Brett Gardner was the longest tenured member of the Yankees in 2018. He first appeared in pinstripes way back in 2008, and was part of the team that won the World Series in 2009. He has spent his entire career in the Bronx, and he has flourished. A player that looked to be not much more than a speedster and defensive specialist has put together a fantastic career as a Yankee.
Gardner has a team option for 2019, meaning that 2018 may very well have been his final season in pinstripes. If that comes to pass, it will be a little disappointing, as Gardner didn’t exactly go out on a high note. He exhibited signs of decline, and by the end of the year, he was mostly crowded out of a loaded outfield. Yet overall, he still provided the Yankees with solid production.
2018 Statistics: 140 games, 609 plate appearances, .236/.322/.368, 12 home runs, 45 RBI, 95 runs, 20 doubles, 2.8 WAR, 90 wRC+
2019 Contract Status: $12.5 million team option, $2 million buyout
A grade of “C” almost feels a little harsh for Gardner. He essentially turned in a season that was exactly what could have been expected from him, but his struggles down the stretch probably left a more sour taste in the mouth than was warranted.
Gardner’s play in the second half did leave plenty to be desired. Throughout his career, Gardner has pretty consistently played worse after the All-Star Break, and 2018 was no excep; he hit a paltry .209/.288/.316 with three home runs after the break, good for a 66 wRC+.
That second-half decline, along with the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen and the return of Aaron Judge, made it easier for Aaron Boone to leave Gardner’s name off the lineup card late in the year. Gardner made just 19 starts in September and only one start in the playoffs, after clocking in nearly every day early in the season.
Yet Gardner’s late-season fade shouldn’t entirely color our view of his season. His weak finish certainly brought his numbers down a bit, but his performance on the season remained valuable. His play at the plate was lackluster, but Gardner’s excellent defense and baserunning helped him maintain his status as a starting-caliber player.
While Gardner was not aggressive on the basepaths, stealing just 16 bases, he was caught only twice. His ability to avoid outs on the basepaths gave him 8.9 baserunning runs per FanGraphs, second-best in MLB. Defensive Runs Saved rated Gardner as 10 runs better than the average left fielder. Plus, Statcast’s sprint speed still had Gardner as one of baseball’s fastest runners, at 29.2 ft/sec, actually slightly up from last season.
Whatever physical decline Gardner is undergoing at age 35, it hasn’t impacted him in terms of speed and defense. Where it did impact him, however, was in terms of power. Gardner developed an almost shocking level of power late in his career, but that power evaporated in 2018, as he hit nine fewer homers than in 2017, and saw his slugging percentage fall 60 points.
The underlying numbers look worse. Gardner’s average hit velocity on balls in the air was 91.7 mph, 206th in the league. Statcast estimated that his expected wOBA on contact was just .288, meaning that when Garnder actually put the ball in play, he was hardly doing any damage.
Gardner’s skills really looked more disparate than ever in 2018. He remained superlative with regard to his speed and his glove, but his power disappeared, and he relied heavily on plate discipline to work counts and get on base. This version of Gardner was still quite worthwhile, but his lack of thump at the dish limited his upside, and ultimately cost him playing time down the stretch.
If this is it for Gardner in New York, he should be remembered not for his wobbly finish, but for his otherwise excellent work as a Yankee. Gardner was better for the past decade than anyone could have expected, and he remained a worthy contributor even in his later years. While it was sad to see him often relegated to the bench by the end, Gardner still had a fine 2018 to possibly send off his Yankee career.