Mike set the stage in his post on what went right with Brett Gardner:
Gardner showed up to Dodger Stadium the proud owner of a .321/.401/.408 (.373 wOBA) batting line on the morning of June 27th, but he took a Clayton Kershaw fastball off his right wrist in his second plate appearance of the game.
In reaching that .373 wOBA, Gardner had pulled off a fantastic month of June. In his 72 PA he hit .383/.472/.533, by far the best month in his short career. The hit by pitch ended that month a few days early, but he was back in the starting lineup on July 1, ready to continue his assault on opponents’ pitch counts.
When a player sustains a wrist injury we often fear for his power. So many players have seen their power completely sapped because of wrist troubles. The Yankees’ very own Nick Johnson presented such a case. He underwent season-ending wrist surgery in 2008 and came back in 2009 to produce a mere .114 ISO; his career mark to that point was .187. Gardner appeared to put those fears to rest in just his third game back from the injury. He hit a grand slam off Toronto’s Ricky Romero. The next day he hit another homer, though that was of the inside-the-park variety.
One home run by itself, even from a player who does not normally hit them, does not necessarily signal something about a player’s condition. Those two homers — one of which should have been a caught ball — represented Gardner’s only extra base hits in his first 68 PA back from the injury. During that time he hit just .185/.353/.296. The next eight games saved his month; in those 29 PA Gardner hit three doubles, which improved his month-long ISO to .117, which ended up being his second highest of the season. He also produced a .141 ISO in September. So much for the wrist injury effect.
While a power dip might not have coincided with the wrist injury, a heightened strikeout rate did. Gardner did strike out in 20 percent of his AB in June, a jump from his 14.7 percent rate in the first two months, but given his other numbers that was fine. He was making fewer outs and hitting for more power. You trade that for strikeouts without hesitation. But from July through September Gardner lost those power and on-base gains while seeing a significant uptick in his strikeout rate, 26.3 percent. That’s not a good thing for a guy who can create favorable situations when he puts the ball in play.
Still, it’s tough to pin the causation of Gardner’s rising K rate on the wrist injury. As you can see, it had been a rising trend all season long:
Might pitchers have figured out to start throwing him more strikes, since he can’t do much damage with them? Conventional wisdom might suggest that, but Gardner’s walk rate says something else:
I’m not sure what this says about how pitchers approached Gardner. It might appear as though he got a lot less aggressive. Fewer pitches swung at could lead to more looking strikeouts and more walks at the same time. But that wasn’t necessarily the case with Gardner. Prior to June 27 Gardner saw 1,227 pitches. He swung at 391 of them, about 32 percent. After June 27 he saw 1,355 pitches and swung at 423 of them, 31.2 percent. The biggest difference is in his swing and miss percentage, which went from 2.4 percent before the injury to 3.5 percent afterward.
Gardner’s spray chart changed around the same time as the injury as well. We’re dealing with half-season samples, so there’s nothing definitive in what we’re seeing. But it does appear suspicious that Gardner stopped hitting as many balls to shallow center and right, spots at which he got hits in the first half.
We can still see that patch in left where Gardner slaps the ball for base hits, but we don’t see that shallow belt that led to so many hits in the first half. What we do see, though, is a number of balls fielded deeper in the outfield. While the focus of this post is on the negatives of Gardner’s second half, the deeper hit balls has to be taken as a positive.
Again, while we’re looking at the wrongs of Gardner’s season, we need to put them in perspective. Part of his second half woes stem from a diving BABIP. As you can see:
I’m not sure exactly what caused the dip in BABIP. Maybe Gardner was swinging at poorer pitches — his whiff rate does suggest that. Maybe he was getting unlucky — the subsequent rise towards the end of the season does point in that direction. My best guess is that he just went through a normal slump, exacerbated by the wrist injury. Thankfully, towards the end of the season he started to look more like he did in April.
The title of this article is What Went Wrong, but that isn’t to say Gardner’s season went wrong. It actually went great on the whole. But there were some issues during the season that perhaps prevented him from performing to the best of his abilities. There is a sentiment among some fans — I’m not sure how widespread — that Gardner is nothing more than a fourth outfielder and that he hit over his head in 2010. I beg to differ. During the off-season I ranked among the “you can’t count on Gardner” crowd, but after watching him for a full season and examining him closely I feel differently. I think Gardner can be a solid option both in the lineup and in the field.
That isn’t to say that his season went perfectly. It obviously didn’t. In the second half he swung and missed more often, which led to more and more strikeouts. A guy with Gardner’s speed, and lack of power, needs to put the ball in play more often. But even as he faltered he ended up with a spectacular season. I don’t see any reason, barring injury, why we can’t expect him to improve in 2011.