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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148 Responses to “Brett Gardner: Elite Player”

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  1. Randy says:

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

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    • Kevin S. says:

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

      +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chris says:

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

      +33 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RobMet says:

      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.

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      • TL says:

        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.

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      • TK says:

        “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.

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      • TL says:

        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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  2. RiverAce says:

    Now, if Joe Girardi would only read this article he could become an everyday player.
    Yes Andruw Jones has hit a few bombs when playing LF, but if you look at his recent history those will taper soon. There is no comparison with the glove between the 2.
    I also think the Jeter injury will clearly demonstrate who should hit leadoff for the Yanks – it’s Gardner!

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Phil says:

      remember when Jones was the best CF in baseball? Ah those were the days…

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    • Jacob says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Girardi has to stop platooning Gardner with Jones in LF. It’s just getting silly at this point. How is Gardner going to improve against LHP if he gets benched every time the Yankees face one? He needs to be playing everyday.

      Hopefully Girardi noticed Gardner’s two hits last Thursday vs. Texas after he entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 9th for Jones. Bot 10th = line drive single. Bot 12th = game-winning sharply hit RBI single. Oh yeah, both were off of lefties.

      Yankees win. THAAAAAAA Yankees win.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian F says:

      Except that he doesn’t hit LHP, so he’s a platoon player.

      -24 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Schu says:

    Now if only Girardi would stop platooning him against lefties…

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  4. Josh says:

    Nitpick: 9.2 is closer to 8.7 (13th place) than it is to 9.8 (3rd place).

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  5. awy says:

    the more interesting question, who the fuck is rickie weeks

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Hank says:

      I laughed!

      Seriously I knew this guy was also under appreciated but I had no clue the #’s he was putting up. He’ll need to be traded for by a smart GM to be recognized (if Theo or AA or BB pick him up); and if the Rays picked him up we might get an article every week here.

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    • Jon says:

      My reaction too. Far more shocking than seeing Gardner on the list. Weeks > healthy Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Gonzales???

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  6. Nate says:

    Too bad he’s not really an elite fantasy player.

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    • Nate says:

      Caveat: That was mostly tongue-in-cheek. I’d rather have him on my favorite Real team, than a lot of ‘fantasy-heavy’ players.

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    • RiverAce says:

      Actually Nate,
      In my league which penalizes CS as much as SB, he was 28th last year in FPTS/AB. This year he is getting caught on the bases at a ridiculous rate (not sure why), but he still holds up.
      Once he gets settled in with some job security, I expect him to become a top 15 OF by year’s end.

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      • Cory says:

        As to your not sure why,

        It seems like he is extremely hesitant to go early in the count this year, whereas last year he was going early and often. Not sure if there is a place where you could see what pitch # in the AB he stole on last year, but it would be interesting to see if that makes any kind of difference.

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    • Seideberg says:

      Play in a league with OBP instead of Batting Average, and he’s a stud. Actually, with a .290 average, he’s still pretty strong. He had 47 steals and 97 runs last year…

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  7. Bill says:

    More surprised to see Weeks 3rd, tbh.

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  8. JP says:

    Gardner has got to be, by a huge margin, the most underrated player in all of baseball.

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    • Catherine Zeta-Scarn says:

      If he is the most underrated player for the next 15 years, then everything in the world will be right because that will even out with Derek Jeter being the most overrated for the last 15 years.

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  9. Rich7041 says:

    Gardner’s average fell to .136 on April 25th. Since then, he’s batting .356. Why is he still not recognized as a star in his own dugout? (Also, he has 2 HR at home & 2 on the road, so the small sample size would indicate the short porch at Yankee Stadium hasn’t meant much.)

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  10. Lord Rupert Everton says:

    I’m not so sure about this. He’s batting .293, which is okay but nothing too special. He’s got 35 runs which is about right for his situation but could be a lot better. Most alarmingly, he only has 5 sacrifices this year, which tells me he doesn’t have a very good grasp on how to play the game the right way. If he can mature a little, and maybe do better than 14-24 on SB, then we can talk.

    -9 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Undocorkscrew says:

      “he only has 5 sacrifices this year, which tells me he doesn’t have a very good grasp on how to play the game the right way.”

      Yes, ignore the brilliant defense, the more than solid OBP, and the .444 SLG and focus on sacrifices.

      Gardner got off to a slow start, he’s been killing it lately.

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    • RiverAce says:

      Lord,
      Pretty sure sacrifices come from the manager and 3rd base coach rather than a hitter thinking… “hmm I should really sacrifice here to get the runner to 2nd/3rd.”
      I agree on the baserunning though – ridiculous for a guy with his speed.
      If you’ve ever heard an interview with Brett Gardner you will quicly learn he’s not that smart.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      This is clearly sarcasm.

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      • Sarcasm is a tricky thing says:

        … if you follow up a sarcastic statement (5 sacrifices) with a very descriptive and factual statement (14-24 on steal attempts)

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    • jim says:

      is this that guy from the howard-victorino thread again?

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      • Mcneildon says:

        It most certainly is our sitcom-character friend again. Just tell him he’s the life of the party and I think he’ll stop. The problem is when people think he’s serious and respond to his “opinions” with incredulity.

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    • Beezy says:

      Reads like a classic JoeBait.

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  11. Stat Nerd says:

    So stupid, how is Gardner a elite player! He is better then Cano! Great work! Trade him for Braun straight up.

    -17 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Person says:

    Yeah, add me to the list of people more surprised by Rickie Weeks at #3 than Gardner at #12. For someone who produced exactly 0.0 WAR in his first season (400+ PA), Weeks has come a long way.

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  13. Omar says:

    Yeah, I think this enough for us to rework the WAR formula. Brett Gardner and Adrian Beltre are comprable and even better players than Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera. Awesome.

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    • Defense says:

      Have you ever met me?

      +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Richie Abernathy says:

        Yes, but the fact that it takes about three years’ of fielding data to form a sample size equivalent to a season’s worth of offensive data is forgotten with regularity.

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      • Defense says:

        Because nothing from Gardner’s or Beltre’s history suggests these UZRs might be the real deal.

        Oh.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        I got no problem accepting that Beltre is worth +15 runs/year. He’s proven it over a long period of time, and it’s backed up by numerous metrics.

        What I have an issue with is assuming that Gardner is worth +33 runs/year based on scant data. I don’t think anyone is worth nearly that, defensively. It’s like a .500 BABIP.

        +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Alan says:

        History shows that it is nearly impossible for Gardner to be the real deal on defense. He may be very good, but not as good as UZR suggests.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Again, he’s got 2600 innings of doing this. At some point, we might want to accept that he’s legit.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Kevin S, by 2,600 innings do you mean 288 games? Which under 2 seasons? Yea, doesn’t seem like that much now. I mean, Nate McLouth had over 6 WAR his last year 1/2 in Pittsburgh, nobody, not even me as a Braves fan would try to argue he’s anywhere near that good.

        Before anyone else tries arguing for garnder, think about 700 at bats that this covers. Less than 2 years. Just 220 games played total over the period of time in this article. 1 1/3 season.

        If the point of the article is to say that Gardner is undervalued because he excels at skills that aren’t as readily seen then okay. However, if you’re going to legitimately say that if you were to start a team with an elite, franchise type player that Gardner would even be in the first round then you are crazy.

        +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Phillie697 says:

        Elite defensive players don’t get drafted in the first round or are considered franchise players to begin with, and that’s the point of this article to some degree. Defense counts, but I doubt anyone would make the claim that Ozzie Smith, one of the BEST defensive shortstops in the history of the game, should ever have been considered a “franchise” player the way Ripken (a very good defensive shortstop in his own right, but more known for his offensive productions and longevity), Jeter (below average defender), or Tulo/Ramirez would be. There is a difference between what the author is saying (Gardner is an elite player) vs. calling him a franchise player. Don’t get too carried away.

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  14. d_i says:

    While I don’t disagree with the sentiment that Gardner is perhaps elite overall, I’d like to point out that the defensive ratings which fuel his WAR are likey well above his true talent level and need a bit bigger sample to confirm. His arm rating alone during that time period is well above average which by most scouting standards appears to be about average. So yes he’s good in every aspect, but I don’t think anyone is ready to argue he’s in the top 15 for true talent level moving forward.

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    • Defense says:

      He has 2600 innings of ridonkulous in the outfield. At this point, I don’t think we’re regressing his UZR that much. ARM measures how good an outfielder is at limiting extra bases. Most players do it with their arm (hence the name of the stat), but Gardner does it with his legs, getting to balls quicker and hold runners up.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        For perspective, 3 seasons of WAR = 1 season of batting…

        2600 innings = 2 full seasons of fielding = 0.66 seasons of batting = 400 plate appearances.

        You should regress the hell out of it.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Sorry, UZR, not WAR.

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  15. Yirmiyahu says:

    Except, of those 9.2 wins, 4.0 of them come solely from UZR. Over a sample of less than a season-and-a-half, we all know that UZR isn’t that reliable.

    If you reduce his UZR to a still-elite 10 UZR/150 (i.e., Ichiro for his career), you should dock 3 full wins off of his 9.2.

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    • Pujols can tell you defense matters says:

      Well, he can. Looked awkward on that play Sunday and now has lots of time to negociate his next contract.
      Defense matters.
      I’d like to see some statistics on a regression between winning % and fielding % – I’m expecting a pretty strong correlation.

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    • Wraithpk says:

      Gardner would probably be a 10 UZR as a CF. Him being a 20+ UZR left fielder is completely within the realm of possibility.

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  16. fren11 says:

    Because everyone knows that hitting is the only aspect that matters, and that truly elite defenders like Gardner and Beltre aren’t on par with truly elite hitters who can’t field!

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  17. hernandez17 says:

    Prime example of why one should be wary of equating WAR rankings with “best player” rankings. WAR tells a useful story but it also over-rewards defense. Brett Gardner is about the 6th best player on his team.

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    • CG says:

      Maybe you are underrating the value of defense…

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      • Sultan of Schwing says:

        and maybe you are overrating walks+defense = elite. Seriously, from what I’ve observed, the guy can’t do anything else. He’s a poor hitter, poor runner, and owner of too many boneheaded decisions. Anyway, why isn’t “no field” Swisher being platooned instead? That speaks loudly of Gardner’s “elite” ability.

        -9 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        Because Swisher is killing lefties.

        To form a “platoon”, both halves have to have “opposite” splits. Welcome to baseball, enjoy.

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      • Sultan of Schwing says:

        Because Swisher is killing lefties

        I don’t get that comment. Swisher hit both LHP and RHP pitching at an acceptable rate last year (.848, .877, respectively) and Gardner didn’t. He hit LHP poorly, actually (.733 OPS), but you’re arguing that the Yankees went out and acquired Jones as their 4th outfielder not to platoon with Gardner?

        That makes no sense. It appears that Jones was acquired specifically to address Gardner’s issue with LHP, while “no defense” Swisher was left to man RF. Does that scream “Gardner is elite” to you or that the Yankees believe Swisher is better?

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      • Steve says:

        Maybe they got him to also spell their other LHed OFer who has shown an extreme platoon split over his career, Curtis Granderson?

        And now that Granderson has proven that last year’s finish against LHP is not just a fluke, but a result of real improvement, they are left looking for places to get their 4th OFer some ABs?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        How about the way they formulate defensive WAR? UZR isn’t exact. It’s flawed. How many balls a game are really hit where they are just out of the reach of most defenders, but within reach of the elite? It’d say not many, not even for a CF.

        Not only that but WAR doesn’t factor in how a hitter makes other players better. Take Pujols out of the Cards lineup, then the opposing pitcher is less stressed, less fatigued, probably throws less pitches per innings and probably feels more comfortable nibbling the plate on the hitters before and after Pujols. So, Pujols himself may create 7 WAR but he might boost the players around him a few WAR as well. With defense I can’t see as much of a dramatic increase with the players around you because nobody is good enough defensively to cover several positions at once to where there is overlapping.

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      • Sultan of Schwing says:

        Maybe they got him to also spell their other LHed OFer who has shown an extreme platoon split over his career, Curtis Granderson?

        Considering Granderson’s prior splits and the fact that Gardner can play CF remarkably well, that makes sense. I still believe that Jones was acquired to assist Gardner, but your theory is plausible.

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  18. Eric says:

    I think too much fantasy baseball makes people undervalue defence

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  19. wobatus says:

    I got abused (ok, mildly contradicted) when i made a Brett Butler comp for him (sure, they are both skinny dudes named Brett with no power) on minorleagueball back in 2008, and folks said he’d never start for the Yankees.

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  20. LionoftheSenate says:

    Rickie Weeks has improved every year, I’ve seen most of his games. His D is now solid average, his bat, his power and On base skills have all improved, his baseball intelligence too. Great talent.

    I saw him in person and he was as thick and big as a NFL RB.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Jerome S. says:

    yeah, like defense matters. Baseball would be way more fun if every ball hit in play just glided back the wall before a lumbering man-child lobbed it back to his team.

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  22. Yankeestroll says:

    Gardner is a very good player, elite? Definitely not, Gardner is the poster child for how WAR can be over-influenced by outliers in UZR, that 9 WAR is entirely fueled by UZR and stolen bases…I can remember a player named Corey Patterson who put some valuable seasons up in his young days the exact same method, where’s he now? When Gardner gets a little older and loses a step his defense and baserunning skills will plummet, especially with his mediocre arm in the outfield he’ll be practically worthless save for a walk/slap single here and there

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    • Steve says:

      What does any of this have to do with whether or not Gardner is elite right now?

      Wait, you’re saying a player will slow down and not be as good when he gets old? Wow, that’s some serious insight.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Almost as insightful as using under 700 AB where a guy’s value was high largely due to baserunning and defensive weights, which are subject to lots of error.

        If you use that logic, let’s look at our GDP, but only from october to december, and then factor in “average happiness” and assign it a dollar value. That’s basically the same logic used to say “brett Gardner is elite”. You use a small sample size, and a large weight of his value is something that’s very debatable and possibly wrong.

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      • sirvlciv says:

        You are legitimately batshit insane.

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    • MonteroSmash says:

      can’t tell by your username if I should be serious with your comment or not

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  23. waynetolleson says:

    “He may not be doing it in the most traditional or the most visible way, but, in this case, the numbers don’t lie.” Numbers don’t lie, but WAR is one metric that has been popular for four or five years now. It’s funny to me how people will look at this one stat and say, “WAR says Brett Gardner is as good as Adrian Gonzalez and better than Robinson Cano and Numbers Don’t Lie, so it has to be true!”

    Numbers don’t lie, but numbers are numbers. WAR is one stat. It’s a weighted metric, and there’s a bias in how players’ different contributions on the ball-field are weighted in this metric. Sometimes, it seems that this site begins and ends with the assumption that WAR is this perfectly accurate snapshot of a player’s abilities, and I don’t believe that’s the case.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio Bananas says:

      another thing WAR doesn’t factor in enough is the lineup a guy plays in. Think about Cano, he’s in his prime, he plays in an extreme hitters park, in the middle of the best lineup, in the American League where pitching isn’t exactly strong. Basically every thing that could possibly go right for Cano (and any other Yankee 26-31 years old, like gardner) is going right. You put Cano on the Diamondbacks or Marlins and I doubt his numbers are anywhere near as good.

      -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jerome S. says:

        Wait…
        did you just say that pitching in the AL isn’t exactly strong?
        Weaver, Haren, Verlander, Hernandez, Beckett, Price, Shields and Sabathia all respectfully disagree.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Wow dude, 7 pitchers. Halladay, Hanson, Jurrjens, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt, and Johnson of the NL East say that’s 7 right there. The AL has some good pitching up top, but it thins out fast.

        O, and CC’s 3.39 ERA is good, but let’s not put him “up there”. He’s very good at best.

        -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MB says:

        Cano is a better hitter on the Road than at Yankee Stadium.

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      • joe says:

        Check out Cano’s career home/road splits… as yet another fool trots out the “he hits in Yankee stadium” meme.

        Career wOBA (home) .356
        Career wOBA (away) .359

        Yeah take him out of Yankees stadum…. and his wOBA might even go up slightly!

        Why is it EVERY Rockies and Yankees player gets the ‘yeah but look at where he plays’ but other parks which may be as or more hitter friendly never get mentioned. Anyone notice Hamilton’s home/road splits lats year? How about Pedroia’s in his MVP year?

        Yes it’s a homer friendly park to straight away right field (especially the first year before old Yankees Stadium was torn down)…. but it’s also rather large distances to both right center and left center. Don’t have the #’s in front of me, but I think the park plays run neutral despite playing above average on HR’s. It is not an extreme hitters park… Fenway, Arlington, Colorado… those are some extreme hitters parks… but shhh don’t tell anyone

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      • AJS says:

        @Antonio Bananas: This is a great point that’s not made nearly often enough. WAR (or the wRAA component of it) is a counting stat, same as the much-maligned RBI. If you moved Cano to 9th in the Yankees order, and he posted the exact same wOBA but in 100 fewer PA, he’d have fewer WAR. Another reason it shouldn’t be used as the be-all and end-all stat when comparing players

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      • waynetolleson says:

        “Think about Cano, he’s in his prime, he plays in an extreme hitters park, in the middle of the best lineup, in the American League where pitching isn’t exactly strong. Basically every thing that could possibly go right for Cano…”

        This is where you are wrong. Some guys can flat-out hit, and Robinson Cano is one of them. Now, if you want to talk to me about a guy like Brett Gardner, I would say that the lineup in which he plays has a big impact on his effectiveness.

        But not Cano. Cano actually has better numbers for his career ON THE ROAD than he does at home. Cano might get a little help in the power department from Yankee Stadium, but Cano has a sweet, sweet swing, and he hits rockets to all fields.

        Cano isn’t a bad fielder, either. I know the defensive metrics have him down a bit this year, but he’s average to better-than-average at 2B. He might not have the best range, but he’s usually pretty solid with the glove, and has a great throwing arm.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I’m not trying to say Cano can’t hit. He definately can. I just think he’s a little overrated. He’s very very good, but he has a lot working for him. There aren’t many teams with legitimately good pitching in the AL. He does play against the Sox and Rays a lot though, which means he faces it more than a lot of players. Like I said though, he’s in a very good lineup, in a very good hitters park. He’s in his prime. Basically it’s a perfect storm for him to be a monster.

        Again, not saying he can’t hit. Just saying that basically everything a hitter could want, he has.

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  24. Antonio Bananas says:

    A high bit of his war is defense. The sample size problems etc should make that not as reliable. You can say “well after a few years it’s legit”. However, year to year it’s erroneous data piled on erroneous data. This isn’t even 2 full years. So let’s say he is legitimately really good at defense. Cool, and it’s a premium position. I still wouldn’t call him “elite” off under 700 AB. Some players get nearly 700 AB in a year. Look at his player value breakdown, he created 8 runs off base running last year, this year he’s at -1. It’s not awful, but he produced almost 1 full win on base running last year, which at this point looks like he just had a really good year and something that’ll be an outlier.

    So here’s what you have. You have a guy who is in his prime, who had a really good year baserunning and who defensive metrics think is very good defensively. Offensively he’s a little above average. He had a year last year where he was pretty good at everything. I wouldn’t call him eltie. I’d call him a really good player in the prime of his career. Elite implies it’s a guy you’d start your franchise over. I wouldn’t start my franchise with a guy who’s speed and athleticism have gotten him most of his value and is 27 with 700 AB of really godo all around game. His speed will start to go down as with most males, his strength may go up. In 4 years he won’t be “elite”. A lot of other guys on that list will be.

    This is a fun way to stroke Yankee egos though, I’ll give you that.

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    • Hunter M says:

      “The sample size problems etc should make that not as reliable. You can say “well after a few years it’s legit”. However, year to year it’s erroneous data piled on erroneous data”

      The numbers reflect what actually happened. The numbers show that BG has been elite at his position. UZR is often tossed out by people claiming you need 3 years to stabilize. However, 3 years is NOT required to reflect on what HAS already happened….

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        okay, so like I said. Let’s say his defense is elite. He’s in his late 20s, which is when speed starts to decrease. He’s had about 700 elite at bats, or like 1 year and 1/3 of elite play when you factor in elite defense and a really good baserunning year (last year as I said, he’s -1 run this year). Does that make him elite? Or is he just very good at his peak and will soon be just another decent player?

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    • waynetolleson says:

      It’s funny that a few years ago before UZR and DRS came into vogue, a guy like Brett Gardner might not even be noticed. This is sad, because speed can be a real weapon, allowing guys to stretch singles into doubles, doubles into triples, score from first on extra-base hits, turn extra-base hits into outs, etc…

      Now, it seems that things have swung the other direction. People are now paying more attention to defense and base-running. These attributes are weighed more heavily in modern metrics than they were in the past.

      Two years ago, I would have told you Brett Gardner was a very undervalued player. Now, it seems that metrics better appreciate what Gardner brings to the table, and, therefore, believe that Gardner’s patience at the plate, combined with his speed on the bases and in the outfield make him as valuable as guys like Robinson Cano, Ryan Braun, and Adrian Gonzalez.

      And I just don’t believe that’s true. Gardner is a very good player, but he doesn’t anchor a lineup the way a guy like Adrian Gonzalez does. A guy like Gonzalez is a threat to score every time he’s in the batter’s box. Gardner takes pitches, works walks, and runs fast, but he doesn’t bring that element of fear that elite hitters bring. And I don’t think WAR accounts for that.

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  25. Sultan of Schwing says:

    aH, POOEY. fangraphs did this same thing 2 years ago, claiming Gutierrez was the best outfielder in the league based on minuscule uzr data. Over the next 2 years, they realized how arrogantly wrong they were.

    Gardner’s manager has gardner in a platoon. With that, it’s not possible that he’s even a very good player, never mind elite.

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    • DT says:

      Girardi is the guy who continually use Boone Logan. Calls for Sac bunts with Granderson. Platoon a .290+ hitter for a worse hitter. Bats one of his worst hitter Lead off. Something tells me Girardi might be the problem, not gardner.

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      • joe says:

        You forgot the intentional walks….whenever there’s a guy on 2nd and/or3rd when there’s less than 2 outs… gotta to get the chance at a double play! (he even managed to did this once while he was down 5 runs in the 7th inning, because there was a guy on 2nd with 1 out)

        He also apparently still thinks Francisco Cervelli is a major league player (usually a combination of well below average defense combine with below average offense = career AAA)

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      • MB says:

        DT, the only disagreement I have, is saying Jeter is a bad hitter leading off. Jeter is actually an excellent hitter leading off. It’s hitting with men on base in which he is weak at.

        Jeter has a .472 OBP leading off a game this year, and a .410 OBP leading off an inning. Gardner leading off an inning has a .420 OBP.

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      • Sultan of Schwing says:

        No, it’s not. Furthermore, per your search, Alphonzo Soriano being listed as the 2nd best defensive outfielder so far this year is precisely the problem.

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      • Adam says:

        The search actually shows 2007-2011, not only this season. That’s almost 4.5 seasons, not “miniscule UZR data.”

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      fangraphs did this same thing 2 years ago, claiming Gutierrez was the best outfielder in the league based on minuscule uzr data

      I need to clarify that post.

      Fangraphs did this same thing 2 years ago, claiming Gutierrez was the most valuable outfielder in the league, per WAR, based on minuscule UZR data. Gutierrez may in fact be the best defending OF in the league, but he’s no where near its most valuable.

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  26. Jerome S. says:

    ok, how ridiculous – ridiculous! – is it that people claim it’s unfair that Gardner is rated so high by his Defense and baserunning? Of course he’s not as good a hitter as Ryan Braun, but hitting is just one facet of the game. Does defense not make sense to you or something? We incorporate everything into WAR because WAR is meant to be an everything stat. It may even be transient value, but it’s (really close to) real.
    Brett Gardner is one of the best defenders in the game and if you don’t defense counts, tough.

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      We incorporate everything into WAR because WAR is meant to be an everything stat”,/i>

      It was meant to be that, true, but no, it’s not, not anymore if in fact, it ever was. Once the arrogance of its presenters chose to throw away everything they knew about small samples, defensive data, intangible data, and the irrelevance of how a pitcher actually induced so many outs yesterday (FIP), and then declare it definitively valid for 1 year, .5 year, and now even single games, it became a contrived mess. Simply put, they bastardized the thing to make themselves feel important so that now, many question if it’s even relevant anymore.

      I think this article helps address that issue. No, it’s not relevant at all anymore. Brett Gardner is the 12th most valuable player in baseball, per WAR, yet his manager benches him against LHP for Andrew Jones who has a negative WAR. Nuf said.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Just because he’s a good defender and his UZR shows him as a good defender doesn’t mean that his UZR is an accurate measure of his defensive value. There’s a massive difference between a +33 defender and a +10 defender.

      Either way, he’s underrated and an elite defender. But the +33 number is absurd.

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  27. Evan says:

    I was curious and changed the parameters to 2009-present and noticed that Michael Bourne was 20th in WAR over that time frame.

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  28. roadrider says:

    My impression of Gardner last year is that he outperformed his abilities (I thought his BABIP and walk rate were not sustainable for his skill set). However, I have been impressed at what he’s done this year. He seems to be hitting the ball with more authority and not being as passive as he was in the second half of 2010. Of course that has been counter balanced to some degree by a major regression in his base running game which was an obvious strength last year. His defense has really won we over though. I’m not knowledgeable about the defensive statistics but just going by the plays I’ve seen him make (I watch nearly every Yankee game) I think he is making a significant contribution in the field.

    That said, I’m highly skeptical about a calculation that results in Gardner being ~ 94% of the player that Albert Pujols is. I think Gardner is a solid asset for the Yankees – a nice player at a position where the league is not all that strong which is good comparative advantage. But I don’t see him quite belonging in the company you have him – not yet anyway.

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  29. Guess I am stuck in the past but this is one reason I don’t like WAR. Is there ANYONE in baseball who would take Brett Gardner before Ryan Braun or Robinson Cano? I’m a Yankee fan ane can tell you that Gardner is a “good” player, not a “great” one. Zero power, great D, HORRENDOUS base-runner (don’t be fooled by his speed).

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      I think Gardner and Cano are a wash, one being excellent defensively, the other excellent offensively, with a slight edge to Cano because offense has more value and Cano is a wonderful batter. But neither belong among the list of best players in baseball because they’re so damn one-dimensional.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Josh says:

        I disagree that they’re one-dimensional. Cano hits for average and power (that’s two dimensions right there) and plays good defense. Gardner usually steals bases well, plus he is excellent at getting on base. Sure they have their weaknesses, but that doesn’t make them one-dimensional.

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    • jim says:

      braun plays terrible defense, and before this year had been on the decline ever since his rookie year

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      • Matt Imbrogno says:

        Except for the fact that he has increased his walk rate every year, while decreasing his strikeout rate, and maintaining a high level of power. Yeah, Braun is totally declining.

        Oh and go Brett!

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  30. Jonathan says:

    “Not only that but WAR doesn’t factor in how a hitter makes other players better. Take Pujols out of the Cards lineup, then the opposing pitcher is less stressed, less fatigued, probably throws less pitches per innings and probably feels more comfortable nibbling the plate on the hitters before and after Pujols. So, Pujols himself may create 7 WAR but he might boost the players around him a few WAR as well.”

    Let’s say this were true (though you’ve clearly offered zero evidence, just as you offered zero evidence of the lineup/protection theory you referenced), why does this need to be factored into WAR?

    Wouldn’t it be true for all great hitters? Wouldn’t the extent of it’s effect have a direct correlation to how good the hitter in question is, which is what WAR already tells us? Is any of this getting through to you?

    This is just another empty cliche thrown out by the people who don’t really understand the stats on this site, disguised as criticism but really it’s just the fact that the stats rub you the wrong way for some reason.

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    • Drew says:

      “Let’s say this were true (though you’ve clearly offered zero evidence, just as you offered zero evidence of the lineup/protection theory you referenced), why does this need to be factored into WAR?”

      Do we really need evidence that the player hitting ahead of Pujols sees more strikes because Pujols hits behind him? Isn’t this an obvious part of the game of baseball?

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Because the evidence shows that lineup protection doesn’t work in that manner, no matter how “obvious” you think it might be. The best form of lineup protection is from ahead, by getting on base and putting the pitcher in the stretch/forcing the defense into a sub-optimal alignment for getting the hitter out.

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  31. sirvlciv says:

    ” the left-handed Gardner is likely aided by the friendly confines of the New Yankee Stadium.”

    Nope.

    http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2011_1889&type=hitter

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. shthar says:

    I been watching guys like this come up, play, and then get replaced and sent down by some lumbering DH type shoved into LF cuz he can hit a few bombs.

    I’ve pretty much stopped drafting the type, cuz they never get a chance.

    4th of, is usually the best they’ll ever do.

    A fortuitous combination of injuries and trades forced the yankees to play him.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  33. Kevin says:

    WAR is most useful as a descriptive stat (what has already happened)…I’m not sure why so many folks are bellyaching about what Gardner won’t do in the years to come.
    Even if it’s based on a small sample size, everything that gave Gardner the WAR he has, HAS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. He has ACTUALLY provided the value of an elite player over the last season and a half.
    Y’all are probably right…he won’t keep it up. But make a better case than gut-based specualtion. (I’m sure at least a couple of you predicted the demise of Jose Bautista using that same gut.)
    And even if he doesn’t keep it up…isn’t it interesting to any of you that a player like Gardner can provide this kind of production…even if it’s only for a short time?

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  34. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Ryan Zimmerman should have made this list. He has 7.9WAR over that time period and that would be much higher if he stayed healthy. That places him over the over rated Ryan Braun.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  35. Scott says:

    i have to say, I think that WAR overvalues defense. Gardmer is a very good player, but if you think he’s actually better than Braun and his .390 or so wOBA you’re a bit confused.

    Especially in an offense first position like LF. It’s not like these are 2 SS we’re talking about here.

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    • V says:

      I agree that I’d rather have Braun than Gardner – do you know why?

      I think his abilities are more likely to stay consistent for the next 5 years. The same reason I’d rather have Albert Pujols than Jose Bautista.

      But Gardner -is- an elite talent, and defense in LF -is- important; how many balls does he eat up on the run that 99% of LFers let drop in for RBI singles or doubles? Saving 33 runs (as estimated by UZR) over the course of the season is -just as important- as creating them in the first place.

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    • WP says:

      “Especially in an offense first position like LF.”

      First, have you ever seen LF at Yankee Stadium?
      And second – this is least of all applicable to a player like Gardner, who on almost any other team would be playing CF.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. test says:

    I assume those who think we need three years of UZR data are aware of the problem with that – three years is too long to consider that you are measuring the same defensive talent level. If people are arguing that three years of data should be present to use UZR, then they might as well argue that we don’t use it at all (which might be OK if Field FX was here).

    It’s possible that circumstances have conspired to give Gardner a lot of tougher chances than would normally be expected. Since he makes those plays more often, he gets a huge rating. He could go the next two weeks and not get a single play that allows him to do more than not make an error, but I think some of the noise in UZR is based on the luck of the draw as far as chances to make above average plays go. But having already made those plays, it’s fair to say he’s been that valuable, it’s just not likely he will continue to be. Or Gardner is actually the best LFer in history (hey, someone has to be).

    Look at it like a larger version of the Hr saving catches. Some guys will make 2-3 in a year, and then never another one. Does this mean their skill at making those catches decreased, or the other team simply didn’t hit any flyballs 1-18 inches over the fence in their area? They still get credit for the earlier great plays, but you wouldn’t expect them to continue.

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    • WP says:

      You might expect this, at least to some extent, in the case of a good CF playing in a very big LF, no?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      By “those of you”, are you referring to Lichtman too? Let me quote him: “For example, if you see a player with a one year UZR of +10, think +5! He might not have actually played well at all, or he might have played off the charts, but our best guess as to how he played was +5. If you see a +10 after 1 month and you have no other data or information on a player, think of that as a +1.5 (regress it 85% toward the mean). Literally forget the +10. It means nothing”

      Gardner has one full year of defensive data in LF, last year (even though he spent 25% of his innings in CF), and partial data from this year. I believe some regression should be applied.

      For those would argue with that, consider that prior to this year he also had only one full year of SB data, of which he did really well: 73/14. This year he’s at 14/10. So for those of you who thought he was an elite base thief based on one year’s data, you should have regressed. Likewise, if you think he sucks as a base thief based on this year’s puny sample, you’re probably wrong too.

      I also agree with Yirmiyahu that a LF saving 33 runs is ridiculous. How many opportunities does a LF get per game, 4, maybe 5? and of those, how many would Gardner handle that Dunn would not, 1?

      How does one save 33 runs with so few opportunities?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  37. adohaj says:

    The new Ricky Henderson?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Preston says:

      In drawing walks, but although he has elite speed his Base-running doesn’t compare and he doesn’t hit for average or power like Ricky.

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  38. MatthewJBarnard says:

    Bench him for Jeter.

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  39. JohnnyK says:

    Well, it’s not just UZR that rates him that highely though; BR has him at 8 WAR since the start of 2010; he’s 10th last year and 11th this year in position player WAR there (not sure, does BR have any way to get multiple-season leaderboards?), so Total Zone also sees him as a ++ defender.

    So yeah – elite is probably correct, unless one choses to dismiss any defensive stat.

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  40. bonestock94 says:

    These comments are proof that even the sabre crowd can’t get past shiny numbers and appreciate good defense.

    Also, if we wanna talk about small sample sizes we should mention that his CS% is likely abnormally high.

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  41. Jason says:

    …kinda makes you wonder what’s wrong with WAR when Brett Gardner and Rickie Weeks are considered equal to Albert Pujols…. The Yankees ought to trade Gardner for Pujols while they can. The Cardinals will save so much money and win just as much. That’s what the brilliant GM would do (Billy Beane is brilliant and his teams always do well….)

    Brett Gardner is a pretty valuable player to the Yankees. He catches the ball and gets on base. Unfortunately, he’s dumb as a box of rocks and runs the bases like it. I’m happy to have him playing LF for the Yankees, and I’d prefer to have him playing CF, but I don’t think he is anywhere close to an elite player.

    Obviously, I am ignoring WAR.

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  42. psk says:

    Yet Girardi starts A.Jones more time than not vs Lefties!

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  43. CaptainObvious says:

    The article is labeled “Brett Gardner Elite Player”, not “Brett Gardner Elite Right Now”. To call a player elite, to me atleast, means he has shown he is above average at all facets of the game ie. an elite skillset. Brett Gardner has ZERO power, his CS% is not impressive at all, though he has strong walk rates he still strikes out 20% of the time consistently over his career which is not overly impressive for a pure contact hitter, everyone keeps talking about how he plays a “premium position”, I could be wrong on this but does he not get most of his starts at LF? The only position less important than LF is DH…The fact is Brett Gardner has one elite skill, speed, which has made him an elite defender for now…But to call him an elite player based on one stat, even though WAR is a great stat and all is foolish.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • WP says:

      “To call a player elite, to me atleast, means he has shown he is above average at all facets of the game ie. an elite skillset.”

      I guess Ted Williams wasn’t an elite player, then.
      Or Babe Ruth, depending upon what you credit regarding his defense, and speed? Like Williams, not above average…
      …Care to reconsider this “definition?”

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    • jim says:

      so by your definition, the only elite players in history were barry bonds and willy mays…

      dont get me wrong, they’re like, really good and all, but dude, you’re ridiculous.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  44. Anonie says:

    Gardner has the worst base-running instincts of any Yankee OF since Bernie Williams.

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  45. BreedenT says:

    His WAR is inflated because he’s playing in LF with a CF speed. His UZR/150 last season jumped to 45.7 (more than double the #2 player on the list) vs. the 20.8 rating when he played in CF which is making him the most valuable fielder in the game. Fielding goes into the Fangraphs WAR calc (which Brett is getting a 24.9 point contibution from) which would drop massively if Brett was moved from LF back to CF.

    If you believe in the run-prevention model, then sure, Brett Gardner is great. If not, then he’s a speedy defender who can’t steal bases reliably and refuses to swing the bat until strike 2. His walk rates are unsustainable until he can prove he can hit the ball with some kind of authority (which he has done this year since my previous Brett Gardner post, hiking his ISO up to .150)

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    • pft says:

      “His WAR is inflated because he’s playing in LF with a CF speed. ”

      I guess you can say that about Carl Crawford as well.

      “Fielding goes into the Fangraphs WAR calc (which Brett is getting a 24.9 point contibution from) which would drop massively if Brett was moved from LF back to CF.”

      While he would lose some on UZR, he gains 10 runs on the positional adjustments. So I do not agreee there would be a massive drop, and maybe no drop at all since CF is a weaker offensive position than LF and his offense is worth more in CF.

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  46. Quisenberry says:

    Somehow I can’t believe that Gardner has such a high WAR. I wonder what sort of replacement that is.

    Gardner always struck me as a very weak hitter, a guy who made it to the majors without being to hit for power nor for line drives. He can but/slash/hack his way on base, but that is far from convincing. Worst of all, he doesn’t inspire confidence. You don’t want him at bat with the game on the line.

    Rating him in the same cathegory with Gonzo and higher than Braun is just ridiculous. This is a prime example why theoretical models do not always capture reality.

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    • pft says:

      “Gardner always struck me as a very weak hitter, a guy who made it to the majors without being to hit for power nor for line drives. He can but/slash/hack his way on base, but that is far from convincing”

      Kind of like Ichiro..

      Also, his career LD rate is league average. His SLG has jumped to 444 this year and he is at the age when hitters learn to hit for more power than in their early years.

      While Gonzo is a great hitter, he clogs up the basepath and plays the least important defensive position, so he loses ground to Gardner. That said, I think the metrics undervalue power, and the importance of good defense at 1B, so I am not buying it either.

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  47. johngomes says:

    i rated gardner at 110 R 10 hr and 65 rbi w. a .280-.320 avg and 50 SB going into 2011

    it was said he would split the leadoff role when i projected those.

    it was batted .220s this year and now .297

    i hate him because he cannot bunt for ______

    2 strikes bunt foul… bunt in air to first? yuck. his CS/PK is absurb so far as well. o well.

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  48. kwiqa says:

    I’m a Yankees fan — and I like Gardner, but this article demonstrates how actually watching baseball comes in handy when evaluating players. I’ve watched Gardner pretty much every day for three years and I can tell you with certainty that he is not yet near the level of an elite player. At best, he’s a fringe all-star. Against above-average pitching, Gardner often looks totally overmatched. Gardner is incredibly streaky. There will be long stretches where he does nothing at the plate (like how he started off this year). Additionally, he is a poor base-stealer for his speed. Gardner’s fielding is probably the only elite aspect of his game at this point.

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  49. kwiqa says:

    oh, and the fact that Gardner’s WAR at any point was anywhere near Adrian Gonzalez’s demonstrates what a joke that statistic is.

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  50. Justafantoo says:

    The most interesting/revealing thing about Gardner to me is the fact that I always thought that he and Ellsbury had very similar stats in college and in the minors — with Gardner having more speed and on base success and Ellsbury having more power.

    But all of the experts I ever read — with Keith Law being a prime example — seemed to present Ellsbury as being this very special player who would warrant a king’s ransom in a trade for Boston, whereas Gardner rarely warranted a mention and when he did it was fourth-outfielder-at-best kind of comments.

    With both Gardner and Ellsbury now playing to their historical college and minor league stats, to me, that was and is way more revealing of the biases of Keith Law, Peter Gammons, et al. than anything else.

    Why anyone gives Keith Law any credibility or more people don’t call Gammons and a host of others on their pro-Boston/anti-Yankee bias never ceases to amaze me.

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