What a weekend series for Brett Gardner. After a walk-off home run in the 11th inning on Thursday to set the tone for the series, we were treated to another Gardy Party on Saturday afternoon when he ripped a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to give the Yankees another huge win. In the aftermath of Gardner’s big weekend, we need to take some time to appreciate Gardner’s veteran value to a team that prides itself on youth.
The walk-off hits weren’t Gardner’s only contributions to the series. With his uniform still damp from a Gatorade bath the night before, Gardner followed his walk-off homer on Thursday night with a leadoff dinger in game two on Friday night. Gardner is no stranger to setting the tone as the team’s leadoff hitter. In 76 at-bats leading off a game this season, Gardner holds an OPS of 1.030 with four home runs and 13 walks. When the Yanks need to start things off with a bang and set the tone for the game, Gardner provides it.
The mood around Gardner last season was much more sour after experiencing a major decline in power production. Despite being an All-Star in 2015, his second half of that season was frustrating, to say the least. Could he have been hurt? It’s not a crazy assumption considering how he is swinging the bat so far in the second half this year.
Gardner seemed like an inevitable trade victim given his four year, $52 million deal through the 2018 season. A suitor could not be found, so Gardner remained in the outfield. He now finds himself in center field between two Baby Bombers who follow his leadership and the spark he provides at the top of the order. If he continues to produce like this, his once frustrating contract will seem like a bargain.
Let’s go back to the walk-offs and take a look at Gardner’s stats in the clutch. In 61 at-bats in high leverage situations, Gardner is batting .295 with three home runs and a .375 BABIP. In tie games, he has seven homers with .933 OPS in 118 at-bats. What may be most impressive and helpful to the team is his average with two outs and runners in scoring position. In 41 at-bats in such situations, Gardner has four home runs, 20 RBI, and a slugging percentage of .610. There is no denying Gardner’s ability to come through when he is needed most.
Looking at his stats leading off games and in clutch spots at the end of games, it isn’t hard to tell that Gardner contributes heavily from start to finish. It also doesn’t only happen within the confines of Yankee Stadium. His home and away splits are almost identical, and we all remember his huge ninth inning home run against the Cubs at Wrigley Field to help the Yanks sweep the defending champs.
As the Yankees embrace the youth movement and boast their prized prospects, let’s not forget that Gardner is a home grown Yankee who has always been described as a great teammate, and is now one of the team’s best performers in the clutch. Alongside Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier, Gardner is currently a valuable piece in a very entertaining outfield.