The Yankees offense doesn’t have to worry about much with a league-leading 127 wRC+. Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius are hitting at a torrid pace, and Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez are just starting to heat up.
Yet with all of the power numbers so far, one player has been notably absent: Brett Gardner. After a whopping 21 home runs and .163 ISO last season, right now he has only one home run, and his ISO is a measly .071. Gardner was never traditionally considered a power hitter, of course, but he saw a career transformation starting in 2013 where his power numbers have increasingly spiked:
While the collapse in 2016 can be somewhat attributed to a lingering wrist injury, 2018, while small in sample, is incredibly odd. There’s another eyebrow-raising trend, which may portend future power-related success. His batted ball profile is almost identical to 2017, and he simultaneously boosted his pull percentage while seeing his HR/FB% drop by about six percentage points.
His average exit velocity, too, has jumped up about .7 mph from last season. What else does Statcast reveal? I think it’s actually a lot simpler, and more anecdotal, when looking at the radial chart. While in 2017 he was dialed in to the ball...
...in 2018 he has yet to square up, completely, on a single pitch:
One of the reasons for this could simply be how pitchers approach him. Considering how well he slugs on pitched low-and-in...
...his pitch profile has considerably changed in 2018...
...in comparison to 2017 when pitches were closer to his sweet spot:
That doesn’t mean he has been fooled, of course. His contact rate and zone contact rate have both increased, and his swinging strike percentage has dropped by about a point.
But the book is definitely out on a more powerful Gardner. Just don’t give him pitches low-and-in to let him send it over the short porch, especially not in Yankee Stadium. The result is no direct contact, a lower average launch angle, and ultimately, a lot fewer home runs.
The good news is that we’re only about 100 plate appearances into the season, and Gardner still does have a proven track record at the plate. Yet age always plays a factor, and it’s no surprise that while 33-year-olds had a .166 ISO in 2017, 34-year-olds were at .158. Power always erodes over time.
Luckily the team is stacked with power, and his speed, defense, and #grit are also largely intact. We may be watching the beginning of his aging at the tail-end of his Yankees tenure, or it may just be a blip on what could be about 20 more home runs from now until the end of the season. Either way, Gardner’s power was so surprising and notable that you can’t not notice that it has evaporated. On a roster stocked with such talent and such youth, it very well may be masked.