While watching the Yankees get swept by the Blue Jays on Wednesday night, one comment that struck me on Twitter was that people were complaining about Brett Gardner's batting average. I saw that it had dropped to .211, so I immediately thought that his recent slump has really wrecked his season so far. Well, until I looked at pretty much every other number on his stats page.
I can admit that Gardner is not having the best of stretches at the moment. Coming into June 2nd he has only six hits in his last 53 plate appearances, which is atrocious. The difference, though, is a few things. Before that 53 plate appearance stretch he was hitting at a 115 wRC+ clip, so this recent stretch has dragged him down to a 93 wRC+.
If you take into consideration that 93 wRC+ is not really as bad as a .211 batting average would say, then things look rosier. Look at Brett Gardner compared to other left fielders in the American League: he is 9th of 15th in wRC+, 7th in fWAR, and 4th in OBP. That... isn't bad at all. It's not what we would usually expect from Gardner, and I think many fans think of him as a true talent .300 hitter, but it doesn't matter. He is struggling mightily, and he's still in the middle of the pack.
The key to what has kept him afloat this year is his plate discipline. Gardner has a 14.4% walk rate this year (28 walks in total), which is the best mark in his career. That's likely to regress closer to his career line of about 10%, but those walks are banked. He has swung at fewer pitches outside the zone than usual (17.8% this year and 22.1% in his career), and his contact percentage and zone-contact percentage are within a percentage point of his career norms.
Of course there are concerns, though. Gardner has a 77 wRC+ dating back to the All-Star break last year, and there's always the chance his wrist could still be bothering him. It may just be one of things where it bothers him from time to time; that's the price of getting older. His defense is also starting to look visibly worse than even a few years back--his range looks more and more limited by the year, and his arm is barely passable. Once again, getting older stinks.
At the same time, though, his line this year isn't bad enough where it should significantly alter our thinking of who Brett Gardner is as a player. He is still good. ZiPS believes he will finish the year with 2.1 fWAR, and Steamer believes it will be 2.2. He's going to be about a league average player, and his contract is still a bargain.
There are a ton of issues with this team. There are still eight players on the team with a lower wRC+ than him, and only Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury have a higher fWAR among position players. It's time we stop complaining about Gardner's batting average, because he is by no means the problem.