote reminds me of one of my favorite Manny stories (And the story illustrates why great players are often poor coaches and vice-versa).

    But if it were all as simple as putting in time on the batting tee or in the cage or in the weight room, there would be a lot more hitters like Manny Ramírez. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. And yet when teammates, past and present, have asked him for tips, they typically get basic fundamentals. “He just happens to be a master of those things,” Mattingly says. “He thinks, See the ball and stay through the middle. But he knows how to turn those thoughts into action.”

    When Manny talks to mere mortal hitters, his advice can be as frustrating as it is enlightening. “When I was playing with him in Cleveland,” says Branyan, “Manny was trying to help me, and he asked, ‘Why do you swing at inside fastballs when you can’t hit them?’ I’m thinking, Because I’m geared up, and by the time I realize it’s an inside fastball, it’s too late to stop. And Manny would say, like it was easy, ‘I don’t swing at that pitch unless I’ve got two strikes. And then I just try to foul it off.’ So, basically, he’s playing a different game.”

    One time, Ramírez laid it all out for Branyan, gave him the whole hitting equation. “He told me that he put 70 percent of his weight on his back foot and 40 percent of his weight on his front foot. And even though I knew the numbers didn’t add up, I thought for a second, I’ve got to try that.”


    • Rose says:

      Pretty hilarious and fits Manny to a “T”. It’s like that quote in Forrest Gump. “That kid may be the stupidest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen…but he sure is fast!”

      Manny Ramirez may be, not in the movies, the stupidest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen…but he sure can hit…

    • Steve H says:

      I wish my Manny for DH movement had a chance.

    • the artist formerly known as (sic) says:

      That anecdote reminds me of one of my favorite Manny stories – the one where Manny and Ortiz both became tainted by steroids, thereby enabling me to put a * after the 2004 Red Sox.

      Spiteful and hypocritical? You bet. Fun? Ohhhh yes.

    • A.D. says:

      And even though I knew the numbers didn’t add up, I thought for a second, I’ve got to try that.”


    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi says:

      I’m loathe to contribute to what I consider to be the overrating of Paul O’Neill by Yankees fans (I loved O’Neill and he was awesome, but not as good as some seem to think), but I often got the feeling that O’Neill was one of the guys who could do what Manny is talking about there. This is totally anecdotal and from memory, so it might be biased or inaccurate, but I remember having more faith that O’Neill could identify pitches and foul off the strikes he didn’t like than other guys, and I rarely feared that he’d just be flat-out beaten by a pitch and get himself out.

      Whether it’s true about O’Neill or not, it’s really an amazing level of skill and it really separates the good hitters from the great hitters. That extra little bit of pitch recognition and bat control just put them into such better position to do damage at the plate, wear out pitchers, make tougher outs (in the sense that they’ll stretch the count and not let the pitcher get away with an easier at-bat), and hit situationally… It’s incredible.

  6. Steve H says:

    Considering the pitching overall in MLB, I’m sure they all tried throwing Gardner a bunch of strikes, but a ton of them just don’t do it consistently. Look at Aj Burnett, he of possibly the most eletric stuff in baseball. Put Gardner in the box against AJ, and Gardner would still see a ton of pitched, and likely walk a ton of times. A lot of pitchers struggle to throw strikes to begin with, and Gardners small strike zone only makes it a little more difficult. As an aside, when I was in high school, the other team I was playing had a 7th grader playing who was like 4 feet tall. I knew I couldn’t throw him 3 strikes he was so small. So I just plunked him on the 1st pitch.

    • pete says:

      this. not everybody can simply throw quality strikes all the time. a lot of pitchers earn their success with pitches that are really close, because most major league hitters got there by being good enough hitters to think they can hit close pitches. gardner is not one of those guys.

      • Steve H says:

        Yeah, Gardner won’t be bailing any pitcher out, as we have often seen with many other players throughout the league including Cano and Melky.

  7. vin says:

    Gardner has just been setting up the scouting report so that he can have a HUGE year in 2010. Not only is he gritty, he’s also crafty.

  8. Peter Rabbit says:

    it kinda looked like Brett was just flat out guessing whether a ball was going to be in the zone or not, and then deciding to swing before the pitch was even thrown based on his guess.

    Brett: I think this is going to be a ball…i won’t swing at this one.

    ::pitch comes…a strike right down the middle::

    Brett: Hmmmmmmm

  9. larryf says:

    Brett is going to become a great dead-red 1st ball hitter. It’s gonna be awesome.

  10. pete says:

    plus, none of this is going to matter when brett hits 46 HRs next year.

  11. Steve H says:

    Maybe Gardner, ala Eddie Gaedel has been threatened with his life if he swings at pitches.

  12. Bo says:

    Why would any pitcher NOT throw Gardner strikes? he cant hit for power and he can only hurt you by using his one elite tool.

    • Steve H says:

      They don’t just decide to throw balls when they do. 90% of the time a pitcher throws a ball, he’s trying to throw a strike.

  13. Mike P says:

    One other scenario:

    Brett Gardner is disciplined, and does not hit at strikes in a location he isn’t comfortable with. He knows his weaknesses and so only goes after pitches he thinks he can drive.

    I don’t really think that’s true, but it’s a possibility (see Manny quote on inside fastballs above).

  14. OZ says:

    Does anyone know if these are inside fastballs he wasn’t swinging at or not? Or were the pitches just all over the strike zone? I’m wondering if pitchers saw something that could explain his drop off as the season wore on.

  15. Mister Delaware says:

    From MLBTR: “Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News passes along a comment from Giants GM Brian Sabean: someone will be designated for assignment to make room for Aubrey Huff. CSNBayArea.com’s Mychael Urban says it won’t be Fred Lewis, but Lewis is probably done with the Giants anyway.”


    He’s no star, but if both he and Gardner were FAs, I know which one I’d rather have.

  16. I’m pretty sure Gardner will be able to tell if he’s not swinging at enough pitches. He knows he’s a patient hitter. If he finds himself being rung up by the ump too much, he’ll realize the pitchers are getting aggressive and he’s taking too many strikes.

  17. H/T to you guys who post on this blog. Having fun and making fun is fun, don’t ever change. I like reading your stuff.

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