2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

There is one full day remaining in the 2016 Winter Meetings and so far the Yankees have done, well, not a whole lot. Things can come together pretty quickly though. Last year at this time we were all lamenting the lack of activity, then bam, the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades went down.

“The free-agent stuff, you just have to stay close to it, because that can move fast,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “The trade stuff, there have just been certain teams that keep pursuing specific guys, so that’s been hot. There have been a couple different dynamics that have developed. Whether they lead anywhere or not, we’ll see.”

On Tuesday we learned the Yankees made contract offers to both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, which is interesting. I’m kinda curious to see what happens if they both accept at the same time. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: Chapman apparently has a $92M offer in hand. Goodness. That is offer is not from the Yankees, though they’re pursuing him aggressively and are “determined” to get a deal done. [Bob Nightengale, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees did talk to the White Sox about Chris Sale before he was traded to the Red Sox, but they weren’t going to go all out to get him. “As long as we stick to the plan, we’ll be better off in the long run,” said Cashman. [David Lennon]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have spoken to the ChiSox about David Robertson. I assume he’s a backup plan should Chapman and Jansen fall through. The White Sox are rebuilding, and obviously the Yankees know Robertson and are comfortable with him. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 9:30am: Brett Gardner is “seen as a possible fit” for the Orioles, though they’d want the Yankees to eat some money. This sounds like speculation more than anything. I have a hard time thinking Gardner will be traded to a division rival, but who knows. [Heyman]
  • 9:40am: The Yankees are interested in signing infielder Ruben Tejada to a minor league contract. They’ll need to sign at least one stopgap infielder for Triple-A this offseason, possibly two. Also, the Yankees are trying to re-sign Nick Rumbelow as well. [George King]
  • 10:07am: It sounds as though adding a closer is the team’s top priority, so much so that the Yankees will put all their other business on hold until that’s resolved. They need to see exactly how much money will be left over, I assume. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]
  • 11:23am: The Rockies have agreed to sign Ian Desmond. This is notable because Colorado is forfeiting the 11th overall pick, which means the Yankees move up from 17th to 16th. Here’s the full draft order. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: Along with the Yankees, both the Marlins and Dodgers are in on Chapman and waiting to hear his decision. Chapman is New York’s top target. [Heyman]
  • 12:42pm: I don’t think this will matter, but the Yankees are one of the eight teams included in Jay Bruce’s limited no-trade clause. He could block a trade across town. [James Wagner]
  • 4:57pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to show interest in free agent righty Sergio Romo. If the Yankees miss out on Chapman and Jansen, Romo could be a setup option behind Dellin Betances. [John Shea]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2016-winter-meetingsThe four busiest days of the offseason begin today. Well, three busiest days. Usually everyone heads home following the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. Anyway, the 2016 Winter Meetings begin today at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The Yankees are expected to get down to business today after taking some time to review the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“I said, ‘Listen, give me at least 24, 48 more hours to see what sort of information we can get from baseball,'” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “So hopefully we’ll be able to hit the ground running Monday at the latest, but it’s in our best interest to know what we’re dealing with, first and foremost … Speeding up the process and going with the youth movement is going to play an even more important part now, more than ever with what appears to be some of the restrictions in the marketplace that are occurring here.”

The Yankees picked up Matt Holliday to be their DH last night, but they’re still in the market for “pitching, pitching, pitching.” All types. Starters and relievers, so much so that they’re said to be in on the all the top free agent closers. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often for updates. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 10:30am: Cashman confirmed teams have asked about Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield this offseason, among others. The GM added he is “open-minded to listen on anything.”. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have not yet made a formal offer to Rich Hill, who is said to be closing in a deal with the Dodgers. New York has been connected to Hill all offseason because he is, by far, the best available free agent starter. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:30am: Chase Headley and Brett Gardner both remain available, though “interest is relatively mild” at the moment. [Heyman]
  • 11:47am: The Yankees are among the teams looking for a lefty reliever. I assume this means a matchup guy for the middle innings, not simply Aroldis Chapman. [Heyman]
  • 12:41pm: One of the three top closers is off the board: Mark Melancon has agreed to sign with the Giants. No word on the contract terms yet. I’ll guess … four years and $60M. (Update: It’s four years and $62M.) [Buster Olney]
  • 1:16pm: Rich Hill is off the board. The Dodgers have re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $48M, the team announced. The Yankees had been in contact with him.
  • 1:36pm: The Yankees are one of several teams in “ongoing” talks with Luis Valbuena. He’s looking for multiple years and right now the team thinks his asking price is too high. [Joel Sherman]
  • 1:50pm: Chapman wants a six-year deal and says he deserves $100M+. “The only thing I have expressed is that I would like a six-year contract … There are rumors out there that I requested $100M and that’s not true at all. I believe he who deserves something, does not need to demand it,” he said. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:45pm: The Yankees have checked in with the Twins about second baseman Brian Dozier. Interesting. He’s better and cheaper than Starlin Castro. Whether the Yankees are willing to give up pretty good prospects to get it done is another matter. [Heyman]
  • 4:07pm: Cashman shot down the Dozier rumor. “I haven’t had any dialogue with the Twins about Dozier. That’s a false report,” he said. So much for that. [MLB Network Radio]
  • 4:21pm: Cashman acknowledged the Yankees are after Chapman, but won’t go all out to sign him. “It’s going to be costly. We’re prepared to a degree to compete for that,” he said. [Casey Stern]
  • 5:15pm: The Yankees are still talking to Kenley Jansen in addition to Chapman. There are also some bullpen trade opportunities, according to Cashman. [Hoch]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Premature Lineup Questions

Ellsbury. (Presswire)
Ellsbury. (Presswire)

Considering it’s not even mid-December yet, the questions that follow are way too premature. To make up for that, I’ll try to avoid things that aren’t likely to stay the same. For example, I highly doubt the Yankees are going to go into the season with, say, Tyler Austin as the number one DH candidate just because they missed out on Carlos Beltran.

Let’s start at the top with two questions:

Will Jacoby Ellsbury keep batting second?

In early July, Joe Girardi made a bit of a lineup switch and had Ellsbury bat second behind Brett Gardner. Taco didn’t sparkle in the two hole, hitting just .244 with a .310 OBP. His walk rate was near 9%, which is encouraging, but it was mostly a forgettable performance. Might it make sense for them to flip places again, especially given Gardner’s shyness with regards to running lately? Granted, Ellsbury isn’t exactly bold on the basepaths anymore, either.

Will Aaron Hicks be platooned more aggressively this season? 

Towards the end of the year, Aaron Hicks woke up and showed flashes of why the Yankees traded for him last offseason. Given that the Yankees have two lefty hitting outfielders in Ellsbury and Gardner, and Hicks is a switch hitter, capable of playing both positions those guys do, how often will he start in one of their places when a lefty is on the mound? Of course, if one of those two is traded, that question is answered a lot more easily.


What happens if (when) Gary Sanchez struggles? 

Gary Sanchez was a monster in 2016 and we all hope he can be successful again in 2017; he gave us all the reasons he possibly could to believe. But that performance is hard to live up to and he’s going to take some sort of a step back over a full season. If Sanchez struggles behind the plate but maintains his solid hitting, you can always move him to DH. What, though, if the unlikely happens and Sanchez pulls the hitting version of 2008 Phil Hughes/Ian Kennedy? The answer for him is easy: send him back down and let him get right. For the Yankees, though, unless they sign a veteran back up, is less appealing, as it means giving the every day job to Austin Romine.

Who’s going to carry this lineup? 

Perhaps that question is unfair; it’s unlikely that one person on a team will carry a lineup. The right question might be, who’s going to lead this lineup? With Sanchez, the return of Greg Bird, and (hopefully) improvement from Aaron Judge, there’s the potential for big contributions from the young players. Will Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro continue their mild improvements at the plate? Will Ellsbury and Gardner bounce back? Which Chase Headley is going to show up? Depending on the answers to these questions, the Yankees could either be a reasonably solid offense, or they could be a disaster. Likely, they’re somewhere in the middle, but there don’t seem to be any sure things in the lineup.

Dellin Betances isn’t the only Yankee who could play in the 2017 WBC

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

In a few weeks baseball players all around the league will leave their teams in Spring Training to participate in the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. Pool play begins March 6th in South Korea, and the tournament will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full 2017 WBC schedule.

The 16 countries do not have to finalize their WBC rosters until January, though we already know Dellin Betances will pitch for the Dominican Republic. He committed to them recently. Betances was on Team USA’s preliminary roster but instead choose to honor his family by pitching for the Dominican Republic squad. So far he’s the only Yankees player to commit to the WBC.

The Yankees are not as star-laden as they once were — a few years ago a case could have been made their entire starting infield belonged in the WBC — so they don’t figure to send a ton of players to the WBC next spring. Chances are Betances won’t be the only Yankee to participatein the event, however. In fact, farmhand Dante Bichette Jr. already played for Brazil in the qualifying round in September. Who knew? (Brazil did not advance.)

So, as we wait for the commitments to trickle in and the final rosters to be announced, lets look at the Yankees who could wind up joining Betances and participating in the WBC. Keep in mind the WBC is not limited to big league players — some countries can’t field an entire roster of MLB players, hence Bichette playing for Brazil — and the rosters are 28 players deep, not 25, so there are extra spots.

Canada: Evan Rutckyj

Rutckyj, who recently re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent, was the team’s 16th round pick back in 2010. The Braves took a look at him this past spring as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but Rutckyj failed to make the Opening Day roster and instead returned to the Yankees. He struck out 14 in 11.2 innings around a relatively minor elbow procedure during the 2016 regular season.

Only eleven pitchers born in Canada have appeared in the big leagues over the last three years — only seven did so in 2016 — and five of those eleven threw fewer than 20 innings. Three of the other six are now retired (Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Phillippe Aumont). Rutckyj, who grew up across the river from Detroit in Windsor, has had some Double-A success as a reliever and could make a Canada roster that has been heavy on minor league pitchers in previous WBCs.

Colombia: Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal

Colombia clinched their first ever WBC berth by winning their qualifying round back in March. They won a pool that included France, Spain, and Panama. Both Polo and Vidal were on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round and chances are they will be on the actual WBC roster as well. Only six Colombian-born players appeared in MLB in 2016, one of whom was Donovan Solano and none of whom were an outfielder like Polo and Vidal.

Vidal, 20, has spent most of his career with the various short season league teams in New York’s farm system. He went 2-for-8 with a double and played in all three qualifying games in March. Polo, 22, came over from the Pirates in the Ivan Nova trade. He was Colombia’s extra outfielder in the qualifying round. He appeared in two games as a a pinch-runner and defensive replacement and did not get an at-bat. Both Vidal and Polo figure to play in the WBC in March.

Dominican Republic: Gary Sanchez (Starlin Castro?)

WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)
WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Over the last three seasons, the leader in bWAR among Dominican-born catchers is Welington Castillo. Sanchez is second. For all the great baseball players to come out of the Dominican Republic, the island hasn’t produced much catching talent in recent years. Their catching tandem in the 2013 WBC was Francisco Pena, Tony’s son, and Carlos Santana, who is no longer a catcher.

The Dominican Republic’s current catching pool includes Sanchez, Castillo, Pena, Pedro Severino of the Nationals, and Alberto Rosario of the Cardinals. I have to think they want Sanchez and Castillo there. Then again, Tony might want Francisco on the roster, and I’m sure the Yankees would rather Sanchez spend his first Spring Training as the No. 1 catcher learning the pitching staff.

The Yankees can’t stop Gary from going to the WBC if he’s invited though. They might need Pena to pull some strings, which would be kind of a dick move. I’m sure Sanchez would love to play. Bottom line: Sanchez is arguably the best Dominican catcher in baseball right now and inarguably one of the two best. In what is intended to be a best vs. best tournament, Gary belongs on the Dominican Republic roster.

(For what it’s worth, Victor Baez reports Pena promised Sanchez he would be considered for the WBC team, but acknowledged things may change before the final roster is submitted.)

As for Castro, he has an awful lot of competition on the Dominican Republic middle infield. Robinson Cano is the presumed starter at second with someone like Jose Reyes or Jean Segura at short. Jonathan Villar, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Jhonny Peralta, and some others are WBC candidates too. Castro’s a possibility for the tournament but probably isn’t part of the club’s Plan A infield.

Japan: Masahiro Tanaka

Interestingly enough, not a single MLB player was on Japan’s roster for the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro Suzuki. They filled their entire roster with NPB players. Japan has had big leaguers on their roster in previous WBCs, including Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka, just not in the last one. Will they invite big leaguers this time? I honestly have no idea. We’re going to have to wait and find out.

If Japan does want current MLB players, Tanaka figures to be near the top of their list. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and on the very short list of the best Japanese-born pitchers on the planet. The Yankees can’t stop Tanaka from playing in the 2017 WBC. Brian Cashman confirmed it during his end-of-season press conference. Needless to say, the thought of Tanaka suffering an injury during the WBC is enough to make you squeamish. The Yankees have already been through that once before, with Mark Teixeira and his wrist in the 2013 WBC.

For what it’s worth, Tanaka has participated in the WBC twice before. He was on Japan’s roster in both 2009 and 2013, throwing 9.1 total innings across one start and seven relief appearances. Maybe that was enough for Tanaka? Maybe he’s had his fill of the WBC — Japan won the 2009, so he has a championship — and would rather focus on the Yankees in Spring Training and putting himself in the best position to use his opt-out the team in the best position to win? Gosh, I hope so.

Mexico: Luis Cessa, Gio Gallegos

Fifteen pitchers born in Mexico have appeared in the big leagues over the last three seasons, and 13 of those 15 did so in 2016. The two exceptions are ex-Yankees: Manny Banuelos and Al Aceves. Banuelos is coming off another injury and Aceves spent the 2016 season in the Mexican League. Mexico figures to try to build their WBC rotation from a group that includes Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, Jorge De La Rosa, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, and Miguel Gonzalez.

Cessa and Gallegos — fun fact: the Yankees signed Gallegos away from a Mexican League team as part of a package deal with Banuelos and Aceves in 2007 — could be candidates for Mexico’s bullpen. Especially Cessa since he has MLB experience. Gallegos might not get much consideration given the fact he has yet to pitch in the show. Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria, and Oliver Perez are likely to be Mexico’s late-inning relievers, but they’re going to need other pitchers for middle relief, especially early in the tournament when starters have limited pitch counts.

Keep in mind both Cessa and Gallegos figure to come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Cessa will be among those competing for a rotation spot, which is kind of a big deal. Gallegos, who the Yankees added to the 40-man roster earlier this month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, is trying to reach the show for the first time. As much as I’m sure both guys would love to represent their country in the WBC, they would be better off hanging around Spring Training and focusing on winning a roster spot with the Yankees at this point of their careers.

Netherlands: Didi Gregorius

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

The Dutch team has had to rely heavily on players from Honkbal Hoofdklasse, the highest level of pro ball in the Netherlands, to fill their WBC roster in the past. The same figures to be true this year. Only six Dutch players have played in MLB the last two years: Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, and Kenley Jansen. So, if nothing else, the Netherlands doesn’t have to worry about their infield or closer. They’ll need Honkballers in the outfield and rotation.

It’s entirely possible the Netherlands will look to take all five of those infielders to the WBC because, well, they’re the best players the country has to offer. Profar has played first base and Bogaerts has played third, so the starting infield could very well be those two on the corners with the other three guys splitting time up the middle and at DH. Gregorius was not on the 2013 WBC roster, and with his Yankees roster spot secure, he could jump at the opportunity to play for the Netherlands.

Team USA: Tyler Clippard (Brett Gardner? Jacoby Ellsbury?)

Even with Betances committing to the Dominican Republic, Team USA’s potential bullpen is insane. Zach Britton closing with Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel setting up, Wade Davis as the fireman, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as the middle relievers … goodness. What are the odds of that happening though? Extremely small. Some of those guys are going to pass on the tournament. Happens every WBC.

The Team USA bullpen in 2013 included Kimbrel and, uh, Luke Gregerson? Tim Collins? Mitchell Boggs? Vinnie Pestano? Yup. Yup yup yup. Team USA’s leader in relief innings in 2013 was Ross Detwiler. So yeah. The odds of a super-bullpen are so very small. Clippard could be among the club’s Plan B or C relievers. Team USA is going to miss out on a ton of the top guys, no doubt, so who’s next in line? Clippard could be one of them.

Along those same lines, I suppose Gardner and/or Ellsbury could receive outfield consideration if enough top guys drop out. We already know Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are passing on the tournament. Team USA would need to receive a lot of “nos” before considering Ellsbury and Gardner for their outfield — they ranked 12th and 20th in bWAR among American-born outfielders in 2016 — but hey, you never know.

* * *

The Yankees are said to have interest in bringing Carlos Beltran back, and I have to think he will suit up for Puerto Rico in the WBC next spring. The next generation of Puerto Rican stars has arrived (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez) but Beltran is still insanely popular in Puerto Rico, and he usually gives the people what they want. Aroldis Chapman, on the other hand, won’t pitch for Cuba regardless of whether he returns to the Yankees. No expatriates on the national team.

Brett Gardner wins first career Gold Glove


Earlier tonight, MLB and Rawlings announced the 2016 Gold Glove winners, and Brett Gardner took home left field honors in the American League. How about that? He was up against Alex Gordon and Colby Rasmus. Here are all the Gold Glove winners. No other Yankees won (or were finalists).

This was Gardner’s third year as a finalist — he was also a finalist in 2011 and 2015 — and first actual Gold Glove award win. Long overdue, I’d say. Gardner’s been really good in left field for a long time now. I’m a bit surprised Gordon, who had won four of the last five left field Gold Gloves, didn’t win based on reputation.

Gardner is the first Yankee to win a Gold Glove since Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano both won back in 2012. He’s the first Yankees outfielder to win a Gold Glove since Bernie Williams won four straight from 1997-2000. Pretty cool. Congrats, Gardy.

Brett Gardner among Gold Glove finalists, again

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

For the second straight year, Brett Gardner is among the three finalists for the AL Gold Glove award in left field, MLB announced. He was a finalist back in 2011 as well. Gardner is up against Alex Gordon and Colby Rasmus. No other Yankees are among the Gold Glove finalists, which isn’t surprising. You can see all of this year’s finalists right here.

Gardner had a typical Brett Gardner season in left field this year, I thought. Both DRS (+12) and UZR (+3.5) liked his work out there, for what it’s worth. Gardner did make his fair share of highlight reel catches throughout the summer as well. These are the two most notable, I’d say:

Gardner has yet to win a Gold Glove, mostly because Gordon has been hogging it the last few years. Gordon has won four of the last five AL Gold Gloves in left field, with the only exception being last year, when Yoenis Cespedes won it despite splitting the season between the Tigers and Mets.

Gold Gloves are voted on by managers and coaches around the league — they’re not able to vote for their own players — plus there’s now a statistical component as well. Gordon missed some time with an injury, so if he gets dinged for that, Gardner just might sneak in and win himself a Gold Glove.

The Gold Glove winners will be announced Tuesday, November 8th. I’m pretty sure they’re announced during a live television broadcast these days. The other major awards (MVP, Cy Young, etc.) will be announced the following week.

The Same Old Brett Gardner, Just With Less Power [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.


This past summer the Yankees did something they hadn’t done in nearly three decades: they sold at the trade deadline. Truth be told, their efforts to sell veterans and restock the farm system began last offseason, when Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner were reportedly put on the trade block. The Yankees wanted young pitching in return and found no takers, so both players started the season with New York.

Unlike Miller, Gardner was not traded away at the deadline, though I’m sure the Yankees gauged his value. They did that with everyone. Gardner remained with the Yankees all season, first as their No. 2 hitter before moving to the leadoff spot. Not surprisingly, he led the team with 634 plate appearances. It’s been three years since someone not named Brett Gardner led the Yankees in plate appearances. He’s been a mainstay atop the lineup for quite a while now.

Same Ol’ Brett …

For all the talk about his streakiness and his second half slumps — he didn’t have one this year, by the way, his numbers before and after the All-Star break were nearly identical in 2016 — Gardner has been remarkably consistent the last four years. His numbers at the end of the year always finish in the same range. Check it out:

2013 609 .273 .344 8.5% 20.9%
2014 636 .256 .327 8.8% 21.1%
2015 656 .259 .343 10.4% 20.6%
2016 634 .261 .351 11.0% 16.7%

Gardner’s walk and strikeout rates this year were the best they’ve been since 2011, and that’s pretty cool. Otherwise that’s Brett Gardner. He’s going to give you an average around .260 and an on-base percentage around .340 year after year, like clockwork. Check out his monthly splits:

April: .254 AVG and .369 OBP
May: .184 AVG and .324 OBP
June: .323 AVG and .390 OBP
July: .269 AVG and .328 OBP
August: .262 AVG and .344 OBP
September: .269 AVG and .355 OBP

May and June kinda cancel each other out. The other four months are pretty much the same. Gardner is as predictable as they come. Predictable is boring. Predictable is comforting. The average leadoff man hit .273 with a .339 OBP this season. Gardner was right there, trading a few points of batting average for a few points of on-base percentage.

In addition to plate appearances, Gardner also led the Yankees in walks (70) and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.09) this season. Does he have a tendency to look at strike three? Sure. That tends to happen when you work deep counts like Gardner. When it comes to true leadoff man skills, meaning working the count and getting on base, no one on the Yankees is better than Gardner. He’s done a fine job setting the table for this team for several years now.

… Minus The Power

The single biggest difference between 2016 Gardner and the Gardner of previous years, particularly the 2014-15 versions, was his power production. No one thinks of him as a power hitter, but Brett did smack 17 home runs in 2014 and another 16 in 2015. This year he hit seven. And that’s with power up around the league and the baseballs possibly being juiced. On the bright side, one of those seven homers was a walk-off:

Gardner’s power outage was most evident during the summer months and later in the season. He hit two home runs after May 18th, in the team’s final 123 games of the season. Two! Gardner hit five homers in the first 39 games of the season and only two thereafter. Geez. It’s not too difficult to see why Gardner’s power disappeared this season:

Brett Gardner GB Pull rates

Gardner put the ball on the ground far more often this year (52.3%) than the last two years (43.2%), and he also didn’t pull the ball as often either (33.6% vs. 37.5%). If you’re a left-handed hitter playing in Yankee Stadium and you don’t pull the ball in the air, you’re not going to get any help from the right field short porch.

Contact quality was not the problem. Gardner’s hard (25.8%) and soft (16.9%) contact rates were right in line with what he did from 2014-15 (27.5% and 16.1%). The problem was launch angle, the new sabermetric hotness. Gardner didn’t get the ball airborne often enough in general, but especially to the pull side. That’s why his power dropped so much.

Here, let’s look at Gardner’s launch angle the last two years using one of the many cool features at Baseball Savant. We have two years worth of Statcast data now, so here are Gardner’s launch angles for 2015 and 2016. You can click the image for a larger view, and I recommend doing that.

Brett Gardner launch angle

That’s a pretty cool looking graphic, but what the hell does it mean? In the simplest terms, launch angle is the angle at which the ball leaves the bat. The ideal launch angle is 10-30 degrees. Exit velocity plays a role in this, but generally speaking, 10-25 degrees gives you a line drive to the outfield and 25-30 degrees is a possible dinger.

Last season Gardner spent much more time in that 10-30 degree range. In fact, we have exact numbers: Gardner hit 117 balls in the 10-30 degree range last year and 23 in the 25-30 range. This season it was 103 and 18, respectively. Gardner put 192 balls in play below the 10-degree launch angle last year compared to 220 this year, hence the increase is grounders.

I know this doesn’t seem like a huge difference. I mean, Gardner hit only 14 fewer balls in the 10-30 degree range this year than last year. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember, we’re talking about batted balls hit at the ideal angle here. A few of these can absolutely be the difference between, say, seven homers and 15 homers.

The question now is why? Why did Gardner hit so many more ground balls last season? We can’t answer that with any certainty. It could be the randomness of baseball. His bat could be slowing as he approaches his mid-30s. Maybe his swing was a mechanical mess. Maybe he was playing hurt. Who knows? There are countless possible reasons.

Whatever it is, Gardner’s inability to get the ball in the air this season, especially to his pull side, really dragged down his power numbers. He slugged .362 with a .101 ISO in 2016. It was .410 and .152, respectively, from 2014-15. That’s a huge drop. At this point expecting 15+ homers again is probably pushing it, but with balls flying out of the park nowadays, double-digit dingers doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

What About The Steals?


Gardner is, at the most basic level, a speed player. His legs got him to the big leagues, and while his power surge from 2014-15 made his valuable in a different way, Brett is still known for his speed. Not surprisingly though, his raw stolen base totals have fallen the last few years. That tends to happen once a guy gets over 30. Stolen base ability does not age gracefully. Here are some baserunning stats with some thoughts.

2013 24-8 14.3% 45% +3.8 +3.4
2014 21-5 10.4% 40% +5.6 +4.5
2015 20-5 8.7% 58% +5.5 +4.7
2016 16-4 6.6% 56% +7.3 +5.2

1. Gardner isn’t attempting to steal much these days. Obvious statement is obvious. Not only has Gardner’s stolen base total declined the last few years, his stolen base attempt rate (SBA%) has declined too. That’s the number of attempted steals divided by stolen base opportunities, meaning the times Gardner was on first or second base with no runner ahead of him. The league average is 5.5%, though for fast guys like Brett, you’d like to see it up around 10%.

“I can’t necessarily pinpoint what it is, but obviously I was a little less aggressive. You can’t steal 40-something bases if you don’t try to steal 40-something bases,” said Gardner in Spring Training about his decline in stolen bases. “It’s not like I’ve tried to go 50 times and only been successful half of them. My percentage has still been pretty high … I think for the most part I’ve done a good job of trying to do that and being smart about when we run but we’re always looking for ways to improve.”

My guess is Gardner’s decline in steal attempts is the result of a number of factors. Age, for one. I also think there’s a self-preservation angle to this too. Stealing bases are rough on the body and Gardner has been banged up the last few years. Is it a coincidence he had his best second half in years this season after stealing fewer bags in the first half? Maybe not! No one expects a 33-year-old player to steal 40+ bases. But Gardner dipped below 20 steals sooner than I think anyone expected.

Joe Girardi has said Gardner always has the green light and it’s up to him when to run. Given his decline in stolen base rate and the fact there were several instances throughout the season when it make sense to run — late in a close game, etc. — and Gardner didn’t, perhaps Girardi should be a little more proactive and tell Brett to go. He doesn’t have to steal every time he reaches first. That’s unrealistic. But a little more encouragement wouldn’t hurt.

2. Gardner is elite at the other aspects of baserunning. Stolen bases are just one piece of the baserunning pie. They’re the most obvious piece of the pie, really. There are other aspects of baserunning though, like going first-to-third on a single and advancing on balls in the dirt. That sort of stuff. The numbers show Gardner is among the best in baseball at the non-stolen base aspects of baserunning.

For example, Gardner took the extra base (XBT%) a whopping 56% of the time this year. That was top ten in MLB. The all-encompassing baserunning stats at FanGraphs (BSR) and Baseball Prospectus (BRR) rate Gardner as the seventh and 12th best baserunner in baseball in 2016, respectively. That’s out of the 971 position players to appear in a game this year. The stolen base numbers are slipping. No doubt about it. When it comes to total baserunning value, Gardner is one of the best in the game. Has been for a few years now.

The Still Great Defense

There’s not much to say about Gardner’s defense. He once again had a very good defensive season, according to both the eye test and the various metrics (+12 DRS and +3.6 UZR). Gardner made his fair share of eye-popping catches as well this year. Remember this one in Anaheim?

I wouldn’t blame you if you slept through that one. It was a late night game on the West Coast. What about this catch against the Blue Jays? I know you remember this one:

Brett Gardner: still very good at catching baseballs. Do we need to dig any deeper than that? Nah.

Outlook for 2017

This offseason, perhaps moreso than ever before, it feels like the chances of Gardner being traded are relatively high. The Yankees committed to the rebuild by trading veterans for prospects at the deadline, and they figure to continue that this winter. Also, they need to start making room for their young outfielders. Aaron Judge arrived in August, Aaron Hicks and Mason Williams need more at-bats, and Clint Frazier is in Triple-A with Dustin Fowler not too far behind.

There are two years and $24M left on Gardner’s contract, plus a $12.5M club option for 2019, which is a very affordable rate, even with this year’s power outage. Denard Span got $10M a year last offseason. Two years ago Melky Cabrera got $14M annually and Nick Markakis got $11M annually. Gardner at $12M a year for two years is a fair price, if not below market value given recent inflation. It’s certainly not an albatross preventing the Yankees from making other moves.

Ideally the Yankees would trade Jacoby Ellsbury and keep Gardner, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. Ellsbury’s contract is a major deal-breaker for most teams. If Gardner goes this offseason, he’ll leave as a very productive homegrown Yankee who never quite seemed to get the respect he deserved. The guy went from walk-on in college to World Series winner and All-Star with the Yankees. That’s pretty darn cool.