Gardner (finally) starting to establish himself as the everyday leadoff hitter

Sherman: Pineda threw in the low-90s during simulated game
2013 Draft: Michael Lorenzen
(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Brett Gardner isn’t a young player anymore. The soon-to-be 30-year-old outfielder has played in parts of six big league seasons now and outside of his injury-sabotaged 2012 campaign, he’s been an everyday player since 2010. The Yankees have given the speedster a number of opportunities to serve as their regular leadoff hitter, but he either hit his way towards the bottom of the order (2011) or got hurt (2012). Given the team’s expectations and the other players on the roster, he was going to have to rake right away to remain in the leadoff spot and that just didn’t happen.

Things are different this season, however. Derek Jeter‘s ankle injury caused his to miss Opening Day and his setback will keep him on the shelf through the All-Star break. Ichiro Suzuki didn’t hit a lick during the first three weeks of the season, so Joe Girardi really didn’t have another legitimate leadoff option on the roster. Gardner was given the leadoff spot almost by default, and after a slow first week he’s turned things around and proven to be an asset atop the lineup.

“Any time you get off to a slow start, you look to get it going. I felt like I swung the bat pretty well in Detroit, just didn’t have anything to show for it,” said Gardner to Mark Feinsand following the 4-for-5 day against the Indians that helped get him going in the right direction. His overall season line sits at an almost perfectly league average* .250/.322/.400 (99 wRC+) following a torrid .300/.368/.480 hot stretch since the start of that Cleveland series.

For the first time in his career, Gardner finally has a clear path to regular playing time as the team’s leadoff hitter. He’s been solid but there is definitely still some room for improvement, especially since he’s seeing a career-low number of pitches in the strike zone (52.3%) while swinging at a career-high number of pitches out of the zone (25.6%). Swing rates stabilize rather quickly (takes only 50 plate appearances), so this isn’t necessarily a sample size issue. Gardner has to get back to laying off pitches out of the zone like he has in the past. He’s also stolen just one base through 19 games, and that needs to change in a hurry. I know stolen bases are down around the league, but he has to run. It’s what he does.

Gardner is the only player on the Yankees who has played every inning of every game so far this season — Robinson Cano got the final two innings off during one of those blowout wins against the Indians — though earlier this week Girardi seemed to indicate his first day off could be coming soon. It won’t be more than a routine day off though, a “maintenance day” to use a hockey term. Gardner is playing (and hitting!) against both righties and lefties, and he’s finally starting to establish himself as the team’s everyday leadoff hitter after being unable to seize the job in recent years.

* Gardner is hitting .250/.322/.400 and non-pitchers are hitting .252/.320/.403 across MLB. You can’t get much closer than that.

Sherman: Pineda threw in the low-90s during simulated game
2013 Draft: Michael Lorenzen
  • Manny’s BanWagon

    It would be nice if his OBP could improve if he’s gonna be a lead off hitter.

    .322 while not Ichiro like atrocious still leaves something to be desired.

    • Jim Is Bored

      Always the positive one.

    • jim p

      2nd on the team in RBI’s at this moment.

  • Neil

    Until Gardner can consistently bunt well and steal a base as needed not after looking at 4 or 5 pitches then he is only a fair lead off hitter. Every time I see him bunt he does not fully commit to getting the bunt down he is always leaning to first. He doesn’t have to do that. He is fast enough to just get a good bunt down. I’m not sure what it will take for him to improve his base stealing. Is he just too concerned with getting thrown out?

    • Steve (different one)

      If he gets his OBP over .350, he will be a good lead off hitter regardless of whether or not he can bunt.

    • Mouse

      Agreed. Bunting it to where you want it to go better your odds of getting a hit than trying to get a step to first base faster.

      He’s also not running because of Cano batting behind him. Said so himself.

      I think that’s the wrong mindset but unfortunately that’s what is keeping him from running.

  • Neil

    If that’s why he’s not running that’s nuts. This team with this weaker lineup needs to be aggressive on the bases especially Gardner. I’d like to know what Girardi said about that Gardner comment. Stealing bases is a big reason why Gardner is in the lineup!

    • Steve (different one)

      It’s not nuts. Depending on the game state, stealing might take the bat out of Cano’s hands.

      You also don’t want to run yourself out of an inning when one of the best hitters in MLB is up.

      In the first inning, it shouldn’t stop him though.

  • ajra21

    it’s about time. he should have been our leadoff hitter for the past three years. this wasn’t his joe, it was joe’s for not giving him that chance as much as he should (nb. i’m a supporter of joe).

    • Steve (different one)

      He’s lead off 124 games. How is that not getting an opportunity?

  • Eddard

    I’d like to see Gardner be more aggressive on the base paths. I think once Youk returns he should be in that 2 hole. That splits up the lefties and puts a patient hitter behind Gardner. Nuney stole on the 1st pitch last night with a LHP on the mound. I think having the best hitter behind him in the lineup causes him to be more cautious.

    • Eddard


      There’s your lineup. It puts a patient hitter behind Gardner and satisfies Joe’s righty/lefty fetish.

      • FEED.ME.MORE!

        I’d switch Overbay and Ichiro (kind of a double leadoff), but all in all I agree with you.

        One thing though, is that putting Wells in the 2 hole (where he’d see more fastballs with Gardner on base) might lead to some quick-strike innings. Things to ponder.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I agree, and I’m going to go shoot myself now for agreeing with a lineup in which Frankie Cervelli bats sixth.

    • Neil

      I’d like to see Youk in the 2 hole as well. Cano should stay at 3.

      • greg

        Youk in the 2 hole is where i think hes going. Giradri has gone with guys who take pitches over speed in that spot ever since 2010

  • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

    I always really liked Gardner and it was fun to see him come up and defy expectations, being a rather underwhelming prospect. A real “homegrown” Yankee that everybody always talks about wanting. I think fans have always under-appreciated him a little bit; the dude isn’t an all star, but he’s a very solid every day player, and it’s hard to ask for much more than that.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      The sobering part of it all is that he’s not exactly young anymore and, if he begins to lose that speed in the next couple of years, there won’t be much left. We’ll love him, but there’s a good chance his Yankee career isn’t the longest.

      I do like it when a fairly unheralded prospect becomes a regular.

      • The Real Me

        That, and he’s whi … um, “gritty”.

      • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

        True. I’ll appreciate it while it lasts.


    I don’t want Robbie in the 2nd spot anymore. Put a bunter/contact hitter in the 2 hole (Jete woulda been perfect). Someone to hit the ball behind Gardner.

    All in all, I’m fine with Gardner’s performance to this point. I wish he struck out a little less, but he’s def picking it up.

  • Gardner

    Gardner is batting .250 with 1 SB and a opb of .322 Can someone tell me what’s he established? He WAR is 0.4 I think the Yankees could do what they normally do and that is dumpster dive and find something else.

    • Bob Buttons

      Check his career norms. Also he’s a great fielder, winning Fielding Bible awards (something related to d war, i don’t know)

    • Steve (different one)

      You realize that .4 WAR in 19 games is pretty good, right?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Curious choice of screen name.

    • OldYanksFan

      A few things.
      FanGraphs has him at 0.5 WAR. That extra 0.1 mean 25% higher

      Also, at BREF, he has a 0.4 oWAR and a 0.1 dWAR. Careerwise, Gritner get just a tad over 50% of his total War from dFense. So, considering Defensive Metrics, 20 games is a very SSS. So if Gritner had a 0.4 dWAR, he’ld be at 0.8 total, which is around a 0.6 WAR. 0.6 after 20 games is 4.8 WAR for the season.

      And we all know he started poorly. He will play better going forward, than his current numbers.

  • Grant

    I like Gardner’s makeup, but he isn’t our lead-off hitter for long term. We could use cost-controlled Jackson now with Granderson out the door. That trade is another topic. But all Gardner does is screw up batters when he tries to steal late. Run already Jack-Rabbit.

  • pounder

    Fourth outfielder at best.Trade bait.Girardi’s boy so he is probably here for as long as Joe can tread water.