What if I told you a man existed who could single-handedly unite two sides that we have been told since birth are un-unite-able, one stolen base/triple/infield single at a time? Ok, with the hyperbole firmly in place I give you the one player that both scouts and sabermetricians can appreciate and claim as their own, that man is none other than Brett Gardner. Currently sporting a 307/399/411 slash line, 40 BBs and 50 Ks, and successful on 25 of 31 stolen base attempts. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 amateur draft, he has slowly progressed into a solid everyday ballplayer.
Forget the fact that his jersey is dirty before the first pitch and that he takes the extra base when possible and more importantly steals bases (always big with the scouting/skills crowd) and looks great running down the first base line trying to chug out another infield single – Brett Gardner just looks like a ballplayer no? Even the lame Joe Morgan couldn’t disagree Gardner has been a revelation for the Yankees this season, playing solid defence (he should be starting in CF, but we will leave that for another time), giving the Yankees a spark at the bottom of the order with his all-out hustle and blazing speed – the guy can flat out fly.
However he is also extremely “saber-friendly” for a player of his ilk and style. He rarely swings at a bad pitch (18.5% o-swing) or really at all (31.2% swing rate) and when he does swing he makes contact (91.9% contact rate). Gardner currently sports a .374 wOBA mostly due to his patience at the plate (399 OBP – 12.2% BB) and despite a small hiccup in terms of his relatively neutral UZR rating this season he has already produced a 2.4 WAR in only half a season worth of games. Not bad for a guy who was barely an afterthought in the off-season and viewed more as a depth/bench player. The left-handed hitter is not a total liability versus lefties (261/371/375 – 340 wOBA) and has really earned his keep versus righties (328/412/427 – 375 wOBA) while mostly batting 8th or 9th for the Bronx Bombers this season.
While discussing Gardner’s season with my buddy Harry (also a New York native and Yankee fan – street cred enough? His last name even sounds Italian) he had made the comment that he wished the Yanks did not pull the trigger on their trade for Curtis Granderson in the off-season. He would go on to explain it had nothing to do with any particular dislike for Granderson, or that he was absolutely sold on Austin Jackson or Phil Coke, but more so the fact he felt they had the CF answer already in-house with Brett Gardner.
Not to say Gardner is a bonafide superstar, he hits more singles than rock stars and has been slightly propped by a .357 BABIP – though not outlandish given Gardner’s propensity to hit groundballs coupled with the fact he might be the fastest player in the majors. However to say he hasn’t been the Yankees biggest surprise this season would be a lie, Gardner has performed like Ichiro with more patience, he is here to stay.