Gary Sanchez’s brutal slump at the plate to begin the season has been a prominent topic of conversation for Yankees fans, but right alongside Sanchez has been Brett Gardner, who badly struggled at the plate through the first week of the season until a titanic blast against the Red Sox on Friday night.
Heading into the weekend, in 11 at-bats, Gardner had yet to collect a hit while striking out seven times. Having just been brought back on a one-year deal after blasting a career-high 28 home runs in 2019, Gardner figured to be a steady bat in the outfield while Giancarlo Stanton handled the bulk of the DH duties. That of course can still be the case, as 12 plate appearances is an incredibly small sample size, and a home run can certainly end a slump. It will certainly take time and adjustment from Gardner, however, who looked lost at the in parts of this season.
Gardner, often regarded as a quality contact hitter, has struggled to barrel up the baseball in 2020, his home run notwithstanding, and it really began on Opening Day, when he struck out three times. His first at-bat of the season was a strikeout against Max Scherzer, which, you know, is hardly a big deal considering it’s Scherzer, but it actually served as a prelude to his next few games. Here’s how the at-bat shook out:
Gardner got three pitches in the zone, the final one coming on a 95 mph heater up, but he was unable to put any of them in play. He has actually been fairly disciplined at the plate this year, laying off of pitches out of the zone (which he did on Friday night when he drew a pair of walks), but when he gets a pitch to hit, he’s not doing anything with it. Take a look at these other strikeouts so far this season:
That last strikeout was a tough one for Gardner, getting two pitches out over the heart of the plate, but failing to make contact. His final game against the Orioles earlier this week saw him strike out four times, and much like against Scherzer, he was efficient at spitting on pitches out of the zone, but hasn’t been making the contact we’re used to seeing from him when he does get a strike.
Again, it’s so early in the season, but looking at any changes Gardner may have made since last season, it does look like he’s hovering over the strike zone a bit more than usual. Has that affected his ability to make quality contact on pitches up in the zone? It may be too early to make that conclusion, but there does seem to be a difference in his stance, with the left photo coming from Friday night and the right from an at-bat last season:
Historically, Gardner has been a stronger hitter out of the gate rather than down the stretch, though last year he ended the season on a tear, posting a 144 wRC+ in September. Those kind of stats are hard to gauge when it comes to this season, especially given how long it’s been since any hitters had seen live pitching. Hitting across the board has been down so far in 2020, and the long layoff could be a reason why. The Yankees hope that’s the case for Gardner, and his final at-bat on Friday night could be a sign of better days ahead.