In a response to Rob’s earlier post about Marcus Thames’ superhuman 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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