I haven’t done one of these in a while, so I thought I’d continue with our season in review series, and focus on everyone’s favorite “scrappy” outfielder, Brett Gardner.
Coming in to 2009, Gardner won the starting centerfielder’s job over incumbent Melky Cabrera. However, this decision was eventually reversed by manager Joe Girardi after Gardner got off to a slow start.
In April, Gardner hit an incredibly weak .220/.254/.271/.525. He did steal five bases while only being caught once, but that’s a very dim “bright” spot for an awful April.
In May and June, however, Gardner came back strong. In 120 plate appearances across 46 games, Gardner hit .330/.410/.527. He drove in only nine in that span, but knocked all three of his homers in that two month span, along with hitting four triples. Brett flashed more of his best tool in May and June, stealing 12 bases while being caught only once. The most encouraging part of this stretch was the fact that he had more walks (16) thank strikeouts (10).
The season after June for Brett was definitely forgettable. He hit the DL in July after breaking his thumb and wouldn’t return until September. To add insult to injury, Gardner’s performance from July onward was downright putrid. He hit just .236 with a .306 on base percentage and a .303 slugging percentage. In the 99 PAs he got in this stretch, he hit just four extra base hits–two doubles and two triples.
At season’s end, Gardner put up a line of .270/.345/.379/.724, good for a 93 OPS+. His wOBA was .337, which seems rather high. I attribute this to his prowess on the basepaths. Brett was 26 out 31 in his steal attempts this season, good for an 83.87% success rate, which I’ll take any day of the week. At the plate, I think we should be satisfied with what Gardner gave us. His .345 OBP is more than acceptable for a bench player, as is his base-stealing. His 9.5% walk rate was just above the league average of 9.1% and his strikeout rate of 16.1% was below the league average of 20.3%. However, for a guy who has as little power as Gardner, the relatively high amount of strikeouts is something that the Yankees and Gardner need to look to change.
The best part of Gardner’s game, however, is not his offense; it’s his defense. In centerfield, Gardner fully utilizes his speed to track down balls. There are some question marks about the routes he takes and his ball-reading skills, but his speed allows him to have incredible range. By UZR/150, Gardner (15.4) was third among American League centerfielders with at least 600 innings played behind Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez (27.1) and Oakland’s Rajai Davis (17.8). Because of this strong defensive performance, and a nice positional adjustment, Gardner came in as a 2.1 WAR player in 2009.
What about next season? What should we expect? I’d expect more of the same: streakiness from Gardner at the plate, good speed, and good defense. Ideally, Gardner’s a bench outfielder and it’s possible that Gardner’s not a big part of the Yankees in ‘10. If he is, though, his speed and defense will once again end up as positives for the Yankees.