Brett Gardner, now with 17% fewer stolen bases


When the season started some four months ago, basically everyone in the lineup had a defined role. Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson had to get on base in front of the big bats. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez had to drive them in. Robbie Cano, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson were supposed to tack on as much as possible. And then there was the other guy, Brett Gardner.

Gardner looks weird without the high socks. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Gardner stood out from the pack because he wasn’t a power hitter and hadn’t already established himself in the big leagues. Not technically a rookie but basically still new to playing every day in the show, his job was pretty simple: catch everything within shouting distance and try to get on base as much as humanly possible. We spoke amongst ourselves about how thrilled we would be if he got on base 35-36% of the time, because that would mean something like 30 or 40 steals. Well, it’s now August 3rd and the Yankee leftfielder has a .391 on-base percentage to his credit through 376 plate appearances. The only other outfielder in baseball to reach base at a higher clip is Josh Hamilton, who sports a .409 OBP.

As fantastic as he’s been at getting on base this year, there is one thing Gardner’s not doing as well as he has earlier this season: he’s not stealing as many bases. Gardner attempted 11 steals in April out of 28 total times reaching first base, or 39.3%. In May those numbers dropped to 11 attempts in 42 times on first (26.2%), then dropped again to seven attempts in 30 times on first in June (23.3%). Gardner bottomed out at seven steal attempts in 32 times on first in July, or 21.9%. For comparison’s sake, Rajai Davis has attempted a steal 44.3% of the time he’s reached first base this year, Carl Crawford 39.2% , B.J. Upton 38.2%, and Juan Pierre 36.7%. Even though he has the fifth most steals in baseball, Gardner is not among the league’s elite basestealers because of his 27.2% attempt rate. He simply doesn’t run as much as the other guys.

As it turns out, Gardner may have simply worn himself down earlier in the season. Here’s what he told the incomparable Chad Jennings the other day…

“Early in the season I was getting on base a lot and running a lot, and my legs just got a little tired,” he said. “With Curtis (Granderson) out, I didn’t want to push the issue. I need to start running more. I wish I had been running more recently in the last several weeks, but I will. When we need me to try to get into scoring position, I’ll try to. I’m healthy, and I was healthy, it’s just a matter of trying to be smart.”

Stealing bases is a rather grueling chore. Your body takes a beating from sliding into the bag; fingers get jammed, hands get stepped on, legs tire out, it’s really tough on the body. Gardner wears some kind of plastic brace on his left hand to support the thumb he broke last summer, the same thumb that caused him to miss two games back in June because of soreness. Add in the fact that he’s generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 lbs. and makes all sorts of jumping and sliding and diving and sprinting grabs in the outfield, and it’s to see how he tired himself out early on.

Even with that rather pedestrian attempt rate Gardner is still on pace to swipe 46 bases, which would be the most by a Yankee since Rickey Henderson stole 93 bags back in 1988. Alfonso Soriano was the last player the Yanks had on the roster that could impact the game with his legs the same way Gardner can, but it’s important to remember that bulk stolen base totals are nice but not imperative. If Gardner’s legs are truly tired, then he should absolutely be a bit more careful and do a better job of picking his spots. Stealing bases for the sake of stealing bases is a good way to get hurt (and improve his arbitration case, but that’s besides the point).

It goes without saying that Gardner has exceeded every possible expectation this year. When your primary nine-hole hitter rocks an on-base percentage in the .390′s and is if nothing else a distraction to the pitcher when he’s on the bases, then you’re already way ahead of the game. I’d like to see Gardner boost his stolen base rate back up to where it was earlier in the season, but I’d much prefer to have him healthy the rest of the way. Hopefully he learns what the right pace is for him so that in the future he can be a consistent stolen base threat over 162 games rather than run himself into the ground in April and May.

Categories : Offense


  1. A.D. says:

    Well it’s nice to see an explanation for this, would be nice to see him stealing more in front of Jeter & his 13 GIDP.

    • larryf says:

      but Jeter doesn’t take any pitches! Gardner could beat most pitch outs but with Jeter hacking away…..the Yanks need to bat Swisher or somebody else who is patient after Brett who should be batting leadoff.

  2. Jorge says:

    It does amaze me, in retrospect, what guys like Rickey and Vince Coleman did. Will anyone ever steal 100 bases again?

    Tired or not, the gritty and gutty one has proved a lot of us wrong this year. I’ll gladly take 50 steals from him.

    • Steve H says:

      Yeah, Rickey is an absolute freak. Coleman was ridiculous for a few years but couldn’t sustain his body/legs to keep going. Rickey is just on a whole different level.

    • Mister Delaware says:

      There’s actually solid argument to be made that teams should start running more. I believe 70% is the commonly accepted breakeven rate (although its a bit lower this year), of the top 29 basestealers (everyone with 16+), 25 are at or above 70%. 17 are at or above 80%.

      (Granted, there’s probably another discussion to be had about whether more running would automatically decrease SB%s, but then you get into arguing hypothetical opportunity efficiencies and stuff.)

      • Chris says:

        You don’t want to be at break even, you want to be better than that. A player that steals 100 bases at a 70% success rate (or whatever the break even point is) is no better than a player that steals no bases.

        • Mister Delaware says:

          Right, and I noted that the threshold this year is a bit lower than 70% (I had it at 67.1% at the ASB), so at or above 70% is better than breaking even.

          In more detail …

          Average of the top 29: 78.4%
          80%+: 17
          75%-79%: 6
          70%-74%: 2
          67%-69%: 4

          Lowest is Abreu at 66.7% so even the worst “regular” basestealer is on the cusp of breakeven.

          If you sort by 20+ attemps, you get a few more guys who suck. 34 players total, average 76.7% success rate.

          80%+: 17
          75%-79%: 7
          70%-74%: 2
          67%-69%: 5
          < 67%: 3

          Matt Kemp: 53.6%, 15 of 28, yuck

          • Mister Delaware says:

            (I sound like a vague douche saying “I had it at 67.1%”. I have an Excel spreadsheet to calculate linear weights in season, SBs at the ASB were at 0.216, CS -0.440, breakeven of 67.1%. Last year was ~68.3% breakeven.)

  3. Paramecium Jones says:

    Commence Jeter bashing.

  4. whozat says:

    You know what’d help the team, Derek? Switching places in the lineup with Brett Gardner. I’d love the extra 60 points of OBP, and move Jeter’s GIDP-ing ways to a slot where he has fewer baserunners to kill. Also, being in front of Swisher or the Puma would give Brett a LOT more steal opportunities.

    • ZZ says:

      Your post is based on the false premise that Derek fills out the lineup card.

      • Mister Delaware says:

        Dude, have you never played slow-pitch softball? The captain always fills out the lineup card.

      • Paramecium Jones says:

        Not sure if you’re serious, but I think if the Yankees had even a decent option at SS in the minors people would actually be calling for Jeter to be riding the pine to give the new kid a chance.

        This, less than 9 months after one of his best seasons.

        Even I am coming around to the fact that his season is currently one of his worse and may be age related. However, I repeat, this is less than a year since a great 132 OPS+ season.

        His current 98 OPS+ is only 4 points worse than his entire 2008 season.

        Could we give the guy at least the rest of the year before we start replacing him?

        • Paramecium Jones says:

          Sorry ZZ, I totally mis-read your comment.

          • ZZ says:

            haha. I just read your comment 3 times trying to figure out how it relates to my post.

            • Paramecium Jones says:

              Yeah, being the sensitive fanboy that I am, I thought you were trying to say that Jeter shouldn’t even be in the lineup.

              My bad, although for others, even in this thread, my comment still stands.

        • Chris says:

          The interesting thing is that offense for SS is significantly down for the entire league. The average SS has a .263/.317/.364/.681 line. Compare that to Jeter’s season line of .275/.336/.386/.722, and he doesn’t look so bad. I’m sure there will be plenty of discussions on Jeter this offseason, but my take is that there isn’t an obvious replacement out there within the next couple of years.

          • That. No A Rods, Nomars, Tejadas in this bunch. No one in the AL above .800 OPS.

            Hanley Ramirez would be very much worth having. Otherwise, SS is pretty soft these days.

            All said, Jeter at 36 is less of an offensive ball player than Gardner at 26, and should switch places with him in the lineup, and bat 8-9. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially at contract time.

          • Chops says:

            People aren’t arguing against Jeter the shortstop, they are arguing against Jeter the leadoff hitter. No one is saying he should be replaced at SS, just that he shouldn’t be batting leadoff when there is a far better leadoff hitter already in the lineup.

      • whozat says:

        Legit. He doesn’t. However, do you think he’d defend Joe’s decision to the media and say “look, Gardner’s a better option for the team right now, but I’m working every day to figure out how regain my form”? Or, when questioned about it, say to the media “he’s the manager, and he’ll do what he thinks is best.”

        • ZZ says:

          Speculating either way would be irresponsible because we don’t know what he would say.

          What he would say doesn’t even matter though, because what is presented to the media and what goes on behind closed doors are two completely different things.

        • Paramecium Jones says:

          The latter. But this is because he probably honestly believes that in the long run he is the better option atop the lineup.

          I think half a season is still a small sample size to project the rest of Gardner’s season. IMHO I think it’s probable that Jeter will outperform him for the rest of this year.

    • Steve O. says:

      You know, if this were any other player, it’d be done yesterday. Because it’s Derek “First pitch groundout to second” Jeter, he isn’t going anywhere.

      The conversation would go as follows:

      Joe Girardi: Hey Derek, when you get a second can you come over here? I’ve got a suggestion.
      Derek Jeter: Yeah, what’s up Joe?
      Joe Girardi: I was talking with a few of my colleagues and we came to an aggreement to drop you down in the lineup.
      Derek Jeter: I’m a versatile player and I can see myself in a different lineup spot. So where sre you thinking about batting me?
      Joe Girardi: Umm…
      Derek Jeter: Second?
      Joe Girardi: Umm…
      Derek Jeter: Third?
      Joe Girardi: Warm…
      Derek Jeter: Cleanup!?
      Joe Girardi: Warmer..
      Derek Jeter: What the hell! I’m not dropping anywhere past cleanup! What the hell do you think this is!? Where are the cameras! I’ve been punk’d, haven’t I? Girardi, you’re a sneaky bastard I tell ya.

      Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand scene.

      • ZZ says:

        Why wasn’t Teix moved out of the 3rd spot in the lineup this season?

        • Mister Delaware says:

          And why isn’t Alex and his .337 OBP being moved out of cleanup?

          • whozat says:

            Perhaps he should be. Though, at least, he’s still providing pop.

            • Mister Delaware says:

              Not in a relative sense. His .205 isoP is 5th in the everyday lineup.

              (I don’t advocate moving Rodriguez to 7th or whatever his slashline would indicate. I’m agreeing with everyone who doesn’t think Jeter should be 9th.)

              • Wooderson says:

                i’ve always seen tex as a great 5th guy, sort of in place of matsui. not to say that he’s not a good 3 hitter though

        • whozat says:

          The odds of his decline being age-related are low, so the odds are he was going to bounce back, and he did.

        • Steve O. says:

          Derek Jeter’s skillset is very different from Teixeira’s. Jeter has to get on base for Teixeira and A-Rod and when he isn’t doing that, he isn’t very valuable to the team. Jeter’s production is almost entirely based on his AVG. The higher his AVG, the higher his OBP is. Since his AVG is living at .275, his OBP is a not ideal .336. He isn’t walking any less than he usually does, it’s that balls are falling in for hits like they used to.

          Teixeira got the longer rope, but his slump seemed like a slump. Jeter’s season seems like it may actually be a declining player.

          • Steve O. says:

            Teixeira got the longer rope, but his slump seemed like a slump.

            Excuse me, Teixeira did not have a longer rope. Jeter’s rope is probably about the same as Teixeira’s, if not longer.

          • Pete says:

            all of that. Same for A-Rod. While I’m more concerned about him than I am Teix, Alex is and always has been a much more talented and multi-dimensional offensive player than Derek. Derek without his avg. is a fairly mediocre player, whereas Alex is, in the midst of his season since 1997, still wRC+ing 118. That’s a decent year for Jeter.

          • ZZ says:

            I am not sure what their skillset has to do with it.

            Teixiera killed this lineup for most of the season being in the 3 hole.

            Him remaining in the 3 hole through his struggles probably hurt his team more than Jeter did atop of the lineup.

            • Steve O. says:

              It’s not about who hurt the team more, it’s about approach. Derek Jeter was not working the count, and wasn’t hitting the ball in the air at all. Not a recipe for success. Teixeira is a notorious slow starter, so everyone was waiting for him to heat up. Which he did. Even in April/May Teixeira’s isoD was .164 with a babip of .148, which is ridiculous.

              Derek Jeter is stil “slumping.” I put it in quotes because at this point, can you really call it a slump? I think it’s more indicative of his true talent level.

      • What the hell! I’m not dropping anywhere past cleanup! What the hell do you think this is!?

        DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM??!?!??!? EAST F#$%$IN’ COUNTY!!!!!!!

        (picks up Ramiro Peña, throws him)

        • Tom Zig says:

          DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM??!?!??!? EAST F#$%$IN’ COUNTY!!!!!!!

          “Do you know who I am? I’m ****ing Snooki. You can’t do this to me – I’m ****ing Snooki. You guys are going to be sorry for this – release me!”

  5. The talk of Rickey and Vince and the 100 SB season got me perusing the all time SB single-season leaderboard:

    What’s crazy is how stolen bases pretty much disappeared for 60 years in the middle of baseball’s history, and then disappeared again. The best seasons in history (i.e. 80 steals or more) were in the pre-modern deadball era (1874-1914) and then from the late 1970s through the late 1980s.

    But from the time that Babe Ruth started hitting home runs until the advent of modern free agency, steals were a virtual non-factor.

    Stan Hack lead the National League in steals in 1938. With 16 steals.


    • Steve O. says:

      This happens in other sports too. Teams/players forget just how helpful a part of the game is.

      In the NFL, running the ball really became popular in the 60′s.

      In the NBA, three pointers were popular in the late 60′s, then again in the late 80′s.

      • A.D. says:

        Looking at total yards in the NFL has some issues as the number of games played has changed over time.

        • Steve O. says:

          If I’m not mistaken wasn’t it 14 to 16? I didn’t feel like looking up everything, I just thought it was interesting.

      • RL (on the east coast this week and still can't see a Yankee game!) says:

        In the NBAprofessional basketball, three pointers were popular in the late 60’s, then again in the late 80’s.

        This may have something to do with the merging of the ABA & NBA. As not all ABA players moved to the NBA, three pointers were not initially as popular when first instituted in the NBA.

  6. larryf says:

    I’d like to see Brett bunt more-especially to the first base side against lefties. This would be a great weapon for him. Grandy could try it too-couldn’t do much worse

    • Steve O. says:

      I’d rather not see a bunt, Gardner’s actually a good hitter and he doesn’t need to bunt to get on base. Leave that to guys who can’t get on base, but run like the wind.

      • Steve H says:

        I’d like to see him become a better bunter, but not necessariy bunt more. He’s not a good bunter. At the very least if he became a better bunter it could be used as a weapon whether he bunts any more or not, but if the opposing team had to be more wary of it. Also might help him against toughLHP.

      • Like Carl Crawford… Were you watching this past weekend?

    • Gardner has a good enough batting eye and good enough contact skills that he doesn’t need to use the bunt, which is basically giving away an at bat most of the time. As for Granderson, I’d rather he swing away because of his power.

      • larryf says:

        Guys used to bunt their way out of slumps. Arod can’t but Gardy can. Hey guys-Mickey Mantle could drag bunt very effectively!

        • Mickey Mantle drag bunting is like Nick Johnson swinging at the first pitch; sure, it may sometimes get the job done, but it prevents the player from doing what he’s best at.

          • Mister Delaware says:

            If it works half the time, its a .500/.500/.500 slashline. That’ll play for anyone not named Bonds.

  7. Ryan says:

    Anyone interested in buying tickets to tonight’s game? I have two tickets in Section 234, Row 12, Seats 19 and 20 (left field main level, in fair territory). Face value is $50 each, but I am asking $75 for the pair. Let me know if interested.

  8. larryf says:

    Where is Rizzuto when we need him? The old bunting coach would help Gardy. And Billy Martin would help his game too-steal more/earlier in the count/steal third/squeeze play once in awhile etc…the game has changed but it isn’t always for the best when it comes to individual players and their skill set.

  9. Giacomo says:

    Being engaged is Jeter’s Kryptonite. does no one see that?

    I do like that Brett is like a gnat to pitchers once he’s on base. He irritates them even when he’s not doing anything.

  10. larryf says:

    Only one inside the park HR (debatable scoring) and one marginal steal of home…C’mon Grit!

  11. The Ghost of Phil Rizzuto says:

    Gardner? Sell high this off season.

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