The Yankees know what they are going to get out of Brett Gardner every year. Sure, there will be some ebbs and flows, but they can count on the veteran to produce somewhere around a .255/.340/.400 batting line with top-notch defense and baserunning.
So far this year, the song remains the same. Although his offensive numbers are slightly down, Gardner has still been one of the top contributors on the Yankees. They have experimented with giving him more days off and dropping him in the order against tough left-handers, but the Yankees continue to roll out Gardner as an everyday player during the stretch run. A deep dive into the numbers suggests this is the right call, too.
It’s helpful to start with Gardner’s rate stats to see if there has even been a decline. Going by his traditional stats, it would appear that he is hitting for less power and a marginally lower average. Bad luck, however, can be attributed for some of this. Just consider his .278 BABIP, the lowest mark of his career.
That’s been the case for Gardner this year, and we can say that definitively because all of his other stats have stayed the same. His walk and strikeout rates are the second-best of his career; his isolated power isn’t too far off from where it has been; he’s still hitting for the same percentage of hard and soft contact; and he’s still averaging over four pitches per plate appearance. Basically, he’s been the same Gardner of old, but the combination of bad luck and age-related questions have made it seem like he’s been in decline when he isn’t.
As for the rest of Gardner’s skill set, he is still at the top of his game. He remains one of the Yankees’ best fielder and a perennial Gold Glove candidate, as his club-leading DRS can attest. He is still the club’s best baserunner by both the eye test and BsR. Although he doesn’t steal as many bases as he used to, Gardner knows when to pick his spots. Since 2014, perhaps when Gardner’s “selective” baserunning period began, he is 90-110 in stolen base attempts. That’s good for an 81.8 percent success rate, ninth best in the big leagues. And those were his age 30-34 seasons!
Fans need to consider the total package when evaluating Gardner. Those who do will find that old reliable is sixth on the team in WAR. Numbers alone, though, can’t quantify what Gardner means to the Yankees in the clubhouse. He’s one of just a few veteran leaders on this young team, and his grind-it-out style of play is a great way to start rallies. Although his contract is up at the end of this year, the Yankees can either exercise an option or re-sign him to a new deal. While Clint Frazier is an intriguing prospect, no one around this team would ever advocate moving on from Gardner.
Brett Gardner has been an underrated piece on this year’s Yankees. Although his numbers have taken a minuscule hit, he’s the perfect spark-plug to sit atop the lineup and one of the best clubhouse guys on the roster. If the Yankees are going to make any noise in October, you can be sure that Gardner will be right in the middle of it.