Would Batting Ninth Help Gardner?

Harrison grounds Yanks on record-setting night
Game 13: More rain for Gus & Freddy
Have to hit before you can run. (AP/Kathy Willens)

No two ways about it: Brett Gardner is in the midst of an awful slump. He was given the coveted leadoff spot in the order and has thanked the Yankees for the present by batting a miserable .150/.227/.225 to start the season. In a lineup where the 7-8-9 hitters are no joke, Gardner appears to be trying to put a hole in the Yankees lineup right at the top. There’s no way he sticks there if he keeps up with this performance. He doesn’t have to be amazing – just get on base and steal a lot of bases and avoid the double plays with a certain shortstop and noted new groundball machine coming up behind him. But it’s not happening at the moment.

It doesn’t really matter to the Yankees whether Gardner bats first or ninth in the long run – according to David Pinto’s lineup analysis, they gain just 0.045 runs with Gardner’s 2010 numbers leading off over him batting ninth, which comes out to about seven runs all season. For a team that’s showing as much offensive power as this one is, seven runs over 162 games is a drop in the bucket. But maybe it matters to Brett Gardner. The leadoff spot in an order, while perhaps not as important in the giant scheme of all things baseball, does have a certain prestige about it. Certain players like to hit leadoff. Certain players don’t. Whatever that intangible is, maybe it’s bogging Gardy down. Let’s see.

Admittedly, we’re still dealing with fairly small sample sizes when we look at his plate appearances in only these two spots. It’s odd to think that this is only Gardy’s third year as anything other than a September call-up, and only his second year where he’ll be showing up in, ideally, more than 110 games. Additionally, no one really knows if Gardner’s poor second-half 2010 was all wrist injury or pitchers adjusting to him but I’m willing to bet it was some combination of both. Halfway through the year, scouting reports are coming in on a guy. Gardner’s must have looked something like, ‘throw strikes.’ We’ll do what we can with the number we have and take the results with a grain of salt.

Gardner has 264 plate appearances leading off in 59 games, all but two of which he started. In those games, he’s batted a mediocre .256/.338/.348, with a tOPS+ (OPS+ relative to total OPS+) of 92. In comparison, he’s started 116 games in the nine-hole, giving him 419 plate appearances and a slightly worse line of .240/.333/.312 and a tOPS+ of 81. There’s good news and bad news here. Good news: the numbers are better for the leadoff spot. Bad news: the numbers go down with the increased PA, so the second line is probably closer to what we might see over a larger sample. However, the numbers are so close that it honestly doesn’t matter. Not surprisingly, there’s also a change in the stolen base approach: Gardy only stole five more bases in those additional 155 PA batting ninth, and was also caught an extra five times. And if the sizes were equal, he would also have more walks from the leadoff spot as well: 48 BBs in 419 PA batting ninth vs. 25 BB in 264 PAs leading off.

One interesting thing to note is that that Gardner’s BABIP batting ninth is .286, which is a little lower than average. Bat him leadoff, however, and his BABIP shoots up to .337. I’m not sure why this is: could be luck, could be a different approach at the plate, could be the pitchers throwing him balls he can get better hits off of. Either way, that leadoff number is much, much closer to his career .321 BABIP than the nine-hole one. While we’re on this topic, Gardner’s 2010 BABIP of .340 and makes his current 2011 BABIP of .222 look pretty depressing.

There’s a lot of different elements to take into account here, but even with the small samples it seems like batting leadoff doesn’t bother Gardner, which is definitely a good thing for the Yankees and for the speedster. Let’s hope that we can all look back in a few years and have much larger samples that prove he is an amazing leadoff hitter and should never leave that spot. Then we can all roll our eyes at his 2011 April slump and talk about how unlike him that was. For now, all we know is that Gardner’s not doing too well and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with where he’s batting. Let’s hope his new approach figures itself out or he returns to whatever was working in 2010.

Harrison grounds Yanks on record-setting night
Game 13: More rain for Gus & Freddy
  • Matt :: Sec110

    Not a good base stealer.

    • ZZ

      You don’t steal 47 bases at an 80%+ clip if you are “not a good base stealer”

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Maybe his definition of “good” is “at least better than Tim Raines”.

  • nsalem

    I think as long as the team is winning and nobody is running away with this race they should wait until 40 the games or so are played before these decisions are made. Gardner will probably come around. In the event he doesn’t he will be hurting us no matter where he is hitting, especially in a circular line up such as the Yankees have. 12 games means absolutely nothing.

  • murakami

    It’s not circular if there’s a hole in it.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      It’s not circular if there’s a hole in it.

      (fighting the urge to work blue)

  • Mickey Scheister

    I think the leauge has adjusted to him. We’ve all yelled at Gardner thru our TVs to swing at the pitch down the middle, last year, now all he does is seemingly repeat the same flicking of the bat and repeats a foul ball until he swings at a terrible pitch no where near the zone. SSS, yes, but still hard to watch nonetheless. I started to enjoy his at bats last year but in the first 12 games, whether it’s the leadoff change or league adjustment, he has to adjust if he wants to remain a starter. Being he’s one of the few non household names in the starting 9, and they have one on the bench (Jones), I suspect a short leash for the Gritty One, he’d be more valuable as a 4th OFer, defensive replacement and pinch runner. Snap out of it Brett, bring 2010 back!

  • Stevis

    Actually the only place in the order for Gardner is Left out of the Lineup….. the guy was out by 5 feet 2 nights ago stealing and likes to take 2 strikes before foulong a few off and then hitting his mighty groundouts….which he never beats out!
    The Bench and better yet AAA

    • Esteban

      I don’t think he’s a great basestealer but he was thrown out the other night on a perfect throw by Matt Wieters. Sometimes it’s not the runner’s fault.

    • Nedro

      Actually, he beats quite a few. Infielders alway need to hurry when Gardy is hustling down the line, and opposing infielders rushing to make plays is never a bad thing.

  • murakami

    In answer to the thread-maker’s question, yes. More importantly, it would help the Yankees. It’s early and it’s chilly yet no reason why Gardner can’t get warmed up hitting in the ninth spot. It may even change his approach.

    He’s always been more passive than patient in my book, so it’s not surprising that the light has gone on for pitchers to just challenge the guy. Still, he may be more determined than ever to take a walk out of the leadoff spot, since that puts his real talent – his legs – into play more easily than actually hitting the ball out of the infield, a challenge for him generally. Right now, infield hits are hard to come by because he’s back to one-handing the bat too often.

    Gardner is fine as a 9 guy on this team. If he can catch up to a good FB consistently and do something with it, instead of just engaging in low quality contact, that will help put his other skills into play (walking, stealing). I think he’s less reluctant to swing from the 9-hole, which could help him revive his value and maybe earn him a return to leadoff.

    For all Jeter’s early struggles, he’s doing his best hitting in the 1-spot. Keep the captain there for now and then revisit the early plan as reality dictates.

  • nsalem

    I would hardly call someone with almos 1000 MLB PA’s and a .353 OPB a hole in the line-up a hole.
    I would also check Andruw Jone’s righty splits the last few years before you would think about him as the solution. Judging two weeks in is silly stuff.

  • Camilo Gerardo

    answer: yes; we should always be looking to improve the ballclub

  • JimAbbottFan

    With Gardner’s lack of real power and passive approach, and Jeter’s propensity to hit routine grounders, it wouldn’t surprise me if pitchers are just instructed to go after Gardner and see what happens.

    A normal worst case scenario is Brett hits one down the line. The most likely case is either strike out (probably looking or late swing), or single/walk. If he gets on, you know he’s most likely going to steal to avoid the inevitable double play. And in addition to the probable steal, Jeter has been taking early swings, forcing Brett to have to try earlier in Jeter’s at bat, so it’s easier to anticipate the attempt.

    Again, this is just my untrained observations, but regardless, bad performances by two players who typically provide 1/3 of the team’s total ABs over the course of the game definitely cannot continue with the hopes that it will correct itself.

  • Steve Garrison’s Roster Spot

    I was never a fan of Gardner. A leftfielder with no power has no place on the Yankees. I don’t know who should be the Yanks LFer but I know who shouldn’t : Brett Gardner. Brett Gardner’s 2010 was as much of an aberration as Joe Mauer’s 2009. I say trade for Shin Soo Choo and stick him in left.

    • Yanks27rings

      I have to disagree completely here. Gardner and Granderson are the only two starters on the Yankees with an ounce of speed in the first place, Gardner being the faster of the two. There is no reason to get rid of such a fast runner when the rest of the team is already on the wrong side of 30, or if they aren’t, they still run like a truck. *cough* Teixeira *cough*

      Besides that, Gardner’s LF defense is fantastic. If I’m not mistaken, he was second in the league in OF assists in 2010, and probably was close to winning a Gold Glove, as well.

      • NJ_Andy

        AND displaced Crawford as the fielding Bible’s most valuable LF.

        The Yank’s have plenty of power, they don’t need more. His speed and D is incredibly valuable, he + Granderson are death to flyballs.

        • Tom Swift

          I agree, but he has to get back hitting solidly for average and high OBP. Otherwise, he’s just a Golson type 4th outfielder.

        • murakami

          What a joke. Brett Gardner as good as – no,better – as Carl Crawford. So much for the “fielding bible.”

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I say trade for Shin Soo Choo and stick him in left.

      Good luck with that.

      • Esteban

        Can’t the Yankees just take Shin Soo Choo from the Indians? Why do they have to give up anybody in return?

  • Burt Bondy

    Absolutely he should hit 9th. He has speed but he’s not getting on base so what good is he? Put him 9th so there’s less pressure on him. Grandy and Swish should be hitting 1-2, Jeter and Gardner 8-9.

  • NJ_Andy

    I dunno, I think we’re all too quick to pull the trigger. Patience helps, and it can give the player confidence to know his team believes in him and doesn’t jerk him around.

    As Hannah points out, that’s an abyssmal BABIP and that WILL change. Gardner’s fast, for one thing, and fast guys always have higher BABIP. Additionally, it’s not like all of his hits have been weak. I can remember a number of well hit balls that were right at guys, and even a few spectacular catches against him.

    I agree, he’s in a slump and he’s got to stop watching Strike Three. That said, he’ll come around. He’s a pro with an excellent eye, and pretty good bat control. Give him a little more time.

    • thumper

      I agree with you, but I’d just like to point out that just because his babip is low doesn’t necessarily mean he’s unlucky, especially with hitters. Yes, there is a large component of “luck” in babip, but it means so much more than just “luck.”

      Fast guys tend to generally have higher babip because they can turn a few of those routine grounders into hits due to their speed. On the opposite spectrum, hitting weak grounders (no matter where they go) will lead to a lower babip because they are easily fielded. example -> see jeter, derek

  • Chris0313

    Outside of the first half of last season, when has Gardner ever been good?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Is a .337 wOBA and a 100 wRC+ with a +9.3 UZR for a total of 2.1 fWAR good? Because that’s what he did in 2009.

      Your question is a bit of a tautology, though. You’re asking “Outside of the time he was good, when has he ever been good?”

      • http://twitter.com/steveh_mandaura Steve H

        On plays where Alex Rodriguez makes outs, he really sucks.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    My thoughts on Gardner are mixed at best. He takes too long to steal when he does get on first base. His bunting is horrid. So, lead off guy who can’t get it done, wrong. Is the sample side small yes but the Yankees have no tolerance for gaining maturity either you have or don’t. With the pitching suspect except for CC. The offense and D cannot lack for production.

    Solution, bat him ninth against any and all righties and some lefties to give Granderson a rest. Instruct him to hit every fastball that is in the strike zone. He is not a hitter who can pick and choose. Jeter can’t let fastballs go by. He’s wired to be aggressive. Gardner hurts this approach. Swisher is the perfect two hitter with some power.

  • ZZ

    “Gardner’s must have looked something like, ‘throw strikes.’ We’ll do what we can with the number we have and take the results with a grain of salt.”

    Gardner walked more frequently in the second half than the first so this probably doesn’t hold weight.

    Gardner is adjusting to a new swing and struggling to find his timing with it. Hence him being late on so many fastballs. In the long run this swing will serve him extremely well as he will more easily be able to drive the ball. For now you just have to live through it and be patient.

    Perhaps people should stop trying to take the temperature on the team and every player every day. We are 12 games in for christ sakes.

    • murakami

      Perhaps people who have been shoving the Glory of Gardner down everyone’s throat with love besotted cries and SSS’s should just accept he’s not the second coming of Ichiro.

      Put him at No. 9 and let him work through it there.

  • Matt

    He is a 4th outfielder and always has been and will be, especially in the AL. This is the only objective reading of his abilities. He is a reserve OF/AAAA type of player.

    Glad to see Arod running hard as always last night.

    • Esteban

      Was he a 4th outfielder last year?

  • gargoyle

    He’s not a very good baseball player.

    Just because fangraphs pulled some phony defensive metric out it’s ass stating that Gardner was the best defensive OFer in baseball – hence overstating his value – it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a spare part.

    • murakami

      Defensively, you’re so money here. The truth about his fielding being limited can been seen clearly when he switches from left to center. He’s really good in left field, because he can run down the LFC gap well and his arm isn’t the problem in left it is in center.

      In center, he takes circuitous routes to the ball nearly every time one is hit over his head. Just doesn’t get a good jump at all. If they tried to play him shallow like they have granderson, he’d just get killed on backflight.

      However, he can function well as the ninth hitter on the team. He’s not getting focused on there as much as a leadoff hitter does and hopefully would be more aggressive there and not giving himself some mandate that he must walk (for so it seems). If he could learn to bunt and continue the positive step he took with hitting balls on the outside corner the other way, he’d be fine as this current lineup’s left fielder.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Even if he’s not the best defensive OF in baseball, he’s at least a very good defensive outfielder, wouldn’t you say? I think both Gardner supporters and detractors should be able to agree on that.

      And offensively, with all of his ups and downs so far, he’s got a career offensive line of .262/.353/.361 with a .336 wOBA, a 104 wRC+, and a 9.8 wRAA in just over a thousand plate appearances.

      All of those numbers say he’s slightly above average offensively.

      I don’t see how “slightly above average offensively” and “one of the better defensive players at his position” equates to “not a good baseball player”. He’s not a spare part; he’s above average on both sides of the ball. Spare parts are guys who either can’t hit or can’t field. Gardner can do a little of both.

      I won’t say he’s elite and can’t be upgraded, but upgrading him isn’t really a dire need at the moment, IMO. We should be focusing our efforts on acquiring more good starting pitcher options, not focusing our efforts on upgrading an LF position where we’re getting fairly decent production on both sides of the ball.

      • gargoyle

        He’s a good defender and they can win with him in LF but I think a certain segment of fans had unrealistic expectations of his performance and value based on the Fangraphs nonsense. Some fans have this desire to be able to look at one neat little number that will quantify a player’s performance and value – and it just doesn’t exist.

        Gardner’s performance doesn’t surprise or alarm me. He’s doing pretty much what I thought he’d do. It’s always been my assumption that Jeter will end up being the leadoff guy and I still believe (irationally?) that Jeter can perform close to his career levels in terms of OBP. I guess that’s part of being a fan – hoping that your favorites will play well.

        Gardner and where he bats isn’t the problem. Finding a starter beyond CC who has a remote chance of going 7 innings – that’s the problem. The Red Sox are gonna get hot soon.

        • murakami

          Dude, the Red Sox aren’t getting “hot” enough to make up the difference. They have bigger pitching problems than we do. Agree though that we have to cohere our rotation.

          • gargoyle

            They can’t make up a 5 game difference?

            • murakami

              Five games is not that small a deficit when you can count on only one starter. Lester can only pitch every five days. Buccholz is guaranteed nothing and is walking guys again, Lackey is just god awful and Beckett is a back spasm away from being batting practice. Dice-K can’t make it to the fifth inning.

              How are they getting through all that to catch us? We’re going to win more games than they will and they’ve already spotted us a five game lead.

              • gargoyle

                Beckett or Buchholz are both better than anyone the Yankees have not named Sabathia. How’s that for illiteration?

                • murakami

                  Josh Beckett has had one productive half season in three years. There’s a reason for that – he’s got chronic back trouble.

                  Buccholz walked five IIRC in his last outing and he doesn’t strike anyone out.

                  I’ll take AJ throwing his changeup over both those guys seven days a week. I’ll take Unsteady Freddy/Chubs Colon & Nova over Lackey/Matsuzaka, both of whom are putrid.

      • LarryM.,Fl.

        I agree with your comments. He’s fine in left batting ninth, leave him alone until someone falls in your lap. The pitching is the issue if this team makes the playoffs and WS

      • Matt

        .336 wOBA, a 104 wRC+, and a 9.8 wRAA

        What are you talking about? Stats guy are funny with all their made up numbers. I believe it was Joe Torre himself that had to tell Brian Cashman ‘remember Brian, there is a heartbeat to this game’.
        Its like who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? You watch someone play day in and day out, and come to a conclusion they arent that good, then the stats guys come in and go ‘no no, they really are, as evidenced by my made up statistics’.

      • Matt

        .336 wOBA, a 104 wRC+, and a 9.8 wRAA

        Stats guys are funny with all their made up numbers. It was Torre himself who had to tell Cashman ‘remember Brian, there is a heartbeat to this game’.

        Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? Its like you watch someone day in and day out and conclude they arent that good. Then the stats guys come in and go ‘no no, they really are, and I have made up statistics that prove it’.

        And you just go…nooooo they arent.

        • bexy on another computer

          First Name Only Male Handle Rule!

          Also if you watched day in and day out last year I don’t know how you can say he wasn’t good and never has been.

  • nsalem

    ’98 Yankees and ’01 Mariner’s the winningest teams of this generation managed well with left fielders that played to Gardner’s level. This should not be an issue unless you believe that the Yankee’s should be comprised of a starting line-up off all stars. Gardner will suffice. This teams only issue if healthy will be finding starting pitchers give us quality starts. The rest is relatively inconsequential.

  • Ryan

    “Gardner appears to be trying to put a hole in the Yankees lineup right at the top”

    TRYING to? Are you serious?

  • Hurling Darvish

    Batting Brett ninth will only make a difference in the first inning, plus he’ll probably get one less at bat per game. It may positively affect his mental attitude, waking him up a bit, as he has been very passive as noted by everybody. I’m for moving Gardner to the bottom, for now. His defense should keep him in the lineup, but I also believe that he should be pinch hit for in key situations, at least until he starts being more productive.

    I remember way back when Bernie Williams was moved to ninth spot; he was told that the next spot for him would be bench. It worked for Bernie.

    • nsalem

      One might think Bernie had a little more game. That’s like comparing Apples and Martians.

    • murakami

      Yeah I err am not getting the Bernie comparison, either. Brett Gardner achieves a moral victory when he lines out to an OF. Bernie was a switch hitter who hit for average and with power. Huh??

  • Tony S

    9- Gardener
    1- Jeter
    2- Swisher

    • YanksFan77

      Agree, with the Yanks deep lineup, they need someone in the 2 hole who can drive in runs.

      Or, if Granderson keeps hitting, I wouldn’t mind seeing him leadoff.

  • Dalelama

    I remember when I was just about the only one on this site who could see all you had to do to get Gardner out was throw him a strike…LOL

    • murakami

      Dude, I was that guy on two other sites. The worship of this guy is just thick, to the point where people lie about his age (don’t know how many times I heard ‘he’s only 23’ ‘he’s only 24′! JFTR, he’ll be 28 in August. He’s like a faster, lesser version of what’s predicted for Heathcott, but you hear people talk and it’s like he HAS the upside of a Heathcott (who also appears to run bad routes, BTW).

      I still think the Yankees’ lineup can accommodate a player of his particular skill though as long as he’s at the bottom of the lineup. If he hits his way into leading off, that would be okay too. I just doubt it. I don’t see Gardner as being a guy I’d want to lead off in the postseason either, when the pitching gets tougher. Even so, it’s early yet and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

  • Dalelama

    I just hope he bounces back to get his trade value back up.