Brett Gardner had an up and down season. He started it off as the Yankees’ leadoff hitter, but lost the job after a tough first month of the year (.286 wOBA/73 wRC+). The next three months were much better, as Gardner produced splits of .337/108; .386/141; and .358/122. He crashed again in August with a .281/68 mark, but ended the year well, hitting .332/104 in September.
This isn’t so strange, really. We’ve seen this streakiness from Gardner for the last few years. During the cold streaks, it’s certainly maddening. During the hot streaks, he’s great to watch. He gets on base, takes the extra base (both after hits and on the basepaths), and looks like the leadoff hitter we know he could be.
The more interesting turn for Gardner the last few years has been in his platoon split. We’ll discount 2008 since it was a relatively small sample. Even in 2009, he just got 65 PA against left handed pitchers. In 2010, he racked up 171 PAs against them, and 124 in 2011. In 2010 (and the limited time in 2009), Gardner showed that he could at least handle himself against lefties. In that limited sample of 2009, Gardner wOBA/wRC+’d .350/107 against lefties. It dropped a bit to .332/102 in 2011, but that’s still better than acceptable; it’s average. This past year, though, that mark dropped to a replacement-level like .290/75.
Ironically enough, Gardner actually had a better walk rate against lefties (12.5) than he did against righties (9.5) and struck out less against lefties (12.1%) than against righties (16.8%). On the flip side, he hit for much less power against southpaws (.039 Iso) than right handers (.128 Iso). Granted, neither number is great, but I think we’re not going to get much else out of Gardner power-wise (and that’s okay).
Perhaps BABIP is to blame for Gardner’s decline against lefties. He’s gone from a .356 mark in 2009 to a .314 mark in 2010, to a .270 mark in 2011. This year, he didn’t exactly smack the ball against lefties, as evidenced by the above Iso mark and a low 11.9% line drive mark and a high 20.7% infield fly ball mark.
The walk rate and the resulting .344 OBP against left handed pitching tells me that Gardner isn’t helpless against that set of pitchers. The lack of power (.272 SLG) is what seems to hurt Gardner against lefty pitchers. I wonder if next year we’ll see Gardner get platooned like he did this year. My gut says yes, but of course, that depends on whether or not the Yankees can find a suitable platoon partner for him. If not, I’d be comfortable giving him some reps against lefties again. He may have been pretty crappy against them in 2011, but again, that .344 OBP and high walk rate give me hope that he can bounce back against them.
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