Brian Heyman of LoHud details a sequence of plays from yesterday’s game that illustrates how Gardner’s speed can impact the game. Here’s what he wrote:
In the third, Gardner made it 3-0, reaching on a bouncer to the hole between third and short with two outs and two in scoring position. Then he took off on a steal attempt of second. He didn’t think catcher Taylor Teagarden would throw through with Curtis Granderson on third. Gardner stopped before he got to second, hoping for a rundown to try to allow Granderson to bolt home. But Teagarden rushed a throw to second. The ball tailed and skipped into center. Granderson scored, and then so did Gardner on a two-run homer by Jeter, and it was 6-0.
Two things here. First, whenever you see a player get in a rundown with a man on 3rd, that is generally done intentionally. You will often see it with 2 outs, a runner in scoring position and a ball hit to the outfield, where the a baserunner draws the outfielders throw and avoids being tagged long enough to ensure that the man in scoring position reaches home safely. So if you see a baserunner get into a run down, it’s not always a baserunning blunder, it’s very often a designed play.
Next, take a look at that play from a statistical standpoint. Gardner gets credit for a stolen base, but the run scores on an error that gets charged to Teagarden. Yet the error was a result of rushing the throw, which was obviously a product of Gardner’s speed. So looking at most run producing stats will often miss the point with Brett. He will often reach 1B on throwing errors and advance to 2nd without even getting an AB, much less raising his OBP or BA. The most important stat to look at with Brett is Runs scored, and I also like to look at Total Bases with players like him. You’ll find that speedy players like him (and Jose Reyes) will score an inordinate amount of runs in what appears to be very few opportunities, but plays like this illustrate just how that happens.
His defensive prowess in the outfield also tends to get overlooked and underrated by many fans. We have advanced metrics to rate a players defense, but the way that plays out in an individual game can mean turning what would have been a Double or Triple with recent Yankee Left Fielders into an out. Again, in a low scoring game that can be the difference between winning and losing, and even in a slugfest a bases-clearing double can provide the margin in a game.
Manager Joe Girardi has long been a fan of Brett Gardner, and discussed what he brings to the table during yesterday’s post game. He said:
“That’s what Gardy does,” Joe Girardi said. “He creates problems for the defense. He takes the attention of just trying to get the hitter out at times. He puts pressure on the catchers, the infielders. … He’s a pest.”
As a former Catcher who played against the likes of Tim Raines, Ricky Henderson and Brett Butler, I’m sure Joe is intimately aware of the havoc players like Brett will cause. Yankee fans old enough to remember Ricky Henderson’s tenure in pinstripes will remember the effect he had on opposing pitchers, who were often so distracted with keeping Ricky from stealing 2nd that they would often walk the next batter, or fall behind and be forced to groove one over the plate. A sequence like that shows up as a walk for the pitcher or a hit for the batter, yet the ‘pest’ on First base was certainly a factor. So his impact is difficult to nail down statistically, but is clear as you see a play develop. It will take time for Brett to develop a reputation comparable to that of Henderson, but it is obvious that he is already in the heads of opposing players to some extent.
Those of us who are fans of Brett Gardner have long argued that what he brings doesn’t always show up on his side of the boxscore for the evening. That he adds a different element to the Yankee attack, one that can help them prevent runs with his outstanding defense or scratch out a potentially decisive run in a low-scoring pitcher’s duel. We all know the Yanks can slug with anyone, but recent Yankee teams have run into a brick wall facing good pitchers in the post season, ones for which they had no answers. Brett Gardner can diversify the Yankee offense and be the kind of player who can generate a key run all by himself, without the benefit of a hit or even with him getting the ball out of the infield. As we exit the steroid era, Gardner provides a glimpse into the distant past, when Baseball was played by quick little men who scored runs by executing fundamentals, and taking advantage of errors by the opposing team. As a fan, he’s fun to watch and root for. He gives hope to anyone who was ever told they were too small or too scrawny to play Baseball. There’s room for players like Brett, even on a team like the Yankees.
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