Last week, it was announced that Brett Gardner had been named to the American League All-Star team. The honor came after Alex Gordon of the Royals, who had been slated to start the game, was placed on the 15-day DL with a groin injury. Adam Jones moved into a starting spot, and Gardner was placed into the open spot on the roster. In an unfortunate sense, it was a bit of good luck for Gardner, who was in fourth place in the Final Vote standings and was unlikely to overtake the Royals fans-powered candidacy of Mike Moustakas.
That’s a shame, because through the end of the first half, Gardner has been the 20th best player in baseball by batter WARP. His 3.02 WARP puts him ahead of players such as Jones, Moustakas, Albert Pujols, A.J. Pollock, Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Martinez and Joc Pederson. For a player who tried to walk on to his college baseball team, got cut, and eventually was placed on the roster because he wouldn’t stop showing up to practice, that’s pretty impressive. Gardner was not a major home run threat until last year, and if not for a core injury that sapped his strength down the stretch, he could have hit 20 homers. This isn’t the same Brett Gardner that some prognosticators were predicting to be no more than a backup outfielder. At 31, Gardner is one of the best outfielders in the game and one of the most vital Yankees.
Let’s start with the basics. Through 82 games, Gardner is hitting .302/.377/.484. He’s launched 10 homers, stolen 15 bases while only being caught thrice, and doubled 22 times. He’s also playing his usual excellent defense in center field and left field, but it’s Gardner’s bat that’s thrust him onto the national stage. He’s tapping into his power more than ever before. Prior to his 17 home run campaign in 2014, Gardner’s high water mark for longballs in a single year was 8. How’s he been doing this? Below are two spray charts from Baseball Prospectus affiliate BrooksBaseball.net, conveniently displayed in GIF form. The first chart covers Gardner’s career up to the end of 2013, while the second chart displays everything after that.
There’s a visible shift. Gardner is pulling the ball with authority and muscling it over the right field wall. In 2014, Gardner pulled over 40 percent of his balls in play. This year that figure is 34.9 percent. He’s made up for that by taking 32.5 percent of his balls the other way, which is up from 24.5 percent last year. That prevents defenses from shifting on Gardner. However, his power is all to his pull side. He’s a full-scale offensive threat, and the perfect man to bat behind Jacoby Ellsbury. Oh, and FRAA (fielding runs above average) says he’s been better this year than last year, too. He’s on track to nearly double 2014’s 3.2 WARP. He’s already only 20 walks shy of last year’s total. He’s six steals away from matching 2014’s 21. The man is on fire.
He’s at last been recognized for his onslaught with a trip to Cincinnati. Brett Gardner finally made the team.
(Photo:Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)