Brett Gardner: Elite Player

Observe, if you will, the following WAR leaderboard, covering from the beginning of the 2010 season to the current date.

There, in 12th place amongst all position players, sits New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner. His total of 9.2 is closer to fifth place then it is to 13th place. Perhaps he hasn’t done it in the traditional way — blasting the ball across the ballpark and hitting his way into the hearts and minds of baseball fans — but there should be little doubt. Brett Gardner is one of baseball’s elite.

Of course, this idea that Brett Gardner isn’t a hitter sells him short. Surely, his power pales in comparison to every other name on the list, but Gardner does his own damage at the plate. Over his last two seasons, spanning 806 plate appearances, Gardner has mustered a 121 wRC+, establishing himself as a well above-average hitter.

Despite the flash typically associated with the speedy players, the key behind Gardner’s game is the least exciting play in baseball: the walk. Gardner walked 79 times in 569 plate appearances in 2010 and should approach 70 walks again in 2011, with 25 entering Tuesday’s play. However, particularly this year, Gardner has made pitchers pay on pitches in the zone as well. Through his first 237 plate appearances of the current season, Gardner has added some power to his repertoire, socking four home runs — only one fewer than all of last year — to go with 11 doubles and four triples. The resulting .151 ISO is actually 14 points above the league average.

Early-season power can be a mirage, and the left-handed Gardner is likely aided by the friendly confines of the New Yankee Stadium. But Gardner and the Yankees will surely survive even in his power numbers slip back to their previous levels, as Gardner has established himself as one of the most well-rounded players in baseball.

Hitting, fielding, and baserunning all combine to make Gardner elite. Since the 2010 season began, Gardner has been at least five runs above average in all three facets, better than 20 runs above average in both hitting (+22.5) and defense (+38). Of all the great players in the Major Leagues, Andres Torres is the only other Major Leaguer who can make that claim. Surely, small-sample UZR total can create myths out of men, but given the vast amount of video evidence in support of Gardner’s fantastic glovework, I count myself as a believer.

He may not be doing it in the most traditional or the most visible way, but, in this case, the numbers don’t lie. When Brett Gardner isn’t busy creating runs with his bat or his wheels, he’s saving them with his glove. Add it all up, and you come to an inescapable conclusion: Brett Gardner is one of the Major League’s best players.



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Randy
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Randy

Which is why the Tigers should have got him instead of Austin Jackson in the Granderson trade.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.

Which is why we have no idea if Cashman made him available to the Tigers instead of Austin Jackson.

Chris
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Chris

Which is why the Yankees were willing to trade Jackson and not Gardner in the Granderson trade.

RobMet
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RobMet

I don’t know if Gardner was made available, but all indications at the time suggest he wasn’t. The Yankees were planning to go with either Gardner or Jackson in 2010, but there was some belief in the Yankee organization that Jackson needed more development time, and concerns that his power would never develop, and that he took the wrong routes in CF to catch the ball, but he’d overcome his mistakes with his speed.

Jackson may go on to have the longer career, but Gardner is the more valuable player today. The Yankees probably should flip Gardner and Granderson in the OF, putting Gardner in center. Granderson’s good, but Gardner covers as much ground as any OFer in the game.

TL
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TL

At the time of that trade Gardner was little more than a journeyman 27 or 28 yr old rookie. It’s easy with 20/20 hindsight to say the Tigers should’ve asked for him but how many of us were saying then how great a player Gardner would become. As a Yankee fan I thought “every day major leaguer” was his ceiling and platoon, role-player was more likely. I’m glad he’s as good as he is but I doubt many people including Cashman thought they had an all-star caliber player on their hands at that time.

TK
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TK

“At the time of that trade Gardner was little more than a journeyman 27 or 28 yr old rookie.”

He was none of those things. At the time of the trade Gardner was a 26-year old player entering his third season (albeit his first two seasons were about one season worth of PAs) and had been with the Yankees his whole career.

Also, in those 150 games (08-09), he had put up 3.5 WAR, so his 9.2 the last 1+ didn’t literally come out of nowhere.

If I were a Tigers fan, I’d stick with the “he wasn’t available” arguement.

TL
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TL

My ultimate point (which I may have not articulated well) was that at the time of the trade, Gardner was not a prospect with a big pedigree but a guy who battled and played well but wasn’t turning a lot of heads. At age 26 he was establishing himself as a solid major leaguer as noted by his 3.1 WAR over 150 or games. Considering that is pretty close to a full season, the jump to a 9+ WAR is a HUGE jump even taking into account that he hit the magical age of 27.

I don’t know of a lot of guys with a career 3 or so WAR at age 26 who blossom into all-star players. Gardner did it. However, most players at that age who aren’t stars yet, don’t become stars. It’s understandable that The Tigers missed out here.

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