The Great Gardner

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I’ve been following the minor leagues for quite some time now, and I’ve been wrong about a lot of players, in both a good way and bad way. I was wrong about Brett Gardner. I saw a guy with little power and thought he’d have trouble handling big league fastballs. I didn’t think the plate discipline he showed in the minors would translate to the show because pitchers had no reason not to challenge him. I undervalued his defense and baserunning. I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong about a prospect coming up.

The Yankees entrusted Gardner will a full-time job at the start of last season, 257 team games and nearly 900 plate appearances ago (892 to be exact). During that time he’s hit .280/.376/.394 with 73 stolen bases in 92 chances (78.5% success rate). His .359 wOBA since the start of 2010 is sixth best among big league left fielders, his OBP third best. He’s generated 27.0 runs with his bat in that time, another 6.7 with his legs. That 33.7 run offensive contribution is bested only by Josh Hamilton, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, and Carlos Gonzalez. Not Carl Crawford, not Martin Prado, not Alfonso Soriano, not anyone else handling left field full-time. Only 13 outfielders total, regardless of field, have topped that production.

The last week has been the best offensive stretch of Gardner’s career; he’s reached base 18 times in seven games since the All-Star break. He has 14 hits in 25 at-bats plus four walks. That’s a .560 batting average and .621 OBP in the seven games. He’s struck out just twice during that time, in part because his 2.9% swing and miss rate since the start of last year is the fourth lowest in baseball. I also underrated his ability to get the bat on the ball. Only six players have seen more than the 4.25 pitches Gardner sees in an average plate appearance this year. I also underrated his ability to work the count.

Then there’s the defense. Oh the defense. UZR doesn’t just rate Gardner as baseball’s best defensive player since the start of last season, he’s lapped the field. The system has him saving 41.6 runs with the glove in that time, well ahead of second place Adrian Beltre and his 20.6 runs saved. If you prefer John Dewan’s +/- system, or DRS, then Gardner is baseball’s third best defensive player (29 runs saved) since the start of 2010 behind Brendan Ryan (36) and Troy Tulowitzki (33). Total Zone has him at 21 runs saved, behind only Jay Bruce, Juan Pierre, and Jose Lopez (all 22). The best thing about Gardner’s defense is that I don’t even need to use numbers, it’s easy to see how he dominates the defensive side of the game just by watching. If a ball gets by him, you know the other team has earned it.

It’s been more than a month since Gardner has been caught stealing a base, and he’s swiped seven bags in the last five days. No AL player has more than his 30 steals this season, and only three players (Michael Bourn, Rajai Davis, and Pierre) have more than his 77 steals since the start of last season. It’s been a long time since the Yankees had this kind of player on their roster, a dynamic leadoff type that did everything but hit for power. A lot of people doubted Gardner’s ability to be an everyday player in this league, including yours truly, but our sample is larger than a year and a half now. Gardner isn’t just one of the best players on the Yankees, he’s one of the very best outfielders in baseball.

Grandy & Garcia get Yankees a win over Rays

This one had all the feel of Tuesday’s loss. The Yankees scored two runs early on a homerun, didn’t add to the lead, then all of a sudden some defensive miscues in the seventh made it look like the lead was in jeopardy. They escaped this jam and did end up tacking on a few runs late, leading to a relatively uneventful 4-0 win.

Everyone's watching it go out.

Curtis Granderson Is Better Than You

The Grandyman has been grand all season, but you know what? It had been a while since he took a lefty deep. A month and a half in fact, which I chronicled in this post last week. Granderson put an end to that homerless drought in the very first inning, clobbering a 1-2 hanging slider from David Price into the right field seats for a two-run shot. Derek Jeter had led the game off with a single one batter earlier. Those were ultimately all the runs the Yankees would need thanks in part to Curtis’ running catch that ended the fifth. Tampa had men on second and third at the time, and Evan Longoria really put a charge into the ball. Granderson went back on caught it on the run, crashing into the wall shortly after the catch. The wall survived.

It was just another game in the life of the Yankees’ best player, who’s been hitting homers and making spectacular grabs all season long. That was his tenth homer off a lefty this season, the most in baseball and twice as many as any other left-handed batter in the AL. Two of those homers have come off Price, who has given up just four homers to lefties in his career (the other two came from Chase Utley and Jacoby Ellsbury). Granderson hit 11 homers off lefties from 2008-2010 combined. Think about that.

It’s worth noting that Curtis has taken a bit of a beating during the last two games; he fouled a ball off his leg on Tuesday then in this game he a) fouled another ball off his leg, b) crashed into the outfield wall making that catch, and c) took a Price fastball to the back, right on the 4 in 14. Poor guy probably sat in an ice bath for an hour after the game. Don’t be surprised if he gets the series finale off, they’ve played a ton of games on turf lately and he’s got to be sore.

Ugly hacks all night.

Freddy Sez: No Sweat!

One day towards the end of the season we’ll have a Freddy Garcia Appreciation Thread, and it will be glorious. The offseason afterthought tossed up yet another quality start, his 12th in 17 starts. He put two men on base in the first, third, fifth, and seventh innings, but wiggled out of the jam each time (he did get some help in the seventh, but more on that in a bit). Garcia struck out seven and walked zero in 6.2 IP, even getting 13 swings and misses (out of 92 pitches). That’s his third highest total of the season. Eight hits and three ground outs to ten air outs is kinda scary, but I’ve stopped caring about the process with Freddy (and Bartolo Colon, to an extent). I really don’t care how he does it anymore, he’s been defying the odds all season and has done more than anyone expected. Bravo, Freddy. Keep fighting the good fight.

Eduardo Scissorhands

No man's land.

Eduardo Nunez‘s evil twin made an appearance in this game. Sean Rodriguez started the seventh inning off by laying down a bunt that appeared to be heading foul, and it did. Except Nunez ran right by the ball and didn’t bother to pick it up in foul territory. The ball kept rolling and eventually bumped into third base, which means it’s a fair ball. A rookie mistake, yes. But good grief. Nunez also bobbled the ground ball that would have been the third out of the inning, putting the tying run on base. He bobbled the ball literally three times on the same play. Neither play came back to hurt them, but sheesh. The kid is a rolling blooper reel on defense.

HowEVA, let’s give Nunez some props for driving in a pair of big insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Nick Swisher and Russell Martin both walked after a Robinson Cano ground out, then moved over on Chris Dickerson‘s ground out. Cesar Ramos fell behind Nunez 3-0, and the Yankees’ temporary third baseman did what he was supposed to do and took two pitches. Unfortunately both were strikes. The 3-2 fastball caught a little too much of the plate, and Nunez fisted it out to shallow right, a two RBI bloop. T’was a fine piece of hitting to cap off the night.

Leftovers

The Yankees have been running all over the recently called up Robinson Chirinos. They’re 11-for-12 in stolen base attempts in the first three games of the series, and frankly not too many of them were particularly close plays. Jeter and Brett Gardner each swiped a base in this game while Nunez stole two. Granderson got thrown out though. Should probably also mention that Chirinos is the third Ray to make his big league debut in this series. Alex Torres (Monday’s losing pitcher) and Dane De La Rosa (threw part of the eighth and part of the ninth in this game) are the others.

Call me an optimist, but it looks like Martin and Mark Teixeira have been making better contact of late, no? The Russtache did not have a hit in this game but he drove a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat (just like his last at-bat in Tuesday’s game) and lined another pitch to third later on. Teixeira doubled to right, the second time he’s done that in as many games. He has three hits in his last seven plate appearances, two of which are the doubles. Small sample flukes, or a positive sign? Let’s hope for the best.

Mr. Gardner reached base two more times, once on an infield single that involved Price dodging a broken bat, and once on a walk. Unfortunately Jeter ended the inning as the next batter both times, once with a double play. Swisher had two hits and a walk as well, and the only Yankee not to reach base was Cano. He had one seriously ugly at-bat against Price, swinging at three straight fastballs at eye-level. He would have kept swinging at that pitch if they gave him ten strikes.

The bullpen was perfect, Boone Logan relieved Garcia and struck out Casey Kotchman to end that seventh inning jam, then David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each followed with two strikeout perfect inning. Those three needed just 35 pitches to record seven outs, which is pretty impressive considering all the whiffs. Robertson, by the way, mowed right through Longoria, Matt Joyce, and B.J. Upton on nothing but fastballs. Not a single curve or changeup. He’s just showing off now. Joyce, by the way, struck out in all four at-bats.

Last, but certainly not least, congrats to Hideki Matsui. He hit his 168th big league homerun on Wednesday night, which gives him 500 for his career between Japan and MLB. A hundred and forty of those dingers came in pinstripes. Here’s the video.

WPA Graph, Box Score & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the nerdy stuff, and ESPN the up-to-the-minute standings.

Up Next

One more game at the Trop, then it’s back to the Bronx. CC Sabathia will give it a go against Jamie Shields on Thursday night. The Yankees have already clinched a split of the four-game set, but it’s time to get greedy and win the series.

Chavez helps Tampa to big win in rehab game

Dellin Betances was today’s Prospect of the Day over at Minor League Ball, so check that out. Ryan Flannery and Josh Schmidt were promoted to Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, respectively.

High-A Tampa (10-3 win over Jupiter)
Eric Chavez, DH: 4 for 5, 2 R – he was pinch-run for after singling in the seventh, though that was probably by design since he got his five at-bats in … the good news is that he circled the bases twice, so the foot’s doing okay
Abe Almonte, CF: 0 for 5, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Ronnier Mustelier, 2B-LF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI – I really, really wish I could find more info on him … he’s an older guy (27 in August), but I wonder if he’s a legit righty hitting outfield option for next year or even 2013
Cody Johnson, LF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HBP – he got hit by a pitch, but stayed in the game to play another half inning in the field … whatever got hit probably started to swell
Emerson Landoni, PH-2B-SS: 0 for 2, 1 K
Rob Segedin, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB – 11 for his last 28 (.393)
Luke Murton, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 BB
Mitch Abeita, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – doesn’t play often, but always seems to hit when he does
Neil Medchill, RF: 3 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB – third homer in his last ten games
Kelvin Castro, SS: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – I have no idea whey he was pulled in the sixth
Hector Rabago, PH-2B: 1 for 2, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Jose Quintana, LHP: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 6-5 GB/FB – picked a runner off first … any lefty that puts up big numbers (62-20 K/BB in 60 IP) is worth keeping an eye on, and he’s only 22
Michael Solbach, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-1 GB/FB – gave up two homers, so that’s eight in 54.2 IP this year (1.32 HR/9)

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Injury Updates: Nova, Soriano, Chavez

Some news on the walking wounded …

  • Ivan Nova has been placed on the seven-day disabled list in Triple-A, but Joe Girardi said before tonight’s game that whatever tests were performed on him today came back negative. Apparently he got hit by a line drive in his foot in his first Triple-A start and just felt some pain in the spot yesterday. The Yankees expect him to be ready in time for next Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles.
  • Rafael Soriano ran his fastball up to 91-93 mph in last night’s rehab appearance, which is very good for his first game action in two months. He’ll make another rehab appearance on Thursday.
  • Eric Chavez had four hits in five at-bats as the DH in his rehab game this afternoon, but the important thing is that he scored two runs and ran the bases without any soreness in his foot. He will play third base in a rehab game on Thursday, his first time playing the field since suffering his injury.

Game 95: Freddy’s Turn

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bartolo Colon rebounded from a pair of subpar starts last night, striking out a season-high nine in 6.1 IP. There’s always going to be a little bit of concern each time he starts, but last night’s effort let us sleep just a little easier because Bart showed that the clock had not yet struck midnight. Now it’s Freddy Garcia‘s turn to do the same after getting hit around by the Blue Jays last week. I really don’t know if there’s one specific thing to look for tonight, at least with Bartolo you could look to see if he had his velocity or was throwing an inordinate number of sliders. With Freddy … I guess just look to see if he’s leaving pitches up? Everything’s going to be off the plate, everything’s going to be soft, that’s just the way he operates. Anyway, here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, DH
Russell Martin, C
Andruw Jones, RF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B – perfect day to start Brandon Laird, but alas
Brett Gardner, LF

Freddy Garcia, SP

Tonight’s game can be seen on YES when it starts a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy.