Yankeemetrics: Nightmare at Fenway Park [Sept. 15-18]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Speechless
Just when you started to believe in this plucky, underdog team with a nothing-to-lose mentality and pinstripes on its uniforms … Thursday night happened.

The Yankees suffered their most devastating loss of the season, blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning — they were two strikes away from a win — and losing in truly heartbreaking fashion when Dellin Betances served up a walk-off home run to Hanley Ramirez.

In the long history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, this was just the third time that a Yankee pitcher coughed up a game-ending home run with the lead and one out to go.

The most recent game came on June 30, 1953 when Sammie White hit a two-run shot off Allie Reynolds in the bottom of the ninth to give Boston a 5-4 win; the first instance was August 7, 1935 when Joe Cronin took Johnny Broaca deep to turn a 5-3 Yankee advantage into a 6-5 loss.

The deflating defeat becomes even more depressing and soul-wrenching given that the Yankees also wasted an absolute gem by Masahiro Tanaka.

The right-hander added another chapter to his Cy Young resume with a stellar one-run, seven-inning performance against the league’s most potent lineup. It was his ninth start of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run allowed, a number that led all American League pitchers through Thursday’s slate.

The brilliant outing lowered his ERA to 2.97, pushing Tanaka past Chris Sale to the top of the AL leaderboard. If he can keep up this pace, he’d be the first Yankee to lead the league in ERA since Rudy May in 1980. And no Yankee has qualified for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) in 1997.

He dominated the Red Sox batters not with his typical nasty, swing-and-miss stuff, but rather with an aggressive, pitch-to-contact approach. He located his off-speed pitches at the knees and pounded the edges of the strike zone with his fastball, generating a personal-best 15 ground ball outs while failing to record a strikeout for the first time in his MLB career.

Tanaka’s streak of 73 straight games with at least one punchout to begin his major-league career was the second-longest by any Yankee, behind only Dave Righetti (88 games). He’s also the first Yankee to go at least seven innings without striking out a batter in a game since Andy Pettitte on April 21, 2009 vs. the A’s and the first to do it against the Red Sox since Tommy John on June 25, 1980.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Different story, same result
The Yankees took another beating from the Red Sox on Friday night, losing again but this time with much less drama and in more conventional fashion: The Yankees fell behind early, their inexperienced middle relief arms put them in a deeper hole, and the bats wasted numerous scoring opportunities in an attempt to come back from a too-big deficit.

Following their pathetic 1-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position on Friday night, their season batting average in that situation fell to .231, which is by far the lowest among all AL teams this season and would be the worst by any Yankee team since 1969 (.224).

The offense was shut down by Boston’s Clay Buchholz, a pitcher that the Yankees had routinely pounded in the past. He entered Friday’s start with a 6.19 ERA in 18 career games (17 starts) versus the Yankees, the third-highest among all active pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched against them.

Snatching defeat from the arms of victory, again
The Yankees sudden and swift free fall in the playoff race continued on Saturday afternoon, enduring yet another excruciating loss while sinking further and further in the standings.

(AP Sports)
(AP Sports)

Gary Sanchez gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead when he clobbered a 95-mph fastball over the Green Monster. It went an estimated 407 feet, the 12th time he’s hit a ball at least 400 feet. From his call-up on August 3 and through Saturday, only one player (Brian Dozier) hit more 400-foot batted balls than Sanchez.

Milestone alert: Brett Gardner’s RBI triple in the third inning was his 50th career three-bagger. He is the only Yankee to pile up at least 50 triples, 50 homers and 200 stolen bases within his first nine major-league seasons.

Just seven other AL outfielders in baseball history have achieved the feat: Carl Crawford, Ichiro, Johnny Damon, Kenny Lofton, Brady Anderson, Lloyd Moseby and Ben Chapman.

That was fun while it lasted …
Hello coffin, meet nail.

Yes, the Yankees are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but their improbable quest for a postseason berth is now on life support and it will take a near-miracle to earn a ticket to the October party. Nearly all the momentum and ground they’d gained during their magical seven-game win streak has been nullified in the blink of an eye, as they’ve gone from postseason contenders to pretenders in less than a week.

The latest horrible loss capped off an absolutely crushing sweep in Boston, the first time the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series by the Red Sox since June 4-7, 1990. [The Stump Merrill era began during that series when he replaced Bucky Dent as manager after the second of the four losses.]

It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to suggest that Fenway Park has become the latest “house of horrors” for the Yankees, who finished with a record of 2-8 at the ballpark, the most losses by a Yankee team there since they went 1-8 in 1973.

And finally … Let’s end on a positive note: Gary Sanchez’s assault on American League pitching continued with his 16th homer of the year (in 159 at-bats), a blast to left field that put the Yankees up 2-0 in the third inning. Sanchez’s incredible rate of 9.94 at-bats per homer would be the best by any Yankee in a single season since Roger Maris (9.67) and Mickey Mantle (9.52) waged their epic home run battle in 1961.

While Sanchez is best known for his tape-measure bombs, he’s also the rare young slugger who hits for average. After going 3-for-5 on Sunday night, he’s now hitting .327 this year, and is on pace to join Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only Yankees to have a rookie season with at least 15 homers and a .300-plus batting average.

Youth has helped the Yankees get back into the race, but they have veterans in important places too

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Even after two straight losses, the Yankees are still only two games back of the second wildcard spot with 19 games to play. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at a slim 9.6% as of this writing, but hey, that’s better than the 2.3% they were at nine days ago. Those odds can change real quick from one day to the next.

At 24-15, the Yankees have the second best record in the AL since selling buying for the future at the trade deadline. (The Royals are 25-14.) Gary Sanchez has had a monumental impact, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments, and young hurlers like Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell contributed too. The Yankees would not be where they are without these kids.

As productive as many of them have been, the young players are not the only reason the Yankees have climbed back into the wildcard race. That was never going to be the case. The Yankees weren’t going to call up a bunch of prospects and let them carry the team into October. Some of the holdover veterans have contributed too, and in fact, the Yankees have veteran players in very important spots.

Front of the Rotation

It’s easy to forget Masahiro Tanaka is still only 27 years old, isn’t it? He’s two months younger than Chris Archer and five months younger than Jacob deGrom. And yet, despite his relative youth, Tanaka is very much a veteran pitcher. He’s thrown 477 innings with the Yankees on top of over 1,300 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, with whom he won a championship and a pair of Sawamura Awards (Cy Young equivalent).

There’s something reassuring about having a veteran ace on the staff. During his heyday from 2009-12, you knew CC Sabathia was going to go out every fifth day and give the Yankees a quality outing. Even his bad starts weren’t that bad. We watched Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina do the same for years and years. That’s Tanaka now. He’s very good, rarely bad, and every fifth day he’s going to give the Yankees a good chance to win. (Remember when he couldn’t pitch on normal rest? He’s allowed six runs in 31.1 innings in his last five starts on normal rest.)

Back of the Bullpen

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

At this point Dellin Betances qualifies as a veteran, right? I think so. This is only his third full season, but he’s already been a three-time All-Star, and Dellin’s been throwing high-leverage innings for well over two years now. Relievers don’t have the longest career life span in this game. Betances is a grizzled veteran compared to most bullpen guys.

Add in Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, and each of the Yankees’ three end-game relievers has been around the block. Veteran relievers melt down just as easily as rookies (see: Nathan, Joe), but there’s always going to be the element of the unknown with kids. How do they handle intense late-season games with postseason implications? There’s less wiggle room in the eighth and ninth innings because there’s not much time to score any necessary runs. The more unpredictability you can take out of the bullpen, the better.

Top of the Lineup

As we’ve seen over the last three weeks or so, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury really ignite the offense when they’re both hot at the same time. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when those two are causing chaos. It’s imperative they stay hot for the Yankees to reach the postseason, and when it comes to setting the table for the offense, the Yankees have two veteran leadoff men. They need them too; none of their young players fits the leadoff hitter mold. I guess maybe Mason Williams, though asking him to do that right away seems like too much, too soon.

In the Clubhouse

Even after their sell-off, the Yankees kept most of their leadership core intact. Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran are gone, ditto Alex Rodriguez, but team leaders like Sabathia, Gardner, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira remain. Both McCann and Teixeira have had their roles reduced and that’s surely tough for a veteran player. They haven’t complained though. They continue to go about their business and help the young players. Young players are great! You need them to win these days. There also needs to be a leadership core in place to help those young players develop into winners, if not immediately than down the road.

* * *

At the end of the day, talent reigns supreme. It doesn’t matter how many veterans you have or where they fit on the roster if the performance is there. Can having experience and good leadership help that talent translate into good performance more frequently? I firmly believe the answer is yes. The Yankees have turned their season around because their young players have (mostly) performed and brought a lot of energy to their team. The veterans still play a big role though, and they still occupy some very important spots on the roster.

The end of Didi’s slump and four others things that must happen for the Yankees to make the postseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Against all odds, the Yankees remain in the postseason race with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. They lost yesterday, but prior to that they won seven straight and 13 of their previous 17 games. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 13.5%. They were 2.3% eight days ago.

As well as the Yankees have played recently, with seemingly a different player stepping up each night, they’re going to need to be even better over the final 20 games to sneak into the postseason. The schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. New York’s best chance to make the playoffs involves continuing their current play and getting some more from a few players on the roster. Here are five things I think need to happen to maximize the team’s postseason chances.

Gregorius snaps out of his slump

Didi Gregorius has been, rather easily, the Yankees’ best all-around position player this season. His 17 home runs are nearly double his previous career high (nine last year), and he’s still making a lot of contact and playing strong defense. I was skeptical when the Yankees acquired Didi because I didn’t believe in his bat. Boy was I wrong.

As good as Gregorius has been this season, he’s been slumping hard this month, going 3-for-34 (.088) with eight strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in September. Slumps happen, but with Didi it seems like fatigue might be a factor as well. His bat looks a little slow, and even in the field there’s been some moments when his first step wasn’t as quick as usual.

A day off could do Gregorius some good — the Yankees are ten games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch — though it is tough to get him out of the lineup given what he does defensively. We all love Ronald Torreyes, but he’s no Didi. No one is expecting Gregorius to hit five homers in a ten-game span like he did in late-June/early-July. The Yankees do need more offense from him than they’ve been getting this month, however.

Gardner and Ellsbury stay hot

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Overall, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have had disappointing seasons atop the lineup for the Yankees. Gardner’s power has disappeared, and up until recently, Ellsbury wasn’t getting on base all that much. Disappointing middle of the order veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the main reason the Yankees have had a below-average offense this year. The two guys at the top of the lineup aren’t without fault though.

Not coincidentally, the team’s recent strong play coincides with both Ellsbury and Gardner getting hot. Ellsbury has gone 9-for-27 (.333) with two homers, four walks, and only one strikeout during this recent 7-1 stretch while Gardner is 10-for-26 (.385). Their combined on-base percentage is .417. During the 13-5 stretch, Ellsbury has hit .311/.394/.541 and Gardner has hit .317/.386/.350.

Gardner’s power still hasn’t resurfaced, but he has been hitting for average and getting on base the last three weeks. Ditto Ellsbury. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when these two are hot at the same time. We’ve seen it at various points the last three seasons. Gardner and Ellsbury continuing to set the table like they have been the last few weeks is essential to getting the Yankees into the postseason.

Betances and Clippard be automatic

At this point Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order is clear: Dellin Betances is the closer (duh) and Tyler Clippard is the eighth inning guy. For a little while after the trade deadline Clippard was the seventh inning guy, but he and Adam Warren have flipped spots, which is for the best. Warren is better able to go multiple innings, which means Girardi won’t hesitate to use him to put out fires in the sixth inning, if necessary.

The Yankees seem to play nothing but close games these days — eight of their last 13 wins have come by no more than three runs and seven have come by no more than two runs — and that doesn’t figure to change, which means Betances and Clippard are going to have to be perfect in the last two innings, meaning protect every lead. The Yankees can’t afford to led late leads slip away and the two righties are the last line of defense out of the bullpen. When they’re handed a lead, it has to hold up.

Pineda becomes a reliable second starter

Right now the Yankees have a bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka and four other guys in the rotation who don’t make you feel all that comfortable. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. They’re just unpredictable from start to start. CC Sabathia is in the twilight of his career, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa are just kids, and Michael Pineda is one of the most enigmatic pitchers in all of baseball.

Pineda is also one of the most talented pitchers in baseball — it’s good to be 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s cutter and a wipeout slider — and I think he has the best chance to emerge as a second reliable starter these last three weeks. The problem is Pineda has given Girardi no real reason to trust him. We all saw Girardi pull Pineda one out short of qualifying for the win with a five-run lead the other night.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

As bad as the offense has been for long stretches of time this season, it seems more likely the rotation will be the Yankees’ downfall these final few weeks. Ivan Nova‘s been traded and both Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green got hurt, meaning the Yankees have no choice but to rely on two rookies and a fading Sabathia. Pineda is young and he’s in what should be the prime of his career. He’s the club’s best hope for second solid starter.

One of the kids contributes from the bottom of the lineup

The Yankees committed to their youth movement last month and the kids have really improved the team, not only on the field, but in the dugout. The Yankees seem more energetic than they have been in years. It’s fun to watch. Gary Sanchez has been a monster who is rightfully hitting in the middle of the lineup. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, two other rookies, have had a tougher go of it. Here are their MLB numbers:

Austin: .224/.274/.414 (81 wRC+), 3 HR, 6.5 BB%, 35.5 K% in 62 plate appearances
Judge: .177/.258/.316 (53 wRC+), 3 HR, 9.0 BB%, 43.8 K% in 89 plate appearances

Both have shown signs of coming around of late, especially Austin, but the fact remains both have been negatives at the plate since being called up. (Judge has at least improved the right field defense.) If the Yankees were well out of the race like many expected them to be this month, running both kids out there everyday would be no big deal. The experience is the most important thing.

The Yankees need impact to get the postseason though, and it would be a huge help if either Austin or Judge started to figure things out and contribute from the bottom of the lineup. It would be cool if both did it, but let’s not get greedy. One of the two getting locked in would lengthen the lineup and make the offense that much dangerous. The kids are a big reason the Yankees are remotely close to a playoff spot right now, and if they’re going to sneak into the postseason, rookies like Austin and Judge will have to be a driving force.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Rowson, Braves, Gardner

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later this afternoon the Yankees and Rays will continue their four-game series with the third game at Yankee Stadium. First pitch isn’t until 4pm ET, so here are some miscellaneous links to help you pass the time.

A-Rod expected to appear at Instructs

According to Brendan Kuty, Alex Rodriguez is expected to make an appearance at Instructional League later this month. As a special instructor, of course. Not as a player. “I’m very pleased to have somebody with Alex’s experience and time in the game to be able to share those experiences with our young players. Our best young players are all going to be part of Instructional League,” said farm system head Gary Denbo.

This year’s Instructs roster hasn’t been released yet but it’ll come out soon enough. It’s usually a collection of top prospects, recent draftees, and players who missed time due to injury. Greg Bird will face live pitching for the first time since shoulder surgery in Instructional League, for example. My guess is A-Rod will wind up spending a bunch of time with the team’s small army of middle infield prospects, specifically Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo.

Rowson joins Yankees

Minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson joined the Yankees earlier this week and has been with the team since, reports Dan Martin. Rowson has worked with Aaron Judge a ton over the years. “He’s trying to get comfortable here. Everything is new to him and he’s had his battles before and made the adjustments,” said Rowson. “He’s been through rough times, especially with the punch outs and he’s always come out on the other side. So I feel like he’s going to do that again.”

This is not all that uncommon, really. A handful of minor league coaches will join the big league team for a homestand in September pretty much every year. Every single one of the Yankees’ full season minor league affiliates qualified for the postseason this year though, so those coaches and instructors haven’t had a chance to come up yet. This isn’t Rowson’s first stint with the big league team and it won’t be his last. Chances are he didn’t join the team specifically to work with Judge.

Update: Minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell is with the Yankees as well, reports Chad Jennings.

Yankees to open SunTrust Park

(Braves)
(Braves)

The Yankees and Braves will open the brand new SunTrust Park with an exhibition game on Friday, March 31st next year, the Braves announced. Apparently only “A List Members” (season ticket holders) will be allowed to attend. Lame. Atlanta is moving into their new 41,500 seat ballpark just 20 years after moving into Turner Field. The Yankees and Braves opened Turner Field with an exhibition game in 1996 as well.

This year the Yankees closed out Spring Training with a pair of exhibition games at Marlins Park. Last year they played two at Nationals Park. The Cubs came to New York for two exhibition games in 2009, when the new Yankee Stadium opened. They do this stuff every year. Also, the fact this exhibition game is scheduled for March 31st suggests the 2017 regular season will begin on Monday, April 3rd. Next year’s schedule should be announced soon. Possibly next week.

Gardner nominated for Roberto Clemente Award

Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award, MLB announced. Here are the nominees from each team. The award is given each year to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Three Yankees have won the award: Derek Jeter (2009), Don Baylor (1985), and Ron Guidry (1984).

Amazingly, MLB turned an award recognizing community involvement — and an award named after an iconic player and a great humanitarian — into a popularity contest. Each nominee has an official hashtag and the player who receives the most votes on Twitter and Facebook will win. Incredible. MLB really knocked this one out of the park, eh? I’m sure fans will recognize each player’s off-the-field work and definitely not vote for their favorite player. No way.

Game 121: Out West

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I don’t know about you, but West Coast night games don’t even feel real to me. It’s almost like they don’t count. Baseball’s great. I love it dearly. But staying up this late to watch games? Not something I’d like to do regularly. The Yankees will be out west for the next week, so we’re stuck. So it goes. Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. LF Aaron Hicks
  8. 1B Tyler Austin
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Great weather in Anaheim. Sunny and generally excellent for baseball. I didn’t even bother to check the forecast. That’s the everyday forecast for Orange County. Tonight’s game is going to start at 10:05pm ET and you can watch on FOX Sports 1. No YES, no regular FOX. FOX Sports 1 only. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Brett Gardner (ankle) remains day-to-day and could return tomorrow … Chase Headley (Achilles) is also day-to-day and he figures to be out a little longer than Gardner … Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) went under the knife today. He had his second career Tommy John surgery and also had his flexor tendon repaired. The Yankees say everything went “as expected.”

Game 117: Mariano Rivera Day

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

This has been a pretty fun weekend, hasn’t it? Friday night was Alex Rodriguez‘s farewell game, and then yesterday there was the 1996 World Series team reunion and the debuts of Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge. That was an awful lot of great stuff to pack into a 24-hour window.

Today, the fun continues with Mariano Rivera Day. The Yankees have already retired No. 42 — they did that in Mo’s honor back in 2013 — and today they’re dedicating a Monument Park plaque in his honor. Needless to say, Rivera is very deserving. He’s the greatest reliever in baseball history and was a key member of five World Series teams.

From what I’ve seen, the ceremony is going to begin sometime between 12pm ET and 12:40pm ET, which is a pretty big window. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to start at 1:25pm ET, so I’m guessing the ceremony will start closer to 12:40pm ET. The Yankees never seem to start these things on time anyway. YES will carry the ceremony, as always.

Once that’s done, the Yankees will play the finale of this three-game series with the Rays. New York is looking to complete the sweep and win their fifth straight game today. If they’re going to make a run at a postseason spot, they need to put together more extended winning streaks like this. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. SS Didi Gregorius
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. DH Brian McCann
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

It is again incredibly hot in New York today, though at least there are some clouds in the sky, so every so often we’re gifted some shade. Like I said, today’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:25pm ET. It’ll be broadcast on YES. Enjoy the ceremony and the game.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner (ankle) is going to be out a few days. He’s still feeling it after being hit by that pitch in his first at-bat Friday night. Doesn’t sound like a DL situation.

Brett Gardner’s Disappearing Power

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Being a sports fan means you’re going to make predictions or statements or give takes; with that comes a lot of being wrong. Most recently, I was most wrong about fellow former UConn Husky and current Detroit Piston Andre Drummond. After he left Storrs following his freshman year, I thought he’d struggle in the NBA thanks to a lack of a refined offensive game. I was wrong and I was very glad to be wrong. Before him, I was (somewhat) wrong about Brett Gardner.

Though I’ve long been a fan of Gardner’s, I wasn’t always sure how he’d fare long-term in Major League Baseball. Despite a good batting eye that helped him get on base just about everywhere he played, I had concerns regarding his general lack of power. I thought that once he got through the league a time or two, pitchers would be able to knock the bat out of his hands by challenging him, thus negating his good eye at the plate and limiting his effectiveness as a hitter. I was wrong; Gardner’s lasted a long time in the league and has been a productive player for most of that time.

Not enough of this. (Elsa/Getty)
Not enough of this. (Elsa/Getty)

Part of that productivity came from a power surge in 2013 that lasted through 2015. From 2013-2015, he had ISOs of .143, .166, and .140 after never having an ISO greater than .110 from 2008-2012. Additionally, 2014 and 2015 saw him hit 17 and 16 homers respectively. This isn’t Barry Bonds level power or anything, but for Gardner, this was groundbreaking stuff. In 2016, though, that power reservoir has seemingly dried up.

This year, his ISO has dropped down to .116, his lowest since a .110 mark in 2011 — not including the partial season in 2012. Per FanGraphs, ZiPS rest-of-season projections forecast Gardner to hit only four more homers this year, bringing his total up to 11. While that would be higher than any non-2014/15 year, it’s still a drop from the last two years, though the ISO drop is the more pronounced of the two. As proof of that, let’s take a look at Gardner’s extra-base hit rate as a percentage of his hits. In 2014, 35.2% of his hits went for extra bases. That rate dropped to 30.4% in 2015 and is down another 5% to 25.3% this year.

He’s dropped back down to relatively normal levels of his power so it’s not horribly alarming, but it’s still disappointing to see since that added dimension of power helped make Gardner an even more valuable player. As such, it’s still worth looking at why these numbers have dropped back down. When Gardner was going right with his homers, he was pulling inside pitches over the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. Let’s take a look at Gardner’s pull numbers over the last three years, incorporating HR/FB%; Hard Hit%; and ISO (all per FanGraphs):

Year HR/FB% Hard Hit% ISO
2014 29.4 37.3 0.385
2015 62.5 28.2 0.367
2016 37.5 24.5 0.263

While Brett is still hitting for good power to his pull field, it’s down significantly from the previous two years. 2015 was a little fluky with regards to the HR/FB% as Gardner tended not to hit many fly balls last year; the ones he did hit, however, left the park at an insanely high rate. It’s expected that there’s been a drop off this year, but that’s been coupled with a steadily dropping hard hit rate to the pull field. Why might this be? Well, intuitively, when you’re pulling the ball, you’re doing damage on inside pitches. Is that happening for Gardner this year compared to 2014-15? Not so much.

GardnerProfile1415

There’s Gardner’s 2014-2015 zone profile by ISO. By taking a look at the inside pitches in the zone, we see ISOs of .300; .281; and .361. He also did damage on pitches actually inside and out the zone, ISOing .471 on those pitches; he was even able to golf some low/in pitches out of the zone for a .286 ISO. Now let’s look at 2016.

GardnerProfile16

That inside power has seemingly disappeared in 2016. Up and in, in the zone, Gardner’s still doing damage: .546 ISO. Middle-in, in the zone is still solid at .250, but there’s been a drop off from 2014-15. The low-in, in the zone and the two out of zone locations have produced virtually no power.

There’s no quick and easy answers in baseball, but a rough estimate for why Gardner’s power has dropped this year is that he just isn’t doing damage on inside pitches and isn’t pulling the ball with as much authority to his pull field as he did in the previous two seasons. Despite the lack of power, Gardner has still been reasonably productive in 2016. He’s walking at his highest rate since 2011 (again, discounting 2012’s limited scope) and striking out at his lowest rate since 2011. But the lack of power has Gardner’s wRC+ under 100 for the first time since 2011. While the team was nowhere near reliant on Gardner for power coming into 2016, the lack of it — and the general lack of production from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira — has been a disappointment. Hopefully next year, Gardner can regain his power stroke and increase his productivity.