Yanks about to shore up offense, defense with Gardner

Top 10 starting pitchers against the Yankees by ERA since 2009
Chavez awaits MLB evaluation before being activated
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Update: And, of course, something has gone awry. According to Marc Carig Gardner is headed for an MRI. He “felt soreness and had swelling in his elbow.” Sigh.

By no means is Brett Gardner a superstar. With his physical skills it’s nearly impossible for him to reach that status. Yet he has played an important role for the Yankees in the last two-plus seasons. By providing speed on the base paths and superb defense in a spacious Yankee Stadium left field, he has provided plenty of value. The Yankees stand to improve plenty when he returns to action, presumably tonight.

In the Yankees’ 30 games to date they’ve trotted out six different left fielders. None has been particularly close to Gardner in terms of defensive value, and Raul Ibanez, who has started eight game in left, is on the polar opposite end of the defensive spectrum. Adding Gardner back into that mix will help the Yankees pitchers greatly. There will be no more Ibanez dives, which occur in slow motion even though the ball is moving in real time. That substitution alone will save substantial runs. Even over the other, less terrible defenders, Gardner is worth a few runs every week.

On the offensive side of the ball the Yanks will also benefit with Gardner’s return. Yankee left fielders have hit .216/.304/.343; that .647 OPS ranks 21st in baseball. Gardner, for his career, has hit .265/.355/.368. That .723 OPS would rank 11th in the majors. It’s hard to believe that Gardner, an atypical left fielder in terms of offensive prowess, would provide the Yankees with an upgrade. Yet that is pretty clearly the case. That doesn’t even take into account Gardner’s value on the base paths. Last year Yankees’ left fielders stole 44 bases, six more than any other team. This year they have just two, which is tied for 14th place.

While Gardner’s skill set seems odd for his position, he’s not alone as a defensive-minded left fielder with on-base skills and speed. The Rays have a similar player in Desmond Jennings, who, like Gardner, figures to return from injury tonight. For his career, which is quite a bit shorter than Gardner’s, Jennings has hit .258/.346/.429. He has a bit more power, but he’s not going to win a Silver Slugger any time soon. At the same time, he has plenty of speed; his eight stolen bases to date lead the majors. Also like Gardner, Jennings has the ability to play center field, but is blocked by an incumbent.

Getting Gardner back in the Yankees’ lineup will provide many benefits, both the run-scoring and to the defense. It might be difficult to fathom Gardner being such an important piece of the high-powered Yankees’ offense. Yet his speed and on-base skills provide plenty of value. At the same time, his defense in left is perhaps best in the league. His ability to run down difficult fly balls saves outs, which saves pitchers some labor. Given his fill-ins, we should all be glad to see No. 11 once again penciled into the lineup.

Update by Mike: Just as a heads up, Gardner is not listed as an available player on tonight’s lineup card, indicating that he has not been activated off the DL just yet. He did not play for Triple-A Empire State this afternoon and the team could still make a move before first pitch.

Top 10 starting pitchers against the Yankees by ERA since 2009
Chavez awaits MLB evaluation before being activated
  • Pat D

    So out of curiosity I go to LoHud and I see that the lineup for tonight doesn’t include Gardner and they say that he’s not, as of now, listed as available for today.

    Are they really going to do something stupid and wait for a new series to start before activating him?

    • Sarah

      Yep. Can just about guarantee it’s because Joe wants to get Nunez in the lineup, so he can DH one of the regulars, and therefore Jones has to play LF.

      Ignore the fact that Tex is sick as hell, and should probably get a few days off, which would very easily allow Jones and Gardner to play.

      • Sarah

        I wish I was right. A setback is worse. :-(

  • Perry

    I always get the sense you guys don’t like Gardner that much. Every post about him includes something like “by no means is he great” or “by no means is he a superstar.”

    The guy put up 6 WAR two years ago, 5 last year, and was off to a hot start this year. Okay, he isn’t a “superstar” by Cabrera/Kemp standards. Very few are. But Gardner is one of the very best in the game. Can he keep it up once he loses a step? Who knows and who cares. But right now I’d be very confident saying he is one of the best 30-40 players in the game, which is freaking good.

    • Pat D

      One of the best 30-40 players in the game? No way.

      • Ted Nelson

        He was 13th among position players in fWAR 2010-11.

        Even in terms of just pure hitting, his wOBA was 53rd among qualifiers for that two year period. That’s ignoring his speed and defense entirely, which are certainly elite no matter how you measure them.

        • Need Pitching

          wOBA includes SB, so that’s not exactly ignoring his speed entirely

          • Ted Nelson

            Good call.

        • Pat D

          WAR is not the be all end all stat. And I was including pitchers in my thought process.

          Now ESPN ranked him 141. That’s definitely too low, considering they had him behind guys like Jose Valverde, Clay Buchholz, Andrew Bailey, Mike Adams, and a bunch of other relievers and guys like Michael Morse.

          • Ted Nelson

            WAR is not the end all, be all… but I’ll take it over arbitrary guesses. It’s at least a systematic approach to quantify a players impact, and gets rid of the biases that cause people to discount Gardner’s production. 13th is really, really high.

            My point was not that he definitely is a top 30-40 player, though. It was that he’s definitely in the discussion. That it’s reasonable to feel he is.

    • Ted Nelson

      Does seem like a lot of things said about Gardner in general come with an asterisks or something. It’s not particularly surprising to me that he’ll improve their line-up. He’s a good hitter and an elite base stealer.

      • Pat D

        He’s still a little too inconsistent as a hitter for me. Hopefully he can pick back up where he started this year, keep the walk rate where it is and cut down on the strikeouts.

        • Ted Nelson

          Is that really a valid way to assess hitters? Their consistency to you?

          In terms of pure hitting, he was 53th in MLB 2010-11. And he’s an elite defender and baserunner on top of that.

          Where he was this season was a .384 wOBA… which would put him at 15th in MLB for 2010-11, ahead of Cano. I don’t think you’re really putting this into perspective. You don’t have to be a top 15 or ever 50 hitter in all of baseball to improve a line-up by coming back.

          • Pat D

            Jeez, I’m not going to get into a drawn-out discussion with you because I know where they lead.

            Please tell me where I said his coming back was not going to improve the lineup.

            • Ted Nelson

              The article that we’re discussing said it’s surprising he would improve the Yankees line-up.

              My point there was just that you seem to have really, really high standards. Guy has been the 53th best offensive player in baseball according to wOBA for 2010-11. If he picks up where he left off this season, he’d be a top 15 offensive player in baseball… the best offensive player on the Yankees probably.

              I am just seriously wondering what sort of context you’re looking at that you object to me simply calling the 53th best hitter in baseball the last two seasons a “good hitter.” You seem to be looking for a fight and determined to argue Gardner is not a good hitter.

              • Pat D

                You’re truly amazing. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but I’m not letting this go.

                First of all, do you have an issue saying “53rd” instead of “53th?” Just curious, really.

                I never objected to you calling Gardner a good hitter. All I ever said about him was that I wouldn’t consider him a top 30-40 player in the game. That was it. Other than that I said I wished he was more consistent, since he has been a streaky hitter at times over the last few years (last August he dropped 20 points in BA and OBP over two weeks and never got them back), and that he’d cut down on his strikeouts.

                I’m not looking for a fight. It seems that, as usual with the comments I see you make, that you are.

              • BK2ATL

                This is all subjective, and I respect that we all have our own opinions, but Brett Gardner in the potential “top 15 offensive player in baseball” discussion???

                C’mon, seriously??? You’re trying to lump the Yankees’ 9th hitter in the lineup with the likes of

                Adrian Gonzalez
                slumping Cano
                slumping Pujols
                slumping Jose Bautista
                Carlos Gonzalez
                et al???

                And that’s just off the top of my head. Even if he keeps it up, no way.

  • nsalem

    He was number 1 in P/PA in 2010 and number 7 in 2011 (when the Yankee’s had 4 in he top 11). Helping your offensive get to the oppositions bullpen faster, may be hard to quantify but quite possibly a powerful attribute.

    • Pat D

      That’s a good point. Just wish so many of those AB’s didn’t end in strikeouts, but, working the count is what this team needs to do.

      • nsalem

        I could be wrong but I don’t think it is possible to have one without the other. On a visual level those caught looking 3rd strikes seem really terrible and annoying. In my mind though a 6 or 7 caught looking strikeout does have more merits than many (but not all) forms of outs.

        • nsalem

          meant 6 or 7 pitch caught looking strikeot

        • Pat D

          You’re probably right.

  • Leg-End

    Activate him goddamn it, I just picked him up for nothing on my fantasy team.

    • jjyank

      He’s on my fantasy team too, can’t you just DL him and call someone else up? That’s what I did.

      • BK2ATL

        I took him out of DL status in anticipation of him getting activated. I’ll just keep him on the bench, until further notice.

        • jjyank

          I went for the wait-and-see approach. My drop candidates are Matt Joyce, Kelly Johnson, Logan Morrison, or a couple of low-tier closers. Might as well see if I can squeeze another save or two out of the closers and I didn’t want to lose the other guys quite yet.

          • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

            Drop LoMo, in my opinion. His appeal is illusory. I think his fantasy league ownership is severely boosted by his tweeting acumen.

            • jjyank

              Well I probably will, but I’m not dropping anybody as long as Gardner’s on the DL.

        • Leg-End

          Thats what I did too, back to the DL he goes but its a nice pickup for nothing, I mean my outfield is absolutely stacked anyway but I could do with a few more stolen bases.

  • Sarah

    And now we find out he’s had a setback. Boo hiss.

  • Ron Burgandy

    Swelling in the right elbow and he is going for an MRI.

  • RetroRob

    …or not.

  • #28 in 2012

    Joe gets the rest of the day off today…

  • http://www.forselfdefense.info Morgan