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Gardner Is Swinging at Nothing

Last year I wrote an article about Luis Castillo‘s extreme approach at the plate. His no-power swing rarely missed, so he could take a large number of pitches with under two strikes, because, if he got to two strikes, he had little chance of whiffing on strike three. The upshot was that he extended at-bats hoping to accumulate enough balls to get a walk or find a pitch he really liked to hit. It is an intriguing approach for low-power guys who have the contact skills and plate discipline to pull it off.

So far this year the new poster boy for such an approach is Brett Gardner. He has always employed it to some extent but this year taken it to new levels with his league-lowest 30% swing rate and 40% Z-swing rate. Gardner does not have quite the contact skills of Castillo — though has more power — but so far this year he has shown an amazing ability to make contact with pitches in the zone. Here are all the pitches Gardner has seen so far this year, color coded by pitch type. Pitches he took are in a light color and pitches he whiffed are encircled.

At least according to pitchf/x he has whiffed on nothing unequivocally in the zone (the plate discipline section on the player pages is based on BIS data). He has whiffed on some breaking and off-speed stuff below the zone and on a couple of fastballs above the zone, but not much. You can also see the huge number of pitches he has taken in the strike zone.

Gardner is not going to keep up his .419 wOBA — buoyed by a .380 BABIP and 13 steals on 14 attempts — and probably will not have more walks than strikeouts at the end of the year. But even before this year he was an above-average offensive player and these first 94 PAs suggest he will be even better this year.