Gardner working to correct messy mechanics, cut down on strikeouts

Tanaka, Solarte lead Yankees to 5-3 win over Brewers in series opener
Yankees no longer shifting behind Hiroki Kuroda
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

As a team, the Yankees have one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. They came out of last night’s game with a 19.6% strikeout rate, below the 20.5% league average and the tenth lowest rate in the game. Guys like Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, and Yangervis Solarte have had little trouble putting the ball in play, and that’s five-ninths of the starting lineup right there.

And then there’s Brett Gardner. He has a career 18.2% strikeout rate and last season it was 20.9%, both of which are more or less league average when you consider baseball’s perpetually increasing strikeout rate. (MLB has set a new record high for strikeout rate in each of the last seven seasons.) This season as been different though. Gardner has a 24.4% strikeout rate, by far the highest of his career. His 6.1% swing-and-miss rate is also a career-high (but still below the 9.3% league average). He’s been piling up the whiffs in 2014.

Gardner isn’t oblivious to the strikeout issues he’s had these last few weeks and he’s working to correct them. He cites a mechanical flaw and says he isn’t planning any kind of major overhaul to his game. That would be a little silly at this point. From George King:

“I have been striking out too much,’’ said Gardner, who didn’t whiff Wednesday night against the Angels in Anaheim after fanning seven times in the previous four games. “My mechanics have been a little off, rushing the swing and swinging with my head moving. I have been swinging and missing more than I would like.’’

“I have to do a better job, but I don’t want to change my game. I have to be aggressive so when I get a pitch to hit, I put the ball in play and use my speed,’’ said Gardner, whose 31 Ks were tied for 22nd among AL hitters Thursday. “I felt better [Wednesday].’’

Even if you’ve never playing anything higher than Little League, you know that too much head movement during your swing is a recipe for swinging and missing. If you can’t see the ball properly, you’re not going to hit it. Gardner isn’t chasing more bad pitches or anything like that — 23.0% swing rate on pitches out of the zone, down from 23.6% last year — he’s just coming up empty when he does swing. The swing-and-miss punishment fits the head movement crime.

Gardner struck out 12 times in his first 40 plate appearances of the season (30%) and more recently he had a stretch with 11 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances (40.7%), which is just way too high, especially for a non-power hitter. He has gotten better as the season has progressed …

Brett Gardner strikeout rate

… but it’s clear there is still some work to be done. It’s not like Gardner isn’t hitting at all — both his AVG (.283) and OBP (.352) are better than last season (.273 and .344), he’s just hitting for zero power (.053 ISO) — he’s just struggling to put the ball in play. It’s actually kinda amazing he’s remained as productive as he has despite the high strikeout rate.

The most important thing is that Gardner isn’t chasing more pitches out of the zone. That would be a real big concern. Since his plate discipline seems to be fine and he’s identified a mechanical issue with his head, I think it’s only a matter of time before he snaps out of his swing-and-miss funk. It’s frustrating, I know it is, but as long as Gardner is getting on base, stealing bases (7-for-7 this year), and playing high-end defense, he remains a productive player for the Yankees and worthy of an everyday lineup spot.

Tanaka, Solarte lead Yankees to 5-3 win over Brewers in series opener
Yankees no longer shifting behind Hiroki Kuroda
  • Bobby

    Interesting. It felt to me like he’s been doing well at the plate so it’s nice to know there might be a little bump in his production coming. It’s fun watching him play really well.

  • Michael Pine Miquelon

    His strikeouts drive me crazy.

    • ALZ

      Soriano’s are much more aggravating.

      • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

        I have to completely agree with you here. Most of Gardy’s K’s (at least from what I’ve seen, maybe stats will correct me) have been strikes that he’s just swung through. Now, that’s definitely annoying in its own right, but not as annoying as Sori wildly hacking at pitches bouncing 3 feet in front and half a foot off the plate (at least in my opinion). The fact that Gardy’s AVG and OBP are a tad higher than last year at also make me care less about his K’s.

  • jjyank

    Nice analysis, Mike. If Gardner isn’t chasing pitches at an abnormal rate, there’s a good chance his strikeouts come down. Nobody wants to see high strikeout numbers from a no power guy, but at least Gardner has managed to stay productive despite them. Hopefully that production spikes when the strikeouts come down.

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

      I agree here too. Obligatory “it’s still early” noted, but the fact that he’s still hitting and walking slightly above last years numbers despite the increased strikeouts leads me to believe there might be a resultant production bump if he’s able to cut down on the K’s.

  • RetroRob

    Well, he does have a big head. Getting that puppy out of synch with the rest of the body could lead to catastrophic results!

    In all seriousness, I thought he was doing fine. In a lineup that has seen Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran and Alphonsio Soriano go cold for long stretches, or Brian McCann go cold so far for the season, Gardner was not someone I had noticed. So whatever changes he makes are fine, as long as he still hits .280 and gets on base at least 35% of the time.

    I’m guessing his pitches per plate appearance have dropped, too, if he’s swinging and missing more. One skill he had was an ability to seemingly foul off high strikes, time after rime, driving up pitch counts. It was a useful skill, even if he made an out.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner


  • RkyMtnYank

    I guess I never thought of Gardner as having mechanical issues, it was always a case of swinging at balls at letting strikes go by.

  • ALZ

    I also think that some people have been making too big of a deal of his looking 3rd strikes. Many of them very easily could have been walks, I’d rather him take the gamble on them than insist on swinging at what he probably can’t hit. Maybe he could improve on fouling borderline pitches off.