While it was always likely that the Yankees were going to bring back a career member and beloved clubhouse presence, there was some consternation at the deal the team signed Brett Gardner to ahead of 2019. He was coming off a down year at the plate, and was set to turn 36 in August 2019.
After a fairly average first half, Gardner caught fire in the final three months. Some impressive numbers and a couple viral moments later, he not only justified the contract the Yankees gave him, but he went on to put up one of his best ever offensive seasons. He even flirted with 30 home runs, which is not anything anyone would have expected, even if there are reasons not in his control that may have inflated that total.
That season plus the fact that Aaron Hicks is likely out until at least June made the decision to bring back Gardner for 2020 an easy one. However, what can be expected of him when the new season gets underway?
2019 Stats: 550 PA, .251/.325/.503, 28 HR, 74 RBI, 19.5 K%, 9.5 BB%, 115 wRC+, 3.6 WAR
2020 FanGraphs Depth Char Projections: 511 PA, .247/.327/.418, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 19.3 K%, 9.8 BB%, 98 wRC+, 1.7 WAR
By far the most noticeable thing about Gardner’s 2019 was the massive increase in home runs. His batting average and on-base percentage were higher than what he did in 2018, but what carried him was the .135 point jump in his slugging percentage. His .253 isolated power was by far the highest of his career.
This generally seems to come from a pretty large increase in his launch angle last year:
Well that, and the fact that almost everyone’s home runs are up, probably because of the baseball. Which brings us to a potential downside to his 2020 season.
Despite MLB’s instance that nothing was different (or at least that it wasn’t an intentional difference), something was up with the baseballs in the playoffs compared to the regular season. While there’s only so much that can be read into a nine-game sample size, Gardner did hit .176/.263/.265 in the playoffs. Some of that would be due to just a slump, and some because of the increase in level of competition. However, he did just hit one home run in 34 plate appearances after essentially averaging one every 20 PAs in the regular season.
If the ball is not flying out at the rates that it had been in last season, then things could get a little iffy for Gardner. His exit velocity was actually down from what it was in 2018. His strikeout percentage was up while his walks were down. Home runs were a really large part of his improvement. If the ball stops carrying as much and they go away, it’s not hard to see him regress.
On the other hand, if the ball is similar and he keeps ups his approach, another strong season should be in store. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll still probably provide some at least solid defense and be a generally well-liked figure in the clubhouse, which counts for something.