Brett Gardner is having a very good year at the plate in 2014. Through 91 games, the 30-year-old outfielder is hitting .279/.353/.424, good enough for a career-best 116 wRC+. The most exciting -- and most uncharacteristic -- part of Gardner's offensive performance has been his power output. Historically a punchless slap hitter, Gardner's hitting for above-average power this year: His .424 SLG and .145 ISO are both well above his career norms and he's already set a new career-high nine home runs.
Gardner's new-found power can be traced back to a change in approach that started in spring training 2013, when he decided to be more aggressive at the plate in the hopes of barreling more hittable pitches. Ever since, he's swung at a higher percentage of pitches -- 39% vs. 33% -- and has been especially aggressive on pitches in the zone, where his swing rate has jumped from 45% to 54%. Although this has led to fewer walks, both his power numbers and offensive output have increased in lock-step:
Gardner's bat has never been his claim to fame. In fact, he relied on just about everything other than actually hitting the ball–speed, defense, and drawing tons of walks–to make it to the big leagues. But now he's benefiting from relying on his hit tool a little more often rather than simply waiting for the pitcher to throw him ball four. Walks are great, but at the end of the day, a walk isn't quite as valuable as a hit, and boatloads of walks could end up doing more harm than good if they're coming at the expense of extra base hits.
The Yankees should be pleased with this offensive spike from Gardner, who they signed through 2018 -- his age 34 season -- last winter. Gardner's defense is unlikely to remain elite much longer, so he'll need to hit a little bit to be a useful player over the last two or three years of his contract. But based on what he's done so far this season, that 4-year, $52 million extension might end up looking like a bargain for the Yankees when all is said and done.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.