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Brett Gardner’s offensive anomaly of a season

Brett Gardner has put together quite the season at the plate. Prior to the All-Star break, he unleashed a wicked power boom. More recently, he ripped off a 14-game hitting streak. However, his batting average and on-base percentage mirror last year’s season totals.

If you still need proof that batting average and on-base percentage are flawed, surface-level statistics, Brett Gardner’s player card is the perfect evidence. In about 175 fewer plate appearances, Gardner has reached his 3.0 WARP mark from last year. He has also brought his TAv up from .254 to .282. His slugging percentage (.457) is up almost a century mark from last year’s total (.362). The same can be said about his ISO (.101 to .197).

That being said, his production has not been consistent. Gardner’s early spike in power was fueled by an inflated HR/FB ratio, which reached 22 percent by June 5. Gardner hit 13 home runs through his first 55 games of 2017. To put that in perspective, he hit just 63 in his prior nine seasons as a Yankee. By June 16, Gardner was homering 5.3 times per 100 plate appearances. Prior to 2017, that rate was just 1.5.

So what was behind his sharp increase in power? A pair of stats that correlated almost identically with his homer total: pull percentage and hard contact rate.

Pull% Hard% HR
2009 35.80% 16.30% 3
2010 26.00% 18.00% 5
2011 35.20% 16.00% 7
-
2013 36.30% 24.90% 8
2014 40.20% 28.90% 17
2015 34.90% 26.20% 16
2016 33.60% 25.80% 7
2017* 43.10% 37.70% 13

(*thru June 16)

Gardner was setting massive career highs midway through June. He pulls almost every home run he hits, which explains the above table’s relation to his home run total at the time. He was also feasting on both sliders and sinkers, lofting them at an abnormally high rate.

Beginning of his career through 2016 season

FB% HR%
Fourseam 4.01% 0.41%
Sinker 3.5% 0.39%
Change 3.56% 0.32%
Slider 3.88% 0.43%

April 1, 2017 - June 16, 2017

FB% HR%
Fourseam 4.03% 0.27%
Sinker 5.96% 2.29%
Change 1.06% 1.06%
Slider 6.06% 2.27%

(Data provided by Brooks Baseball)

By mid-June, Gardner’s home run percentages on sinkers and sliders were astronomical in comparison to his career numbers. Albeit a relatively small sample size, Gardner homered eight times on the slider or sinker, which accounted for just one-third of the pitches he had seen by that time.

Let’s return to present day. Fresh off of his hitting streak, Gardner’s Hard% and Pull% have changed drastically, but predictably. His July Hard% (23.6) fell below his post-injury career average and his Pull% (36.1) hit around that average.

Interestingly enough, his hitting streak actually pulled those numbers closer to his career averages. He slashed .317/.397/.583 on that streak with four home runs, but this outburst was not nearly as fluky as his prior one. During this most recent 14-game stretch, Gardner’s Hard% was 27.5, his Pull% was 35.3 and his BABIP was .319. All three of those numbers look similar to his post-injury norms.

In essence, Gardner caught fire in a fluky way, regressed and then caught fire again in a non-fluky way. So what’s next for the 33-year-old outfielder?

His batted ball numbers will most likely continue to nosedive from June’s plateau, barring another strange power surge. PECOTA projects Gardner to regress pretty heavily in TAv and SLG the rest of the way out, but still finish with a career high in slugging and home runs (24).

He has been fooling projection systems all year, so who knows what Gardner has in store for the last two months of the regular season? Whether he sustains his hitting streak numbers or not, this late-career production has undoubtedly helped fuel the Yankees’ 2017 playoff hopes.

 

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