My good friend sent me a text following Brett Gardner’s ejection against Cleveland and hinted very strongly that he wasn’t a big Gardy fan. Brett remains a polarizing figure among the Yankees fan base. We aren’t going to confuse his career numbers with Mike Trout, but his value to the team is clear. He may not be a game changer, but his daily contributions help the team sustain success.
When the Yankees announced his one year, 7.5 million dollar deal early in the offseason, I immediately thought it was a mistake. While being a big Gardner fan, I believed it was time to move on and grab Bryce Harper. Many shared this sentiment. This being the 2019 Yankees, of course, Gardy proved us wrong. So, it’s time to show the underappreciated vet some love.
It was fair to say at the end of 2018 Brett Gardner was no longer a productive everyday player. Some would make the case that he wasn’t an everyday guy for the last couple of years. The trend was clear: he would have a solid first half of the season, but due to his intense playing style, his production would fall off severely in the second half. Gardy would effectively play himself into a liability at the end of the year. 2019 is a different story.
Known more for his ability to get on base and create runs with his legs, Gardner has joined the power party. He is experiencing his best year in regards to power in his Major League career. His overall numbers sit at .251/.330/.480/.810, which are really solid, especially for a 36 year old with regular playing time. The number that stands out is the slugging percentage. It is the highest of his career and it’s not even close. There are a few possible reasons for this jump.
Brett’s ISO and launch angle are currently sitting at career high numbers. Prior to this season, Gardner’s highest ISO was .166. Coming into today, his ISO sits at .229. Those are a result of the highest average exit velocity (since Statcast began) of his career at 87.4. Funny enough, his second highest average exit velocity was last year. This is where the increase in his launch angle comes into play.
To quickly clear the air, there is no such thing as a “launch angle swing.” Every batted ball generates a launch angle. LA is simply a measurement of how the ball comes off the bat. There are mechanical adjustments you can make to create a more positive angle, but launch angle in of itself is not a swing technique.
It appears Gardy has made some of those mechanical adjustments to get the ball in the air more consistently. His current average launch angle sits at 13.3, while his previous career high was 9.2. He’s getting the ball in the air more consistently and with authority. His HR/PA rate of .040 is another career high. If Gardy can keep up this pace through the end of the year, he has a chance to put up career numbers in doubles, triples, homers, RBIs and total bases. He’s also doing this while drastically cutting down his strikeouts. It isn’t a stretch to say Brett Gardner is having a career year in his age 36 season. That is pretty remarkable.
It is worth mentioning the versatility Gardy provides in the lineup as well. Aaron Boone has written Gardy’s name in every spot in the lineup outside of cleanup. It is comforting for a manager to pencil in a dependable player at any spot that needs to be filled. It is a testament to the ability Brett brings to the team. He can do a little bit of everything, and in a year filled with injuries this is a tremendous asset to have.
In the grand scheme of things, Gardner’s numbers aren’t going to earn him an All Star bid or put him atop leaderboards. This is an exercise in comparing Brett Gardner to himself. The more important thing to measure is his specific value to the Yankees. His league rankings don’t factor for a team that boasts one of the top records in baseball. His raw and steady production is a crucial piece to this year’s success. Ultimately, that matters the most.
How ironic is it that in a season defined by injuries, the 36 year old, on a one year deal to be the fourth outfielder, has become an ironman of sorts. Yes, he missed some time in the middle of the season, but he is one of the consistent presences in the lineup. The Yankees have needed him for every single one of those games. It is even more impressive when you consider his style of play. He isn’t as active on the basepaths as he once was, but he still plays with a super aggressive approach in the outfield and remains in the top 10% of sprint speed in the entire league. He’s posted day in and day out this season and the Yankees have benefitted greatly from it.
A Defensive Wizard
I don’t need to tell you that Brett Gardner is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. He is one of the greatest defensive players to ever put on a Yankees uniform. There is a play this year that perfectly captures Gardner’s defensive gifts and his important value to the team.
In the second game of a big home series against Cleveland, the Yankees were up 3-2 in the top of the 8th inning. It was a highly competitive and tense game. Zack Britton was facing Francisco Lindor with one out and the tying run on second base. Britton unleashed a 95MPH sinker on the outside corner and Lindor got his barrel on it. I can still remember sitting in my seat in left field and feeling like everything stopped except the ball in the air and Brett Gardner racing to a spot. As a filmmaker, it felt like one of those moments where you would shoot an extreme wide shot just to give the viewer a strong sense of what Gardner was up against in that moment. This is how Gardy responded:
If Aaron Hicks didn’t make that amazing catch in Minnesota, this would be my candidate for Yankees’ Catch of The Year. This was a big game. It was a big moment. And Gardy responded with an amazing play. Here is Aaron Judge on that catch:
Ten out of 10 times, I know he’s going to make the play. Where he was positioned, the jump he got, from my view, how he was tracking it down. I knew he had a good bead on it and he saved the game for us right there. He won us the game.Aaron judge
This is Brett Gardner’s 2019 in a nutshell. He has been making winning plays all season. Gardy has been pretty invaluable and this play is a great example of that.
The Emotional Leader
There is a borderline stereotypical description of Brett Gardner’s baseball style. The words gritty and gutty immediately come to mind. They do feel somewhat accurate in this case. The locker room loves Brett Gardner. There is an intensity he brings every day. There is also a levity he gives the locker room. That balance is crucial when competing over a 162 game season. The best teams strike a balance and Gardner does a lot to achieve that.
On the R2C2 podcast, Mike Tauchman made it a point to say he emulates what Brett Gardner does. In the analytics era, it is very easy to dismiss intangibles. You can’t measure them and you can’t really see them. They’re completely dependent upon feeling. Brett Gardner does a terrific job of making everyone in the locker room feel important. This trait has never been more critical than this year. In all honesty, this season should have ran away from the Yankees, but it didn’t. Brett Gardner is a big reason why. Here is Aaron Boone on Gardy:
There’s just a blue-collar kind of toughness that he plays with that the guys look to and that does a really good job of helping set the tone in that room.Aaron boone
There hasn’t been a Yankee captain since Derek Jeter. Brett Gardner will never hold that title, but he is the soul of the position players. That isn’t a bad consolation prize.