Brett Gardner’s spray chart before and after his thumb injury

Today is no Joba, no Hughes day
2010 Season Preview: Managing when the pieces fit
Gardner with a pretty swing...and it came after his return from a fractured thumb. Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

Small injuries can seriously impair a player. Not only does it stick him on the DL, but it can oftentimes linger and affect his play for weeks, months, or even years down the road. We often see this with wrist injuries — in fact, we’re hoping that Nick Johnson has finally fully recovered from his, allowing him to regain some of the power that was absent last year.

Any hand injury presents cause for concern. Just look at Coco Crisp. When the Red Sox traded for him before the 2006 season it looked like he was becoming a solid regular. He improved his batting average and OBP in 2004, and then added power to his game in 2005, finishing with a 117 OPS+. The next spring, however, he broke his finger and hasn’t been nearly the same since. The closest he’s come was in 2008 when he had a 93 OPS+.

Brett Gardner suffered a fractured thumb last summer, causing him to miss 43 days. This came at a bad time, as Gardner was finally heating up after starting the season in a slump. In April he hit .220/.254/.271 in 65 PA and lost his starting job to Melky Cabrera. From May 1 through his injury on July 27 he hit .298/.393/.454 in 166 PA. Upon his return he slipped back towards his April marks, .250/.308/.292 in 53 PA. We’re dealing in small samples here, but I’d still like too examine this a bit further.

Tommy Rancel at DRays Bay used the Texas Leaguers Pitch f/x tool to display B.J. Upton’s spray charts as he dealt with a shoulder injury. It’s a neat idea, seeing a player’s hit breakdown pre- and post-injury. Often we deal in small samples, but that doesn’t mean we can’t examine it. It means, instead, that it offers little predictive value. There are just so many random factors at play that can mess with a sample of this size.

Here’s Gardner’s spray chart from when he started heating up, May 1, through his injury on July 25:

To the shallow outfield he has a pretty even distribution. Clearly his power works to straightaway right and to the gap in right-center. He’ll never hit for power the opposite way, though that’s not of much concern for a player like Gardner. Other than the power hits, though, I think this is as even as you’re going to see. Even the outs are fairly even.

(See that green dot almost sitting on the left field line? Remember that one? Yeah, I do.)

Now for his spray chart after the injury:

Well, well. There seems to be an abundance of green in left field. Gardner hit the ball the other way far more frequently after his return. Again, this is in short sample. He saw only 224 pitches in that time, so it’s understandable that we might see an aberration. Maybe his thumb injury didn’t have anything to do with his lack of balls pulled to the outfield in September. Maybe he was seeing more pitches on the outside half. In fact, as you can see in the pitches he swung at and the pitches he took, that might be the case.

Even in 2008, during Gardner’s short stint in New York, he hit the ball to all fields. Here’s his spray chart for that year:

Did Gardner’s thumb injury affect his swing? As I said at the top of the post, and then again a few paragraphs above, it’s tough to say that with any certainty, given the small samples we’re dealing with. Something did change in September, though. Gardner went from spraying the ball evenly in the outfield to hitting balls up the middle and slapping them the other way. There might be a pitch bias on display, which makes me hesitant to declare the problem his thumb. There’s certainly a connection, so I wonder if Gardner, fully recovered, can return to the form he displayed from May through July.

Today is no Joba, no Hughes day
2010 Season Preview: Managing when the pieces fit
  • CT Yankee

    I don’t see your conclusions at all. We are evolved to find patterns in randomness and I think if you add one or two flyballs to right field in the second figure you would conclude the injury had no effect

    • CT Yankee

      Perhaps he lost some power though.

      • Short Porch

        I like the dry wit

    • radnom

      Agreed. I think this is one example where taking a look at the video and breaking down his mechanics before/after would be a lot more telling.

  • Summer of George

    He may have lost some power…….Wait, Gardner had power?

  • A.D.

    Interesting the lack of pulling the ball after the injury, but as noted, not sure if enough sample to really make a judgment.

    Hopefully the thumb is all good now.

  • Ross

    So, how about all this fifth-starter hullabaloo? Am I right?

  • Bo

    No matter how many of these stat posts sell that Gardner is a big league starter, hes not a buy. Hes a great 4th OF. Can play all 3 positions. Elite speed. But he cant hit or get on base enough to play fulltime. Maybe in KC or Pitt.

    • pete

      we don’t know how good he is at getting on base at the major league level yet. We have only a tiny sample to judge him off of. But if he’s anything close to what he was in the minors, and his defense is anything close to what it was last year, then yes, he is 100% a major league starter.

    • JGS

      There were 14 AL outfielders last year who qualified for the batting title who had lower OBPs than Gardner’s .345

      If he can tick that up just a little bit more, there is no reason why his speed wouldn’t compensate for the lack of power. For what it’s worth, there were 5 AL outfielders who qualified for the batting title (ie, lots of playing time) with lower wOBAs (and two more had the same .337). One of those guys was Melky, and BJ Upton was another. Last I checked, those guys played for contenders.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Bo, I usually don’t respond to you, because you never answer when people ask you question. But how in the world is this a stat post? This is a post breaking down where Gardner hit baseballs.

      • Rick in Boston

        I’ll answer for Bo – he doesn’t read the articles, he just skips to the comments, reads what everyone else is saying, picks the opposite tack and then ignores reason/questions/common sense.

    • A.D.

      No matter how many of these stat posts sell that Gardner is a big league starter

      This isn’t one of those posts.

      • OldYanksFan

        Besides…. what does a player’s stats have to do with how well he plays? Just silly.

        • Joseph Pawlikowski

          I enjoyed this comment very much. So much so, OldYanksFan, that I had to write it out.

  • Rose

    Brett Gardner is basically Joey Gathright if you painted him white.

    (Gardner also with the other advantages of being white – grit, hard-working, and doesn’t talk loudly when at the movie theater. /stereotype’d)

    • Ghost of Scott Brosius

      Gardner slugged .379 last year. Gathright’s at .303 for his career.

      • A.D.

        Yeah he’s got more power than Gathright, although neither has power.

    • steve s

      Brett Butler is the more optimistic comparison.

  • SamVa

    In chart three… When did Gardy hit the homerun to dead center?
    I don’t remember that one… good for him.

    • JGS

      He didn’t. That’s a mistake

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      Gardy would have to hit the ball twice to hit it out of the park to dead center.

  • BDix

    Edited by RAB: Inappropriate. Please post in off-topic forum

  • Snakes on the mother effin Temple Of Doom

    Well, if we’re dealing with SSS, can we see his spray chart from this year’s ST? Do they capture that?

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      They were doing tests of some system. Not sure if it was pitch f/x or not. But it’s not something we have ready access to yet.

  • MOboy

    Man what a boring news day when the people on this site start breaking down the stats of a fouth outfielder.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Or the team’s starting left fielder.

      Don’t like the content, don’t comment. It’s that simple. No one is forcing you to read the pages of free content we provide for you.

      • OldYanksFan

        Charge him a fee. Then he’ll feel better.

    • Rick in Boston

      That’s a nice assumption to make, but at this point, Brett Gardner is the Yankees opening day left fielder.

  • SteveD Fla

    I see a lot of outs A LOT!!!

  • FL Yank

    It still blows my mind that so many people are against giving a young, cost-controlled, outfielder a shot when said player had a minor league career OBP of .389 to go along with above average defense and exceptional speed. Does no one realize that he’s had only 425 plate appearances in the 2 years he’s seen action in the Bronx? I understand the knock against him in relation to his power numbers but the Yankees don’t need every one of their players to hit 20 plus bombs.

  • smurfy

    It’s a worthwhile study, this: something is going on with Brett’s swing. Don’t know if it is connected to his thumb fracture, or whether he is trying something, but Brett is not making clean contact (in the few batted balls I have noticed this spring).

    It’s not unfamiliar, the kind of scooping contact he makes when he dinks a soft ball up the middle or to left. But I was surprised when he hit a soft liner to right, and noticed that, too, reflected the same type of contact, where you saw the bat travel past the struck ball (looking from the centerfield camera), and under it. It wasn’t a “dying quail,” but rather a spinning liner just to the right fielder’s right.

    Maybe he is trying to better his percentages (ala Derek Jeter) with that type of swing, or maybe his swing was put out of whack by the injury.

  • smurfy

    It’s kinda like he’s throwing the ball, at least the inside pitches.

    I just don’t know if he’s doing it on purpose, maybe a spring training experiment.

  • smurfy

    He’s always cutting across the ball, almost like he’s trying to control it, throw it. I just don’t know if he’s doing it on purpose.

  • smurfy

    I thought the first one got lost,

    Joseph, so what happened on the ball on the left field line? Did he get a triple?

  • smurfy

    I didn’t think the first took. I must be hitting curve balls myself.

    Joseph, so why was the hit nearly on the left field line so memorable? Did it bounce askew? Triple?