Imaginging Brett Gardner as Luis Castillo


(Kathy Willens/AP)

At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Brett Gardner can pass for a major leaguer. Throw in his speed, and he looks like a fourth outfielder. What’s hard to believe is that, by fWAR, he was ninth most valuable outfielder in the bigs and the most valuable on the Yankees. That’s what a .383 OBP and some serious defensive skills will do. Still, there’s the question of whether Gardner can keep up this level of production. He doesn’t have the power that will cause pitchers to avoid throwing him strikes. How, then, will he continue to provide value to the team?

Baseball history isn’t exactly filled with high-OBP, low-SLG players. Since 1980, only 217 times has a player who qualified for the batting title finished the season with a higher OBP than SLG. Brett Gardner’s 2010 was his first. Other notable players on this list include Ozzie Smith, who did it nine times, and Rickey Henderson, who appears eight times. While those are interesting names, it’s best not to compare Gardner to Hall of Famers. There’s another name that appears eight times: Luis Castillo. We’d all be ecstatic if Gardner followed a similar career path.

What, you think I'd do a post involving Castillo and not include this?

Castillo already has a head start. By his age-26 season, Gardner’s age in 2011, he had already finished three seasons with an OBP greater than .360 — and in two of the years it was .384 and .418. In each of his seasons between age-27 and age-31 he produced an OBP of at least .358, and reached as high as .391. He’s become something of a punchline during the last three seasons, but even then he had a .387 OBP in 580 PA in 2009. Castillo might not have made headlines at the plate, but he was a steady contributor to the Marlins, Twins, and even the Mets, for over a decade.

Where this comparison takes a strange turn is when we look at Castillo’s power. With an OBP higher than his SLG in eight seasons, it’s easy to ascertain that Castillo doesn’t hit for many extra bases. That he has 28 career home runs comes as no surprise. What’s a bit surprising is his paltry career doubles total: 194. Only twice in his career did he hit more than the 20 doubles that Gardner did in 2010. Never has he topped a .082 ISO. To put his .061 career ISO in perspective, Francisco Cervelli‘s ISO was .064 in 2010. We often think of Gardner as powerless, but Castillo presents the definitive case.

Just because Brett Gardner and Luis Castillo are both low-power players who can draw a walk does not mean that one’s career path will follow the other’s. But Castillo, and the other repeat offenders on the OBP > SLG list, show that it can be done. We can only hope that Gardner progresses similarly to Castillo. With OBPs that high, combined with his range in the outfield and speed on the base paths, Gardner can be a solid, and perhaps undervalued, contributor to the Yankees for years to come.

Categories : Offense


  1. Jerkface says:

    Gardner was showing more punch last season before he hurt his stupid hand. He needs to slide with hulk hands on.

    I think he could maintain a .100-.150 ISO depending on how many guys he can catch napping for HRs.

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Or Clayton Kershaw needs better control.

      (I wonder if they would let him put on Hulk Hands once he reaches base)

  2. Steve H says:

    I think comparing Gardner’s bat to Ozzie is fair, especially at a similar age. It wasn’t until Ozzie’s 7th season (at 29) that he had an OPS+ in the 90′s. The season Gardner just had with the bat would have ranked in the top 5 of Ozzie’s career. Ozzie got better with age, I’d be thrilled if Gardner can just maintain where he was last year. Interestingly enough, Ozzie, despite having negative power, saw a great increase in his BB% as he got older. The fear with Gardner is that pitchers will just throw him strikes, but that really doesn’t seem to work out.

    • JAG says:

      “The fear with Gardner is that pitchers will just throw him strikes, but that really doesn’t seem to work out.”

      This. People forget that nobody throws the equivalent of an IBB but for a strikeout. Heck, there’s a significant number of MLB pitchers who can’t even put 4 intentional balls in the same place. Why do people assume that everyone will just start 1-2-3ing Gardner when they realize he doesn’t have much power? A lot of major league pitchers don’t even have the command to do that consistently without hanging a pitch, and Gardner has demonstrated that even he can smack a hanging pitch.

  3. JGS says:

    I am more than ok with Gardner consistently putting up Castillo’s career .290/.368/.351 line.

    Looking through the list, it (OBP>SLG) has been done 43 times since 2000, but only five times by full-time corner outfielders–Gardner and Pierre in 2010, Gregor Blanco in 2008, Podsednik in 2005, and Rickey in 2000.

    Oddly enough, Pierre’s 2010 was his only season of OBP>SLG, despite his career .068 ISO. Never realized his OBP skills were that bad.

  4. CS Yankee says:

    He has exceeded most peoples expectations and has to be amongst the games best in $ per WAR.

    Exciting player to watch, I think he can still improve over the next few years but don’t see him as a Yankee “lifer”.

  5. Fair Weather Freddy says:

    The one thing I would like to see from Gardner is to be a little more aggressive up there. Seems like he always takes until there is 2 strikes on him before he swings the bat. If he gets a good pitch early in the count, swing at it. Not saying he will hit it out, but theres a good chance he hits it hard some where for a base hit or hits it on the ground with a chance to beat it out.

    • Steve H says:

      He’s a very good hitter with two strikes though, relative to the rest of the league. His sOPS with 2 strikes is 138. Considering the upside of him swinging away is generally a single, maybe a double, I don’t mind him burning a bunch of pitches and trying to draw walks.

      • Monteroisdinero says:

        This. Take pitches and make the pitcher work! I love it. Very few pitchers will throw 2 strikes in a row to start an at bat-especially to a small batter crouching down. It is far more frustrating to see Jeter ground out on a first pitch ball 1 or second pitch ball 2 or, god forbid, a 3rd pitch ball 3. The Great Brettsky never does.

        Gardner may develop a bit more power but 5-10 HR’s a year is fine with me. Jeter hit 10 and makes 16M!

        Gardy should lead off every game. Period.

  6. Danimal says:

    I like Gardy, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like there are guys who can play defense and slug the ball. And steal bases. And I think I remember one of them just signing with an AL East team this offseason. Gosh who was that…?

    I guess I am of the opinion that the outfield corners are not the place to put nancy noodlestix.

    I remember seeing posts about how Jeter’s oWAR makes up for his abysmal defense. and that’s at SS for crying out loud. In LF? I’m in favor of a masher.

    • Steve H says:

      Well Gardner is only playing as a corner OF due to deference to Granderson. And the Sox can have Crawford for $20 million/year for 7 years. I wouldn’t consider Crawford much of a slugger either.

      • Big Apple says:

        the payroll disparity between Grit and Crawford has to be the biggest in sports…$19.5MM per and the only diff is CC has more power and experience…everything else is equal.

    • Big Apple says:

      Grit adds a lot to this team and its okay to have “Nancy Noodlestix” in LF when we have mashers in many other places.

    • I guess I am of the opinion that the outfield corners are not the place to put nancy noodlestix.

      I remember seeing posts about how Jeter’s oWAR makes up for his abysmal defense. and that’s at SS for crying out loud. In LF? I’m in favor of a masher.

      But, like Jeter, Gardner’s incredible defense is enough to overcome a) a bad positional adjustment and b) his below-average (power wise) bat for the position. Gardner’s value is never going to come from his power; it’s going to come from his defense and his on-base skills. He may not do it in the traditional sense of mashing balls like it’s going out of style, but he’ll provide plenty of value in LF.

    • Think of Gardner as the mirror image of Jeter; he draws his value from his defense rather than his offense (which is still acceptable).

    • JGS says:

      Jeff Francoeur has three fewer career home runs than Carl Crawford despite nearly 2000 fewer PAs.

      Derek Jeter has matched or exceeded Crawford’s career-high HR total in five different seasons.

      Carl Crawford is an excellent player. He is not a slugger.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      “I feel like there are guys who can play defense and slug the ball. And steal bases.”

      Seriously? How many of those guys exist?

      No one is saying Gardner is the greatest LF ever to play the game (though if he maintains his value as the supposed #9 OF in the league it’s hard to upgrade period).
      However, even if you think Carl Crawford and a couple of other guys are better, it’s also a resource allocation issue. Gerdner is under team control (read: cheap) until 2015. The Yankees already have a ton of salary commitments through 2015, so a marginal improvement in LF is probably not worth $15-20 mill per. Save some money in LF and spend some more on the starting pitching when the chance arises.

  7. Avi says:

    Chone Figgins put up multiple years of good OBP, namely ’07-’09 while having a very low Slug%. It’s not common but certainly possible.

  8. Steve H says:

    I don’t think Gardner can match Brett Butler’s peak, but he’s another similar guy. Despite having no power, Butler always drew plenty of walks. He even led the league in walks one year despite just 2 HR’s. He eclipsed 80 walks 7 times despite the threat of stolen bases and no power. Gardner won’t start walking less because pitchers just start throwing him strikes.

  9. Ted Nelson says:

    Good piece.

    We’ll see how he does going forward, but until he’s FA eligible in 2015 Gardner could/should be a nice bargain. The kind of piece that allows you to pay A-Rod and Jeter and Burnett all that money while they age/struggle. Potentially an in-house replacement lead-off hitter if Jeter doesn’t bounce back.

    Around 2015 maybe you look to replace him as he becomes more expensive and older. Depending on how his game develops and what your other options are, of course, but if speed is still his calling card you might not want to lock him up to big(-ish) money on the wrong side of 30. Anyway, that’s a long way away.

  10. Monteroisdinero says:

    Damn that 4 year Posada contract. Without it, we sign Crawford and move Swish to DH. That would have been a better offseason. Gardy/Grandy/Crawford in the OF and we pick up a lot more production and youth at DH.

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Is Swisher really that bad of a defender?

      Not to mention, I don’t think any of Gardner/Granderson/Crawford has the arm to play RF.

      • Monteroisdinero says:

        Swisher’s arm? Overrated. Throws lots of rainbows to the bases. Gardy would do fine out there as evidenced by his assists in LF last year. He gets to balls quicker too. I like Swish but far better in my DH scenario. Better switch hitter than Sado at this point and 10 years younger and cheaper. Anyway-it was just a dream. Gardy and Crawford stealing bases/pressuring pitchers-would have been awesome.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          Don’t judge a player’s arm by assists. He had so many assists because teams ran on him like crazy.

          • Monteroisdinero says:

            Ok. I guess we can put Damon out there next year and he can put up some good assist #’s.

            • Rick in Boston says:

              That’s not what Mike meant. Gardner’s arm is not as good as you think it is. It plays fine in LF or in CF, but it’s not strong enough in right.

            • JAG says:

              Why do you even care about assists anyway? It’s just as valuable to have a guy whose arm is widely known to be strong enough to not be worth testing as it is to have a guy whose arm is incorrectly regarded as bad enough to run on, resulting in lots of assists. A HUGE part of assists is opportunities. Sure, you have to have a strong enough arm to actually capitalize, but if your arm is amazing no one will try.

              Consider this: Ichiro had 7 assists last year. Gardner had 9. Therefore, Gardner’s arm is stronger than Ichiro’s.

              See the problem?

            • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

              …do you see how that makes zero sense logically to us, or does that make a lot of sense to you on the inside? or both?

    • jsbrendog (returns) says:

      yeah i dont think this would ever have happened.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Last season was the first time in Crawford’s career that he put up an OPS+ above Posada’s 2010 116 (he was at 117 once, but same difference…). Crawford’s wOBA has generally been higher than Posada’s 2010 total, but not by much. So, offensively replacing Posada with Crawford is not necessarily much of an upgrade. Long-term Crawford is a better asset than Posada, but he’s very, very expensive for 7 years. If he losses a step or two you’re probably going to wish you didn’t have him when he’s making $21 mill per at 34 and 35 years old…

      • Monteroisdinero says:

        True enough Ted but 4-5 years of fast little CC would have been great. We could deal with 2016 when the time came. moot point.

        • CS Yankee says:

          You want to deal with 2016 when the time comes but are saying the Posada 4-year contract was bad, hmm?

          Adding a fourth year to a proven winner, at market value to kept him >>>>>>>> giving a 7-year way above market deal to a guy that just had a career year & would cost a draft pick.

        • We could deal with 2016 when the time came. moot point.

          That line of thinking is poison when it comes to roster construction.

          • Ted Nelson says:

            Very true.

            Plus, we might not have to wait until 2016. Crawford was worth 5.5 WAR total 2007 and 2008 and had never had a 5 WAR season before that. 2009 he was 5.7 WAR and 2010 he was worth 6.9. Maybe he’s hit his peak and maintains that, but maybe it was an aberration or he declines as fast as he rose. He’s being paid to maintain that 6-7 WAR pace, which is tough to do.

            If I’m desperate for offense/OF defense maybe that’s a chance I take. With the best offense in baseball, a good (cheap) defensive OF, and the huge 7 year deal he got… not a risk I’m that anxious to take.

            Posada is only a 1 year commitment, and after that DH types are relatively easy to come by. As people always point out, A-Rod and/or Jesus might need that spot if they can’t field their positions adequately.

      • CS Yankee says:

        This…I can’t believe that he is making above 15M$ per year compound that with a 7-year deal.

        He’ll likely rake better in beantown than the trop, but they clearly over-reacted to not signing Werth…once that happened, the bar was set for CC’s agent to get more. Werth’s agent should of received a big thank you from CC’s agent.

        The Angels were correct to walk away…the same Angels that way overpaid for Matthews & Hunter.

    • I highly doubt that. I think they’d’ve signed a true DH–Manny or Thome–and kept the OF the way it was. That would’ve been a better use of resources.

  11. David says:

    He is the opposite of Joba. A hard worker, always in great shape, continually improving. A winning ballplayer.

    • Mike Myers says:

      I have never heard of Joba being a poor worker.

      • Shh, you’re ruining his false narrative.

        • Mike Myers says:

          Ha. I know I should let suff like that go, I just hate random bashing.

          This is the reason I cant listen to sports raido….the people that call in, ugh

          • Ted Nelson says:

            This is not some random narrative made up by fans. It’s a very prominent rumor from the media, put forth in papers and the YES network itself often. That doesn’t make it credible, but you can’t just dismiss it either.

            It’s not, “he looks fat.” There are pretty believable details involved in the rumors. Like Clemens taking Joba under his wing and Joba not working nearly as hard since. Or Hughes beating out Joba in part because he spent the whole offseason at the training facility. If these things were blatantly false, someone else in the media or organization might call people out on it. I’m pretty sure it was YES network where I heard the Clemens stuff, though.

            Again, proves nothing. It’s not some random “he’s big he must be lazy” thing, though.

            • Big Apple says:

              i met joba last spring…he ain’t fat…he’s just solid..he’s a big boy and thick as a brick.

              • Ted Nelson says:

                My whole point is that his physical appearance is not as telling as first and second hand accounts of his work ethic.

                One person says he’s fat, one says he’s solid… Proves nothing about how hard he works.

                People within the organization saying he stopped working as hard when Clemens left or that his work ethic lost him the 5th starter competition are at least relevant.

                Those accounts are still nothing but rumors. I’m sure the organization knows if they’re true or not, though. I mean one directly implies the org made a decision in part because of his work ethic.

      • David says:

        He looks like “Before” in a commercial for a weight loss clinic.

        • So does CC. Does that mean he’s not a hard worker?

          • Ted Nelson says:

            I don’t think this is really a fair comparison.

            CC is a very big man. Offensive linemen are also big men, but generally in great shape (successful ones anyway). Joba doesn’t have a huge frame that’s well filled out. He’s just pudgy for a MLB pitcher.

            And different people have different bodies. Clearly CC can excel at that weight. Joba has not proven he can.

            There’s no reason to question CC’s work ethic. He’s been an elite workhorse for years. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing something right. Joba has been inconsistent and unable to even win a starting spot. There’s plenty of reason to suspect a former top prospect is underachieving and maybe could be working harder. Maybe he’s the hardest worker in MLB, but between rumors, appearance, and results there’s plenty of reason to raise questions about his work ethic.

            Not that those questions mean anything coming from fans, but the Yankees’ org can actually observe his work ethic first hand.

          • David says:

            No. CC is a very hard worker, evidenced by the fact that he has improved throughout his career. Joba, by contrast, appears to be very questionable in his dedication to the game. In my opinion, this is part of why the Yankees have little trust in him. That will lead to either a trade or a continued relatively insignificant role.

        • jsbrendog (returns) says:

          joba chamberlain has a poster on his wall of the “hang tough” cat falling to it’s death because it couldn’t “hang tough” enough. he laughs everytime he looks at it

      • Ted Nelson says:

        I can’t verify that it’s true, but I have heard he’s a poor worker quite a bit from MSM types citing ambiguous sources within the org. If you haven’t at least heard that, your head has got to have been under a rock (and I mean no disrespect by that, it’s just been all over the media).

        The stories go that Joba worked hard when Roger Clemens was pushing him, but dropped it when Clemens left. And that Hughes won the competition before it even started precisely because he was at the Yankees training facility all offseason while Joba showed up unprepared and out of shape. And that he looks like a puffy little drunk: CC, the example always given of big not being bad, is a generally big man with a gut, but he doesn’t look puffy/swollen in the face.

        • bexarama says:

          The stories go that Joba worked hard when Roger Clemens was pushing him, but dropped it when Clemens left.

          Considering Clemens’ workouts, is that really a bad thing? O_O

          (j/k. Mostly. That said, while I’m not into the whole OMG SO FAT!!!!! thing, Joba’s gained notable weight since 2007. He was always a big guy, though.)

          • Ted Nelson says:

            It’s all speculation coming from me. I have no idea really.

            I don’t expect most pitchers to work as hard as Clemens. He’s the best case work ethic, and he got big at times and took steroids and everything so maybe Joba still is following his work out plan to a T just with worse results.

            As someone with no idea what’s going on behind closed doors, I do think it’s always worth raising the question of work ethic when a guy underachieves. It accomplishes nothing, but it’s certainly a possible explanation along with others. If you’re going to list possible explanations without implying that which are correct, work ethic has to be on your list.

        • Monteroisdinero says:

          actually a puffy big drunk. Not the first athlete to falter with booze. Oh what Mantle and Ruth could have done without it.

    • pete says:

      While I don’t generally like to talk about players’ work ethics since there really isn’t any way we can really know, I don’t get being a fat ballplayer. Granted, neither Joba nor CC are obese or anything (anymore), but both could probably stand to lose a good 50 pounds, if not more. I know CC works hard on his game, but for god’s sake, you’re a professional athlete. Just lose the damn weight already.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        I would generally agree, but I think there are some people who just have higher natural weights and body fat %. Eddy Curry, for example, lost a ton of weight and has been even more useless since. The one thing that gave him an sort of NBA value was his mass and nimbleness combining to give him a post game.

        As a parallel example, maybe CC loses a bunch of weight and injures his arm because he’s missing some sort of support system or balance his body fat gave him… I don’t know, it’s speculation, but how many skinny pitchers have given as many innings over the same span as CC? The guy is a work horse. I wouldn’t mess too much with that kind of success.

        Joba, on the other hand, has a different body type and very little MLB success. So, he might want to switch it up.

    • Big Apple says:

      rumors we can all do without.

  12. nsalem says:

    Since pitches per plate appearance is not part of the War equation, Gardner is even more valuable than these numbers claim he is. I hope this is the year that people stop being surprised by his output and we stop hearing the performing above expectations tag. I also hope that we soon stop hearing the “he should be more aggressive at the plate” whine. The guy is great the way he is. He had 5 home runs at game 74 last year around the time he hurt his hand. If healthy this year he will be in double digits.

    • RL (needs a new handle) says:

      Keeping my fingers crossed this happens.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      “Since pitches per plate appearance is not part of the War equation, Gardner is even more valuable than these numbers claim he is.”

      Good point.

      “I hope this is the year that people stop being surprised by his output and we stop hearing the performing above expectations tag.”

      I hope so too, however, I think it was perfectly deserved last season. His OPS was .772 in the minors when he was never young for his level, and .762 in the majors last season. That’s surprising to me. One season doesn’t make a trend, so I don’t think we should bank on the same results. However, if he puts up a second straight comparable season it’s not longer a surprise.

  13. LarryM.,Fl. says:

    My thoughts on Gardner are based on the total package and the lineup makeup. His fielding, running,arm, baseball are all pluses in my head. Where Gardner needs to improve is pitch selection. He allows too many strikes to go by without any attempt at contact. He’ll be in the two strike count before you know it. Once and awhile try to hit the best fastball to come your way never let two go by. The opposing pitchers know his scheme at raising pitch counts or Yankee philosophy on pitch counts. I believe his productivity and OBP. would go up. Also, slide feet first. This head first slide is just an invitation for the SS or 2nd baseman to slap a tag on the face. He has had hand issues and wrist issues the first two years. Its time to smarten up. Pretty soon he’ll be out of baseball because of this issue with wrist and hand.

  14. David says:

    Gardner is an example of a ballplayer that has overachieved. At every level he has adjusted and improved. You can say the same thing about many of the players on the Yankee team. Another prime example of that is Swisher, looking at the work that he did with Long and last year’s results.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I don’t know if I would call that “overachieving” so much as “achieving.”

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Depends on how you’re looking at it, but overachieving just carries a connotation of belittling their skills to me. Like calling someone a “hustle player” in basketball even if they have very tangible skills like rebounding, finishing, man defense, etc.

    • bexarama says:

      If players are constantly supposedly overachieving, is that overachieving or their actual talent level, which may have been underrated/understated?

      • Ted Nelson says:

        I made a similar point above, but there is a way I can see calling it overachieving. When you acquire a prospect (or at any given point in time really) you might project a most likely case scenario for that guys career. Sort of set a bar. Relative to that bar, some guys will perform better and some worse. Better could be called overachieving and worse underachieving.

        Now, in reality, setting that bar is not an exact science. There is a good chance you will underrate and overrate certain tools, etc. Say you take a bunch of SEC 3 year college players and project them based on their college stats, though, with a conversion for how those stats have historically translated to wood bat, pro ball. Basically, you’ve been as scientific as you can about setting the bar. There will still be guys who surpass it and (more) guys who fall short.

        Anyway, I guess it’s all semantics really.

    • Why is Swisher considered an “overachiever”? He’s hit pretty much since day one and was a top prospect while in the minors. People have this skewed perception of Swisher because of 2008, but that’s been the extreme exception in his career, not the rule.

  15. David says:

    He seemed to reach a new level last year. Better fielding, highest BA of career by 26 points, highest Slugging %, OPS, Total Bases, made All Star Team for the first time. Seemed like a better player.

  16. roadrider says:

    I’m not a fan of Gardner. He is an excellent defensive outfielder – so what? Is LF defense all that valuable? I’m with Reggie Jackson: “If you want to stand on the corner you have to lean on the post”. Yeah, the walks are nice but I’m fairly certain they will stop coming as teams (finally) realize that Gardner cannot hurt you as much by swinging the bat as he can by getting a free pass. Let’s not forget that Gardner struck out more than 100 times last year and you can’t attribute all of that to his wrist injury.

    Outside of the walks much of Gardner’s offense came from infield hits and shallow outfield bloopers both of which tailed off as teams learned to defense him better.

    As for Gardner batting leadoff I can’t agree. Jeter is clearly on the decline but let’s not let one good year and two good months from Gardner distort the picture. I’m not predicting a return to 2006 or 2009 form for the Captain but I would not be surprised to see him outperform Gardner at the plate next season based on a bounce-back from Jeter and Gardner coming back to Earth (or more correctly resuming his poor performance in the second half of the 2010 season).

    I would trade Gardner while his stock is high before he gets exposed.

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