Brett Gardner is still going, folks. As I’ll get to shortly, he keeps staving off the end of his playing days even when things look bleak. His performance was uneven during 2020, but ultimately, he ended with an above average batting line with his typically strong glovework.
Just when you thought he was done…
How many consecutive years has Gardner looked done? I mean, check out some of the craters in his rolling wOBA:
Well, he did it again in 2020. Through August 31st, Gardy had a .169/.302/.338 (80 wRC+) in 86 plate appearances. His power from a year ago (28 home runs!) was no more. Sure, he still drew his fair share of walks (15.1 percent), but he was also striking out more than ever before (26.7 percent). For reference, he hasn’t had a strikeout rate north of 20 percent since 2015. Even in the bizarre playing environment that 2020 brought, it (again) seemed like Gardner was toast.
The longest tenured Yankee is about to hit the open market. Possibly not for long, though. The Yankees and Brett Gardner have played the same song and dance over the past few seasons, and even though the team has passed on his $10 million option for 2021, there’s a very good chance he returns next season at a lesser salary. For now, the team has to pay Gardy a $2.5 million buyout.
Gardner hit .223/.354/.392 (110 wRC+) in 158 plate appearances this season. The vast majority of that production came in September as he entered the final month of the regular season with a .169/.302/.338 (80 wRC+) line. Just like seemingly every year for the past three or four seasons, once you thought Gardner was left for dead, he came back to life.
Now, should the Yankees bring back Gardner next season? I’d be OK with it as long as it’s in a fourth or fifth outfielder role. Really, I’d like to have Gardy take over Mike Tauchman’s position on the roster. That would put Clint Frazier in left field as the starter and another open backup outfield position ahead of Gardner on the depth chart. We’ll see.
It’s no secret that the Yankees’ lineup is dominated by right-handed hitters. Great righties, without a doubt. But at the same time, Kevin Cash’s Rays had no problem matching up against the Bombers’ bats in the ALDS. The offense still had some good performances in the series and is far from the only issue facing the Yankees’ roster, but it’s clear that it could use some balance. Aside from switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, the Yankees really lacked a threat from the left side this season. It’s something that should be addressed this winter. Randy and I discussed it on the podcast, too.
Inserting another good left-handed hitter is easier said than done, of course. From top to bottom, the Yankees’ lineup is built with some of the best righties in the sport. Trading Luke Voit for the sake of lineup balance is not a good idea. He’s been an elite hitter ever since the Yankees acquired him from St. Louis. Really, the Yankees are backed into a corner in terms of starters. The only open position this offseason is second base (or shortstop, if you want to move Gleyber Torres over), but at the same time, this team needs to bring free agent DJ LeMahieu back. I suppose catcher too if you really want to dump Gary Sánchez, but get back to me when you find a good left-handed catcher available. So, the Yankees will have to attack this balance issue differently.
That was ideal, was it not? The Yankees clobbered Cleveland in Game 1 of this best-of-three series, 12-3. The offense was all over Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole mowed down his opponent. It’s not like the Yankees needed to blow out Cleveland to feel comfortable, either. In fact, this one felt over after Aaron Judge’s two-run blast on the fourth pitch of the game. An early lead with Cole on the hill against a scuffling Cleveland offense? Just what the doctor ordered. Let’s break it down.
The bats took Bieber off his gameplan immediately. The Yankees’ offense may have been frustrating and inconsistent during the regular season, but that was far from the case tonight. Intimidated by the presumptive American League Cy Young winner? Not a chance. The Bombers took a 2-0 lead four pitches into this one. It completely took Shane Bieber off his game. DJ LeMahieu led off with a single and Aaron Judge followed with this:
That was quick. Bieber had come out firing all fastballs and the Yankees made him pay immediately. The right immediately shied away from his heater thereafter.
Bieber threw 27 fastballs the rest of the game, or 26.7 percent of his final 101 pitches. He’s not necessarily a fastball dominant pitcher as he used the pitch just over 37 percent in the regular season, but still. The Yankees scared him off the pitch.
Cleveland’s ace had a chance to settle down after a scoreless second and two relatively quick outs in the third inning. But instead, the Yankees’ relentless offense made him pay. Bieber fell behind Aaron Hicks 3-0, got it to 3-2, but then walked him. Up came Luke Voit:
Not a fastball, but rather, a cutter right down the pipe. Voit made him pay to give the Yanks a 3-1 lead.
The Yanks tallied a couple of more runs against Bieber in the fourth. Brett Gardner jumped a first pitch fastball for an RBI double and DJ LeMahieu delivered an RBI single up the middle against a heater too. The Yankees may not have seen Bieber’s fastball much, but when they did, they pounced. And they weren’t done jumping on Bieber’s fastball there. Gleyber Torres delivered the knockout blow in the fifth.
That was the end of Bieber’s night. 4 2/3 innings and 7 runs for the starter with a 1.77 ERA this season. Welp!
The offense didn’t let Bieber capitalize on his curveball, either. As impressive as it was to see the Yankees punish Bieber’s sporadically thrown fastball, it was also great to watch them not flail at too many of Bieber’s curveballs. Opponents had a .095 batting average, .143 slugging percentage, and 51.5 percent whiff rate against his yakker this season. Tonight, it’s not what they did when they put the ball in play (1-for-6), but rather, what they did against it otherwise.
Sure, Bieber racked up four Ks on his breaking ball, but that doesn’t tell the story. They whiffed on 7 of 18 swings (39 percent) against the curve, well below his regular season rate. They also fouled it off 5 times. Plus, Bieber was only able to nab 3 called strikes on it. It simply just wasn’t his typical putaway pitch this evening.
Overall, Bieber went to his curveball on 36 percent of his pitches this evening, 10 percent higher than in the regular season. That would have been a decent plan tonight had his curveball been fooling Yankees’ hitters. Instead, the offense was locked in. They hunted fastballs while spoiling Bieber’s curveball.
This one was over pretty early. The Yankees put up crooked numbers in the second, third, and fourth innings en route to a 20-6 victory. Rookie Deivi García was great again, the offense socked a bunch of homers, and Toronto’s gaffes in the second inning opened things up. The winning streak is up to six and the Bombers are back in second place in the AL East. To the takeaways we go:
But first, we interrupt this recap to bring you a few words from David Cone and Michael Kay:
Yes, yes, we agree. Now, back to your regularly scheduled recap.
The Yankees are finally catching some breaks. It wasn’t that long ago when the Yankees couldn’t help but trip over themselves. Remember that awful loss to the Mets in extras? Those were the bad times when the team was making tons of sloppy plays and players were hitting the injured list on a daily basis. The tides have turned of late, though. Tonight, especially.
If not for Derek Fisher, the Yankees might have not scored in the second inning. Instead, one error and a misplay scored a single really allowed things to unfurl. Jays’ starter Taijuan Walker couldn’t stop the bleeding and pick up his outfielder, either.
First, with Gio Urshela (welcome back!) on second and one out, Clint Frazier hit what should have been a routine fly out to right:
Brett Gardner followed with a fly ball in the gap that Fisher couldn’t track down:
Two brutal miscues, but Walker still had a chance to get out of this with just one run allowed. After the Gardner hit, Walker struck out Gary Sánchez for the second out of the frame. That left just Tyler Wade between Walker and a trip to the dugout with the score just 1-1. Walker got to 0-2 on Wade, but couldn’t finish him off. A few pitches later, Wade delivered:
That’s just inexcusable for Walker. Wade, a lifetime .188/.264/.293 hitter coming into this game, should be an easy out especially when he’s behind 0-2 and is the final batter before the top of the order. Instead, after the Wade knock, DJ LeMahieu singled in another run to make it 3-1. That’s when things really snowballed.
Those back-to-back homers knocked Walker out of the ballgame. The offense continued to pour it on against Toronto’s next two arms, Shun Yamaguchi and Anthony Kay. The bats wound up scoring 20 runs, though this one was effectively over after the second inning.
All this happened as a result of a few things going the Yankees way. It’s nice to be the beneficiary of fielding gaffes and poor execution, isn’t it?
There were a couple of differences in Deivi’s approach against Toronto tonight, though I’m not so sure they were voluntary. First, He threw just 3 curveballs all night, which indicates that he didn’t have great feel for the pitch. It’s typically his most-used breaking ball, as you know. He threw one in the second, one in the third, and one in the fourth inning. The last one was a hanger that Lourdes Gurriel hit for a two-run homer. At that point, García probably had seen enough of the pitch.
The other difference: fastball command. Take a look at where he spotted his heater tonight:
Now, take a look at where he put it last week:
He was much more over the middle with that pitch tonight and Toronto made plenty of hard contact against it. Most notably, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took Deivi deep on one of his heaters down the middle. Toronto had a 95.8 MPH average exit velocity on the pitch.
In spite of not having his best fastball command, it’s pretty impressive that Deivi was able to still use it 58 percent of the time (he used it 59 percent last week). It might sound as if he was fortunate considering the high exit velocity, but keep in mind that Deivi tends to generate a lot of harmless pop ups and fly balls. Toronto recorded six outs on fastballs hit between 92 and 100 MPH off the bat. Five were fly outs, none with an xBA above .230. The other was a groundout. Clearly, it’s hard to square up the righty even when he’s missing his spots.
What more can you say about García? He’s been impressive in all four of his starts with the Yankees and is just 21 years-old. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff (i.e. tonight) he’s able to succeed. Can’t wait to watch him pitch next.
Welcome back Gio Urshela. The third baseman went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles and a walk.
Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-4 in his return, but he did draw a walk. He also scalded a 111 MPH lineout. He was the only starter to go hitless in this one.
Toronto wound up using infielder Santiago Espinal to pitch in the eighth inning. He gave up a solo homer to DJ LeMahieu, but otherwise left unscathed. He was probably the team’s best pitcher all night!
A few other home runs to note: Voit delivered his second of the night in the sixth inning. It came against Ken Giles, who was getting some work in after returning from the injured list. Voit leads the league with 18 homers. Gary Sánchez and Clint Frazier also contributed homers of their own.
Michael King pitched the eighth and ninth innings for the Yankees. He gave up a few runs in the ninth, but they were harmless.
The series resumes tomorrow. Same time, same place. Have a good night everyone.