I am a non-reluctant convert. Back when he first came up, I was a Brett Gardner fan, no doubt. I liked that he was fast, took pitches, and played solid defense. However, my faith in his ability to keep up consistently productive offensive numbers was anything but high. His ability to draw walks was fantastic, but his batting average skills weren’t that great and his power was essentially non existent. All it would take, I supposed, was pitchers challenging Gardner with pitches down the middle; if he hits it, it’s a single and no worse. But, years later, Gardner has proved me wrong, and I love that. In the last two years, he’s had double-digit walk rates, despite low power outputs. Coupling about-league-average-offense with mind-blowing defense, Gardner has turned into an incredible value for the Yankees. For 2012, there is no one stat to watch with Gardner. Rather, we should focus on his approach, which changed a little bit in 2011.
Using the PITCHf/x plate discipline data, we can see that Gardner made a concerted effort to change things up at the plate. While Gardner’s patient approach is commendable (and useful for that matter), taking all the time can get rather predictable. This past year, Gardner went from swinging at 30.5% of the pitches he saw to 34.9%. For reference, league averages in 2010/2011 were 44.7% and 45.3%. While he upped his swing% a lot, he was still well below league average. In fact, his swing% was the second lowest in the league (only Bobby Abreu‘s was lower at 33.7%). When Gardner did swing, he tended to make contact. His mark of 91.4% was 6th in baseball. Some of that contact, though, wasn’t great.
Brett did come away with a career high 19.4 line drive percentage, but he also had a crazy-high 19.6 IFFB%, which was third highest in baseball. Easier said than done, but Brett’s gotta find a way to keep the line drive swing and avoid dropping his shoulder. Because of his lack of power (and general lack of lower-half movement in his swing), there’s no way Gardner can generate any sort lift/airborne power on most of his swings. He’ll run into one every so often, but those ones are more likely to end up as doubles in the gap than balls over the walls.
So at the end of this all, I guess we should keep our eye on Brett’s swing, contact, line drive, and IFFB rates. All of those are indicative of Brett’s approach and his swing, two things that have worked for him thus far.
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