Fangraphs reports that during this time Gardner has managed a .357 wOBA, good for a 122 wRC+, which is excellent, but it also puts him dead last among the top ten players during this time period. The culprit here — to the extent that there is one — is Gardner’s lack of power.
Over that same period Gardner has been worth 6.7 runs in Fangraphs’ Base Running metric, which is tied for ninth in all of baseball (and no doubt reduced due to Gardner’s slow start stealing bases this season). That’s a solid score, and makes up some of the difference between Brett and the bigger bats who also rate among the games best players of the past two seasons, but that alone isn’t how he got to 9.9 fWAR.
If you take Gardner’s defense into account, Fangraphs says he has been worth 40.4 runs since 2010. That isn’t just the best in all of baseball over this time period, that’s four wins! To put things in perspective, Andres Torres is second on this list, with a score of 24.2. According to Fangraphs, Brett Gardner isn’t just the best defender in all of baseball, he’s the best defender in all of baseball by a country mile. No one in the game comes close.
The question, then, is should we trust defensive metrics? The eye test for defense doesn’t always work at the margins, but we can give Gardner a pass. He runs down everything hit to him and about 30% of the balls hit toward Curtis Granderson. The question is whether or not Fangraphs is accurately measuring Gardner’s defense. Is it really as valuable as the website suggests?
The surprising answer, is probably yes, provided you also trust Baseball Reference. Gardner is one of those rare cases where Fangraphs and Baseball Reference are both in agreement when it comes to their respective offensive and defensive WAR metrics. Fangraphs argues that Brett has been worth 15.5 defensive runs this season and 24.9 defensive runs last season, while B-Ref rates him at 19 last season and 19 again this season. While that’s not in perfect alignment, they come pretty close together over the entire observed period. In total, Fangraphs suggests Brett was worth 6.2 wins last season, and 3.7 this season while B-Ref rates him at 5.2 last season and 3.4 so far this year, putting the two sites fairly close to agreement in terms of Brett’s value.
I’m not quite ready to annoint Brett as the best Yankee over the past season and a half, perhaps because when push comes to shove I’m more old school than I realize. (Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson have been excellent over this stretch as well.) However, I am willing to say that he’s the best all-around position player on the Yankees. Gardner does everything a player needs to do. His only flaw is that he doesn’t hit for power, but he can help make up for that with his speed. If he keeps up his current pace through the end of the year, however, I may just change my mind and remove the “all around” caveat from my assessment.
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