What Went As Expected: Brett Gardner

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(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Two years ago, Brett Gardner started the season as the everyday center fielder but quickly lost the job to Melky Cabrera. Last year, he was handed the every day left field job out of Spring Training and ran with it, posting a .383 OBP and a .358 wOBA that was about 20% better than the league average. Add in his brilliant defense, and the Yankees had themselves a cheap young outfielder that brought the element of speed to the Bronx.

Fresh off offseason wrist surgery (thank a Clayton Kershaw fastball for that), Gardner started the season with a new responsibility. Instead of toiling away at the bottom of the lineup, the Yankees decided to take advantage of his on-base skills and penciled Brett into the leadoff spot on Opening Day. He went 0-for-2 with a pair of sac bunts (grrr) that day, but had a pair of hits in the second game of the season. Although he went 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, and a pair of walks against the Red Sox on April 8th, the Yankees dropped Gardner back down to ninth after his batting line sat at .146/.222/.220 through the first 13 games of the season.

Hitting coach Kevin Long detected a mechanic flaw with Gardner’s lower half, and after some adjustments, the left fielder went on a prolonged tear. It all started with a double and a homer against the Orioles on April 23rd, then three days later came another long ball. Two days after that, another homer. Brett just didn’t stop hitting for three months after that. From that April 23rd game through July 25th, a span of 83 team games and exactly 300 plate appearances, he hit .317/.397/.452 with 28 steals in 35 attempts. That raised his season batting line to .288/.367/.407.

A season-ending slump (.175/.281/.246 in his final 146 plate appearances) dragged Gardner’s overall batting line down to .259/.345/.369, a .330 wOBA that was just north of the .316 big league average. He led the American League with 49 steals, a dozen behind Michael Bourn for the MLB lead. From June 19th through August 10th, he went a perfect 22-for-22 in stolen base attempts. Gardner made up for a crappy finish to the season by being one of the team’s very best hitters in the playoffs, reaching base eight times (seven hits and a walk) in the five games against the Tigers. His two-out, two-strike, two-run double off Justin Verlander in the seventh inning of Game Three tied the game at four and was one of the Yankees’ biggest hits of the postseason.

Between slightly better than league average offense and all-world defense, Gardner was worth 5.1 fWAR and 4.4 bWAR this year. Depending on your choice of metric, he was either the 10th or 15th best outfielder in baseball and either the 26th or 35th best player in baseball overall, respectively. I don’t think anyone was expecting Gardner to be a dynamic offensive player this season, all he had to do was to get on-base, swipe some bags, and catch everything hit in his time zone. He delivered just that, even if he’s proving to be one streaky player.

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  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Gardner can be even better if he learns to bunt better and especially drag bunt better ( Repeat comment). Too bad the old Scooter and Mickey are not around to teach him those two aspects of the game. With this Gardner could add 30-40 points to his BA and maybe 20-25 to his OBP.

  • Heisenberg

    I’m not sure it’s fair to categorize Brett Gardner’s 5.1 fWAR / 4.4 bWAR under “as expected”. Sure, his skill set (speed, OBP relatively high compared to BA, solid defense) played out as expected, but many people doubted his WAR could approach the 4+ win mark. There were definite peaks and valleys (like with every player) but over a season, he’s proven pretty damn consistent with regards to value.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    gold glove love?

    • http://twitter.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

      He didn’t hit enough to get the gold glove.

      • Mike K

        He might get enough support. It’s not like all glove fielders never win the award, they just have to be obviously an elite defender. Which I think Brett is, so…he’s got a shot.

        • Sarah

          Everything I’ve read seems to indicate he has a real shot. I think the voters are managers of all the teams? Fingers crossed this is his year.

  • whitey

    the JET!!

  • well you know

    Gardner regressed from 106 OPS+ in 2010 to 89 OPS+ in 2011. Most of his fans were predicting the opposite with the 2010 wrist injury behind him. As for the streaks, the large sample is who you are. The streaks are mostly the flux of BABIP.

    I appeciated Gardner’s fielding but the bottom line is he wasn’t going to be on the field against a lefty starter in the playoffs. That tells you right there that the Yankees don’t really buy the defensive WAR metric, because, taken at face value, it would overwhelm his poor hitting.

    I expect the Yankees will plan to platoon him again in 2012. So he will cost millions in arbitration plus the additional cost of his platoon partner. Not really such a bargain anymore.

    The photo in the post is of Gardner finishing up a home run swing (against Toronto at YS). I remember the photo because the full length shows both his feet off the ground. I don’t know anybody else who looks like that on a follow through and I have to believe it’s not a good thing. He does a lot with what he has but will always be limited.

    • roadrider

      Yeah, I’m with you on this. I appreciate what Gardner does but he is very limited as a hitter and too prone to strikeouts and long slumps for a guy whose strength is supposed to be OBP. There has been some massive goal-post shifting by Gardner’s supporters regarding his value. Last year is was mostly about his offense, which was fueled by an unsustainable OBP and walk rate. Now it’s all about his defense outweighing his offensive limitations.

      I like Gardner and I think he’s an asset to the Yankees but all of this talk about him being a star and an elite player is a bit hard to take seriously.

      • Sarah

        Too prone to strikeouts? He’s #60 out of 145 on Fangraphs with a 15.8% K rate this year, behind Jeter and Cano. What, you want a 10% K rate? A 5% K?


        Also, he’s pesky.

        • roadrider

          I think a nearly 16% strikeout rate (or 96 K/600 AB – relevant for a guy who will probably be a lead off hitter) is too high for a guy with so little extra base power. Gardner needs to put the ball in play to be effective. He also had an infield fly rate of > 20% (http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/2011/10/story-of-a-season-brett-gardner-35667) which means that nearly 40% of his at bats resulted in either strikeouts or infield pop ups. I don’t think “peskiness” makes up for that.

          • roadrider

            Oops – that infield fly rate was only against lefties. The overall number is 19.6%. Still the third highest rate in MLB.

      • Heisenberg

        Swinging Strike %: 3%

        Walk rate was 10.2% There’s nothing unsustainable about that.

        Please reference facts based on evidence before declaring judgments on performance and value.

        4-5 win OFer at his salary and future projected compensation, I’ll take that everyday and twice on Sunday.

        • well you know

          The reference to the unsustainable walk rate is to his walk rate in 2010, which was not in fact sustained in 2011 and was a big reason his OBP dropped from .380-ish to .340-ish.

          • roadrider

            Thank you.

        • roadrider

          Hey Heisenberg – I dig your uncertainty principle but you are a sloppy reader aren’t you?

          Gardner’s BB rate in 2010: 13.9% His 2011 rate: 10.2% (http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=9927&position=OF). If his walk rate of 2010 (which is what I clearly referred to in my post) was sustainable then why didn’t he sustain it? It declined by nearly 4%!

          Sorry but I don’t buy Gardner as a 4-5 win player. Those numbers are hugely influenced in Gardner’s case by shaky defensive metrics like UZR and whatever BR uses.

          And, I did say that I liked Gardner and considered him an asset to the team. But then, you don’t really read do you?

          • Sarah

            Tell us who you think should play LF and generate the same value (especially for the cost). We’re all ears.

  • Sarah

    Found this on ESPN

    “Even if Swisher returns, however, GM Brian Cashman could make an attempt to push Brett Gardner to the fourth outfielder role by adding an everyday left fielder. This could leave the door open for an addition such as Beltran, Grady Sizemore or Michael Cuddyer.”

    Yeah this makes perfect sense. Add an injury prone older guy who costs a lot more and adds nothing on defense while reducing a bargain player who adds a ton of value to a fourth OF.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Certainly hoping this is just more garbage from ESPN. While I don’t think Gardner is everything that could be had in an outfielder, given his skill set and cost, I can’t think of a more valuable outfielder, even if given a significant salary increase. His fielding and speed are worth quite a bit (as seen by his b & fWAR numbers).

      • Sarah

        And by a significant salary increase, he makes maybe $3M next year? Not to sniff at that, but on this team, that’s pocket change.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Absolutely agree. Who would add more “value”? Looking at salary vs performance, I’m drawing a blank.

    • Yada Yada Yadier Molina

      It’s a great idea. Gardner would be a perfect rover outfielder like in softball.

      That’s what they mean, right? Otherwise, putting his glove on the bench makes absolutely no sense.

      God, I hate ESPN sometimes.