Because the UZR listed here on FanGraphs often gets presented as one number, and the fact that UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating, it is often mistaken as shorthand for a measurement of a player’s range only. In fact, a player’s UZR is the sum of his range runs, his error runs, and his arm runs (for outfielders) or double play runs (for infielders).
Since the beginning of the 2008 season, here are the top outfield throwing arms, by ARM rating.
Now, here are the innings totals for those same five players.
Which of these is not like the others? Gardner has racked up an incredible +8.4 ARM rating since showing up in the majors last year, and he’s done it in half a season’s worth of playing time. He has 83 “defensive games” as a major league outfielder, meaning that he’s had just over 1/2 of a season’s worth of balls hit to him to turn into outs. The four guys ahead of him are all at 200+ defensive games during this same time span.
This is a ridiculous performance, honestly. Over a full season, Gardner’s +17 pace would easily be double that of the 2008 ARM leader (Pence). He’s been worth almost a win to the Yankees (in half a season!) just by chucking the ball back in from the outfield.
When I looked up Gardner on the Fans Scouting Report for 2008, he graded out fairly average across the board in strength, accuracy, and release. Based on the 29 ballots filled out by Yankee fans after last season, Gardner’s arm was nothing to write home about. Melky Cabrera‘s arm ratings were significantly better. Melky’s ARM rating this year; -3.2.
I haven’t seen Gardner throw enough to know whether the Yankee fans who filled out the Fans Scouting Report were blind or if Gardner is just taking advantage of a bad scouting report on him around the league. So, Yankee fans, help me out here – is Gardner’s ARM rating just a crazy fluke or did he steal Francoeur’s arm over the winter?
If Gardner really does have one of the best throwing arms in baseball, then there’s really no way that New York can justify keeping him out of the starting line-up on a regular basis. He’s already one of the best base stealers in the game (30 for 33), and his +10.6 range runs 600 innings as a major league center fielder suggest he might be an elite defensive player even without the crazy throwing. If the Yankees can really expect +5 to +10 runs per year from Gardner’s arm, in addition to above average range, and crazy good base stealing efficiency, then he’s worth an everyday line-up spot even with his .698 OPS in the majors.
In fact, when you look at the total body of work that Gardner has put together since showing up in New York, he’s racked up +3.3 wins above replacement in 342 plate appearances. Even with heavy regression, Gardner looks to be good enough to play everyday.
A Yankee prospect that might have been actually underrated? Now that’s worth writing about.
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