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Brett Gardner and the case of the suddenly vanishing offense

Brett Gardner's numbers have plummeted in 2016. What is causing the veteran outfielder to get fewer hits this year?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Almost a calendar year after making the All Star team for the first time, Brett Gardner's offensive production has taken a hit. In 2016, he has a slash line of .220/.350/.341, with his ability to get hits and generate power seemingly going out the window. If not for his impressive walk rate of 14.6%, we would probably be debating whether he should be dropped in the batting order.

The biggest drop-off in Gardner's production has come against left-handed pitching. After putting up reverse platoon splits in 2015, Gardner has a slash line of just .180/.281/.200, which is good for a wRC+ of 38. He has just one extra base hit against lefties, a double. Unfortunately, his peripheral stats suggest that his woes against southpaw pitchers are holistic, and not just a result of bad luck:

Brett Gardner BB% K GB% IFFB% Soft%
vs. LHP 10.3% 25.9% 61.8% 28.6% 25.0%
vs. RHP 16.4% 17.1% 52.3% 6.9% 12.2%

Gardner is an extraordinary contact hitter, so his high strikeout rate against lefties comes as a surprise. With his low hard-hit rate and his massive groundball and popup rates, it is hard to argue that he is simply getting unlucky against left-handed pitchers. In addition to struggling to hit the ball in the air, southpaws have forced Gardner to use the field less, as his Pull% is up to 44.4% against them. Any hitter who has ever drawn a shift can attest to the danger of hitting too many grounders to the pull side.

Digging deeper, Gardner has struggled against fastballs from left-handed pitchers. As a left-handed hitter, it makes sense that Gardner would not do well against sliders and curveballs from fellow southpaws. However, he has always done well against fastballs, no matter who threw them. This season, he is hitting .211 against fastballs, two seam fastballs, and sinkers thrown by lefties.

That one extra base hit he had came off of an 88 mph fastball from A's reliever Eric Surkamp. This may be indicative of another issue that has plagued Gardner this season, the inability to handle velocity. On pitches clocked at 94+ mph, Gardner is hitting .161 with a .194 slugging percentage.

The two issues that have impacted Brett Gardner's offensive production are his numbers against lefties and his trouble against elite velocity. Given his tremendous contact skills, he should be able to go toe to toe with hard-throwing pitchers. But the Yankees should pay close attention to his at-bats against left-handed pitching. If his platoon splits don't even out soon, it might be time to start thinking about using him as a platoon player. Hopefully it won't come to that though, as Gardy can go back to being a driving force in the lineup if he can hit lefties again.

Data is courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.
Statistics are as of June 3, 2016.