Brett Gardner's Early Success

Brett Gardner singles in a run.

In a response to Rob’s earlier post about Marcus Thamessuperhuman production this season, I thought I’d shed some light on Thames’ platoon buddy, Brett Gardner.  Warning to all readers: I’m a very big fan of Gardner and he has become one of my favorite players since breaking in with the club in 2008.  Having said that, please check your Gardner hatred at the door (if you have any) because the man is here to stay.

After splitting time with Melky Cabrera in center field last season, Brett Gardner’s role going into this season was up in the air.  After the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson, some sources penciled Gardner as the odd man out and believed the Yankees would then trade him.  We all know how things actually turned out, and Gardner broke camp as the starting left fielder.  Even then, though, not everyone had a ton of confidence that Gardner would hold down the spot.

So here we are 21 games into the season and the Yankees have gotten off to a nice 14-7 start.  The hot start is a result of many things (great pitching, Robinson Cano, etc.) and one of those things is Brett Gardner.  Brett has had success in all aspects of the game during the month of April.  He’s currently hitting .306/.386/.371 and has a strikeout to walk ratio of 8:7.  He’s also tied for the AL lead in stolen bases with nine (just one caught stealing thus far).  And on top of that, he’s played typical Brett Gardner defense out in left field.  His UZR so far this season says he’s been subpar, but I have no gripes with his showing on defense up until this point and I’m very confident the numbers will work themselves out.

So how has he done it?  Well let’s just say he’s taken a page out of the Nick Johnson’s book.  Brett is second on the team in pitches per plate appearance with 4.37/PA (one guess for who leads the team in that category).  Combine that patience with Gardner’s lack of power and you’ll find that opposing pitchers are going to pound the zone.  Gardy has been able to take advantage of these good pitches by cutting back his fly balls (26.4%) and infield fly balls (7.1%) and improving his ground ball rate (60.4%).  When you’ve got the wheels that he does, those groundballs often turn themselves into hits and the numbers back it up.  He is tied with Derek Jeter for the league lead in infield hits (6) and is the clear leader in infield hit percentage.  He has even had a respectable line against lefties (.313/.313/.375).

Put it all together and Gardner has had a very productive month of April.  Baseball-Reference has a nifty algorithm, developed by Bill James and others, that calculates ‘Runs Created’.  When looking at Runs Created per game, Brett comes in third for Yankee regulars behind Cano and Jorge Posada.  There’s no way he keeps that up with the likes of Jeter and co. behind him, but it’d be great to see him sustain this level of production for the rest of the season.

Just for kicks, Brett the Jet is on pace to swipe 65+ bags this season.  The last Yankee to do that?  Just some guy named Rickey Hendreson.

Also, if you’re a stat junkie, check out how similar Gardner and NJ are when it comes to patience at the dish.  You have to click around on your own, but if you sort by lowest ZSwing% and Swing% you should see our two guys.  ZSwing% is percentage of pitches swung at inside the strike zone.  Swing% is the total percentage of pitches a batter swings at.  One last crazy stat that I came across: Gardner has not swung and missed at a pitch in the zone this season. Don’t believe me? Sort by highest ZContact% and you should see a pristine 100% for Mr. Gardner.

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8 Responses to Brett Gardner's Early Success

  1. I really like the production the Yankees have gotten out of Gardner. I think if he can sustain these numbers, the Yankees really need to think about whether or not it is really worth it to sign Carl Crawford or Jayson Heywerth.

    • Mike S. says:

      If Vazquez (despite of the lack of production so far) moves on, and/or Andy retires, and Gardner proves quality, it may be a pitcher they may need instead of a Crawford or Werth. Time will tell.

  2. Ty says:

    My 2 cents: I like the article very much as it breaks down the whole situation nice and clearly. I'm a very big Gardy fan. Last year it was great fun to see Melky step up to the job while Gardy recuped and then have them both mixed and matched for the last half. When Gardy came back last year right away he made a superhuman play in center and I was a fan instantly (not having seen him play much before that). We don't have that many league leaders so far but Gardy's on top of a coupla categories including SB. He is so good in the field and so fast and disruptive on base, even if he couldn't hit very well I'd still start him, but in fact he's hitting great. The Yankees often (of late) have the problem of too much talent to use, so I'll leave it to the Skipper to decide how to use Thames, but I'd bring him in ONLY when extra offensive punch is crucially needed. Even then I'd have some doubts, as Gardy is contributing a lot on offense too! Oh, and I hope it's not rude to mention the bargain salary the Yanks pay Gardy. A steal in more ways than one!

  3. Chris Barrows says:

    Eric, great piece. I'll likely debate you when it comes to Gardner fanhood. When he was in Scranton, he was my favorite player in the locker room and on the field.

    He's a stand up person off-the-field, which I think is a good thing as a whole for the Yankees organization. Ultimately, he works his butt off and always looks to how he can improve. He's mentally got the right attitude for New York, which as we know, can be hard to find.

  4. Eric Communiello says:

    I'm beyond jealous that you're able to go to SWB Yankees games. I'm dying to go to one but it's a real trip for me to get there.

    Couldn't agree with you more about his attitude and work ethic. That's a good part of the reason I like him so much. He really gives a damn about winning and puts max effort out there every game.

  5. Bronx Knight says:

    I never thought Gardner was good enough to be a Yankees regular, but he's kicked it up two notches and won me over. Hat's off maybe to Girardi; I got the impression that Girardi was a BG fan and wanted to give him a chance.

    Thames has a great situational bat, but his defense is terrible and has demonstrably cost the team some runs. Does anyone have any thoughts on whether the added offensive pop when platooning Thames outweighs the substantial loss in defense provided by Gardner?

  6. Eric Communiello says:

    This is a very very rough analysis, given that the sample size is so small, so take it however you'd like. I'm going to use Fangraphs' value figures.

    So far this season, Thames has been worth 5.6 runs batting and -2.0 runs fielding. This gives him a net worth of +3.6 runs.

    Gardner has been worth 3.4 runs batting and -0.7 runs fielding. His net worth is therefore +2.7 runs.

    So if you go strictly by the numbers then Thames has been worth more, but I still feel confident that the UZR system has not accurately graded Gardner this season. I'm sure this will be a topic throughout the season and I'll try to reevaluate at the end of May as well.

  7. Bronx Knight says:

    Eric, cool, thanks, I look forward to seeing how the numbers shake out, although it may be a bit of a moot question over the next month now that Granderson is out (hopefully CG will be back soon!).