Throughout his career, Brett Gardner has carried around a label that described him as a left-handed slap hitter who will provide exceptional defense. Gardner could hit like a replacement level scrub and still be an above average Major League player because his defense is generationally good: 3.2 dWAR, 25.8 UZR in 2011. Let that sink in for a moment.
Because everything he does with his glove is so incredible, everything that he provides with his bat is just gravy on top. And since it seems like I haven't heard Gardner's name very often this offseason, I thought I'd take a look at his offense.
In 2009, Gardner improved his triple slash line to .270/.345/.379, which included a very average 99 wRC+. Looking deeper, however, shows that Gardner walked more, at 9.2%, struck out less, at 14.1%, showed more power, and improved his LD% to 18.1%. His GB% increased to 49% and his FB% decreased to 32.8%, good for a 1.49 GB/FB ratio.
In 2010, Gardner blossomed during his first opportunity as a full-time starter, hitting .277/.383/.379, which included 47 stolen bases and a 120 wRC+. His power output remained steady with an ISO just over .100, while again improving his LD% to 18.6% and, again, increasing his GB% to 53.4% while watching his FB% decrease to 27.9%. He also walked a career high 13.9% of the time. Gardner had found a system that worked very well - walk a lot, hit line drives and grounders in order to maximize his speed, avoid fly balls, and steal bases. A 6.1 WAR season proved that this was a great way to maximize his skill-set.
2011 was a bit of a different story for Gardner, as he seemed to regress for the first time. He hit .259/.345/.369, including a 103 wRC+. He didn't walk as much, as his BB% dropped from 13.9% to 10.2%, and for the first time of his short career, his GB% dropped from the season prior and his FB% increased from the year before. However, the drops in his GB and FB percentages were not too significant, as his GB/FB ratio slipped from 1.91 to 1.85. On the other hand, Gardner showed the highest LD% of his career at 19.4%. So why the drop in production?
The biggest difference between 2011 and 2010 for Gardner was that his infield flyball percentage more than doubled, increasing from 8.8% to 19.6%. This would seem to explain why his BABIP dropped from .340 in 2010 to .303 in 2011, a low number when considering that Gardner is really fast and hit a lot of line drives and grounders.
If Gardner can get back to not popping out while walking more and continuing the trend of an increasing LD% with a high GB/FB ratio, we could see Gardner have a year even better than his 2010. When combined with, arguably, the best defense in the sport, we'd be looking at one hell of a year.
All statistics from fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com.