The Surprising Reality of Brett Gardner

Yesterday, the Yankees gave Brett Gardner $52 million to not exercise his right to become a free agent next winter. Instead, he’ll now stay in New York and play left field alongside Jacoby Ellsbury, rather than testing free agency to see if he could land a bigger deal as the best center fielder on the market. And that means Gardner has just signed up for four more years of criticism from those who think a left fielder should be “a run producer”, a guy who knocks the ball out of the ballpark and hits in the middle of the line-up.

Gardner is not that guy. He has more career triples than home runs, and a large part of his value comes from running down balls in the outfield. He’s a speed-and-defense guy, and traditionally, speed-and-defense guys have not been paid the same level of wages as similarly valuable sluggers. But while these kinds of labels help us describe the ways in which a player creates value, there’s also a trap to using these kinds of generalities, and we shouldn’t be so confined by player types that we miss the fact that Brett Gardner is actually a pretty good offensive player.

Just for fun, I pulled a leaderboard of all players who have accumulated at least 1,000 plate appearances over the last three years, and then calculated the spread between their OFF and DEF ratings. As a short reminder, OFF is the sum of a player’s batting and baserunning runs above average, while DEF is the sum of their UZR and the positional adjustment. Players with a large span between their OFF rating and DEF rating are specialists, guys who provide a huge bulk of their value with either their bat or their glove.

To no surprise, the largest gap in the game goes to Miguel Cabrera, who has a span of 212 runs between his OFF and DEF from 2011 to 2013. Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Edwin Encarnacion, and Ryan Braun are all in the range of of a 150 run span. On the flip side, Brendan Ryan (93 runs), Darwin Barney (91 runs), and Clint Barmes (87 runs) have the largest negative spans, coming out nearly 100 runs worse on OFF than on DEF. Subracting the DEF rating from the OFF rating isn’t some huge analytical breakthrough, but I think these results do show that it does a pretty decent job of grouping players by their type.

So, where does OFF-DEF put Brett Gardner? Well, from 2011 to 2013 — which is actually just two seasons in his case, since he missed almost all of 2012 — he’s at +17 runs as a hitter and +22 runs as a fielder, for a span of just five runs to the defensive side. This makes his peer group include guys like Ian Desmond, Howie Kendrick, Yadier Molina, Erick Aybar, Jason Heyward, and Michael Bourn. That doesn’t mean all those guys are equally valuable — you can have a small OFF-DEF span by posting either 0/0 ratings or +20/+20 ratings, when higher numbers are obviously better — but it should serve as a reminder that Gardner’s peers aren’t really defensive specialists; they’re solid hitters who also happen to add value on the field.

In fact, this OFF-DEF toy actually reveals a pretty interesting comparison for Gardner’s contract that you’d likely never connect based on the way they look: Jhonny Peralta. Peralta signed a four year, $53 million contract with the Cardinals as a free agent this winter, so he got basically the same deal Gardner just signed, even though his performance has actually been more skewed towards defensive value than Gardner’s has.

From 2011 to 2013, Peralta’s offense has graded out at +8 runs relative to the league average hitter, while his DEF ratings have graded him out as +43 runs relative to an average defender. Peralta actually has an OFF-DEF span of 35 runs towards the defensive side of the ledger, even though no one really thinks of him as a glove first player. The reality, though, is that Peralta isn’t actually that all different from Gardner in how he creates his value.

Both are roughly average hitters. From 2011 to 2013, Peralta posted a 109 wRC+ compared to Gardner’s 103, so Peralta’s been a little bit better at the plate, but the gap is not particularly large, grading out to 13 runs by wRAA. Gardner then makes it all up and more once he reaches bases, as his baserunning advantage is +20 runs thanks to his ability to steal bases and turn his times on base into a higher percentage of runs scored. So, even with 400 fewer plate appearances, Gardner has actually been a better offensive player than Peralta since the start of the 2011 season.

Going forward, the forecasts expect this to continue. Both ZIPS and Steamer see Peralta continuing to be a slightly better hitter than Gardner (105 wRC+ to 100 wRC+), with Gardner making up the gap on the bases. While Peralta’s frame and ability to hit the ball over the wall more frequently suggest that he’s an offense-first player, the reality is that Peralta is an average hitter whose value comes from being able to provide real defensive value by playing shortstop. Gardner, meanwhile, is also roughly an average offensive player who creates value through his defense, only instead of being a solid defender at an up-the-middle position, he’s going to go back to being an excellent defender at a corner spot. At the end of the day, the value between those two things is simply not that different.

Peralta might not seem like a comparison for Gardner, but he is an example of the market price for average hitters with defensive value. Both Peralta and Gardner have their warts — the former a PED suspension, the latter a history of injuries — but Peralta’s deal makes a pretty good case that Gardner was probably in line for more than what the Yankees gave him if he got to free agency. While this kind of player is still generally underrated, it is clear that the Yankees see that Gardner is a quality contributor, even as a left fielder, and were willing to pay for the right to keep him and Ellsbury together for the next five years.

The contrast between the contracts signed this weekend — $8 million for Nelson Cruz, $52 million for Brett Gardner — are a great example of the changes that are taking place in MLB front offices. Gardner’s a good player, even if he doesn’t look like a traditional good left fielder. The days of average hitters with defensive skills being overlooked and drastically underpaid seem to be coming to an end.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


102 Responses to “The Surprising Reality of Brett Gardner”

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  1. Bill says:

    Did the Ellsbury overpay set the market for this deal, or is this apples and oranges?

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      They essentially gave him the same deal Bourn got at the same age, adjusted for the fact that Gardner’s a considerably better hitter.

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      • japem says:

        Well you also have to take the compensation pick into account. I think that had a bigger effect on the relative size of the deals.

        Bourn, 2012: +10.4 Off, +25.6 Def, 6.2 WAR, age 29
        Gardner, 2013: +8.3 Off, +1.3 Def, 3.2 WAR, age 29 (granted in 100 fewer PA, but still)

        Bourn was definitely better the year before he signed his contract than Gardner was the year before he signed his. The Indians only lost the 69th overall pick, however. Adjusted for baseball inflation (10% yearly), Bourn’s deal would be 4 years/$51.4 million (I adjusted for the inflation yearly, which is why it is not simply $52.8M as his original deal was 4/48), which is essentially the same as Gardner’s. It is really interesting to see, however, the differences in how the Yankees and Indians approached the deals – the Indians essentially got the same deal for a (at the time of the deal) better player but lost a third-round draft pick. I think, unless all teams had some knowledge of the fact that Bourn would perform at a merely average level after he signed, the Indians got a better deal than the Yankees did.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          On the other hand, Gardner has a better track record. He was better than Bourn in both 2010 and 2011, and he’s shown that he’s capable of being an average-ish offensive contributor even without an excellent BABIP.

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        • MLB Rainmaker says:

          I think you also need to factor in that Bourn stays in CF, while Gardner moves to LF, which is a 10 run swing in the dWar calc, right?

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Yeah, but Gardner has been more than 10 runs better in LF than he has in CF over his career.

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        • japem says:

          Cool Lester Smooth – to your first point… I guess that’s true. But Bourn was coming off an absolutely fantastic year and such a steep regression was mostly unexpected (last year, ZiPS had predicted 4.0 WAR for him with slightly below average wOBA).

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          japem, Gardner is coming off of a year that was just as good offensively, and with much better secondary stats. What’s more, his 26 and 27 seasons were far better than Bourn’s.

          Gardner is just as good as Bourn, and he’s recognized as such. He would have definitely gotten far more than Bourn’s contract had he gone to free agency after another year like 2013 offensively, especially when you consider his customarily elite defense in LF.

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  2. LHPSU says:

    Now you wonder what’s ahead for Colby Rasmus.

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  3. ValueArb says:

    Nice way of putting the deal in context, Dave.

    I think of Gardner as a premium CF, an Ellsbury lite and thought this deal was highly favorable for the Yankees. But looking at his history, he’s averaged only a bit over 3 WAR the last 5 years because of all the injuries. While it still seems favorable for the Yankees, not so much, andI think he’s probably happy with this deal given how you describe how the market is likely to perceive him.

    He may have better injury luck and average 4-5 WAR a year over the deal, but that can’t be monetized going into Free Agency next winter, unless he had a big year this year. And even then, if he’s happy being a Yankee, $52M should be enough that the utility of moving to another city to get another $20-$30M not so valuable.

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Start with 2010, not 2009. That was his first year as a starter.

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    • I think Gardner averaging 4 WAR over the next 4 years is more likely than Ellsbury averaging 4 over the next 7. Very good contract for the Yankees.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Yeah, it’s much more team friendly than the Ellsbury contract, even acknowledging Ells’ much higher ceiling.

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      • Steve says:

        That’s preposterous

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          You think Ellsbury is good for 4 WAR a year over 7 years? I don’t hate the contract, but I would be highly surprised if he’s better than a 3 win guy by the last couple of years.

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        • Rob says:

          Right but if he’s a 5-6 WAR player in the first few seasons, he will still average over 4 for 7 years if he’s a 3 WAR player on the back end of the deal.

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        • Kogoruhn says:

          He could also be saying that neither of them are likely to be 4 WAR players over the course of their contracts but Ellsbury is more likely.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Who says he’s a 5-6 WAR in the first few seasons? He’s only been on that level twice in his 4.5 seasons.

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  4. DNA+ says:

    Dave, do you think this deal increases or decreases Gardner’s trade value?

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    • walt526 says:

      By definition, if it’s a good signing, then it increases trade value.

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      • DNA+ says:

        That might be a nice rule of thumb, but it isn’t true in all situations. For example, a small market team might not like to take on a $50M commitment, no matter how team friendly the contract, thus, effectively eliminating many potential trade partners.

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        • walt526 says:

          No, if the contract is undermarket (i.e., “good”), then it’s an asset that has both exchange and use value that are non-negative. That is, a below-market contract necessarily increases the total value of player as a trade commodity for all teams.

          Now some teams may value the contract higher because they have a higher use value for the contract (i.e., they can both afford it and it is a marginal improvement at LF/CF), but all teams can utilize the exchange value of a below-market contract.

          It’s a very simple tautology: a signing lowers the exchange value of the player if and only if it is not a below market contract.

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        • DNA+ says:

          It is a very small market. If no one wants the contract even even if it is an asset, then his trade value is zero. What was Barry Bonds worth in 2008? He was worth nothing because there was no market for him, despite the fact that he was probably projected as a lock for a 3 win season. The realities of very small markets are that there might not be any buyers.

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        • Peter 2 says:

          DNA+, then by definition the signing would not be below-market. Market value is defined by what you can get for a person.

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  5. j6takish says:

    What does this mean for Austin Jackson?

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    • lucascabucas says:

      As a Tigers fan I really hope they resign him. He’s a very similar player who is also under valued. His defense and speed aren’t quite as good but he has quite a bit more power (considering that he plays in Comerica). Hopefully they can sign extend him next year in his final year of arbitration (luckily he’s not a Boras client). If they extend him I would think it would be a similar deal (4-6 years, 50-80 million). If he hits the open market expect a deal more in line to Choo especially if he can show more power the next 2 years. (6-8 years, 120-175 million)

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  6. Trey says:

    Why now? I mean, who was ready to commit more years and money (and lose a valuable pick) to a 31 year old OF whose value is tied to his legs? And who would have outbid the Yankees?

    I think Brett Gardner needed the Yankees a lot more than the Yankees needed Brett Gardner.

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    • Richie says:

      This. I recall some defensive system (UZR?) measuring Gardner as just about the greatest defensive leftfielder of all time, with Granderson being historically bad in center. That stunk worse than limburger cheese.

      I’ll defer to what ZIPS and Steamer forecast for Gardner hitting wise. He also might be the best defensive left fielder in the majors. Factor in his brittleness, remove his home games from Yankee stadium and I don’t think he’s worth that contract. With the Yankees, it’s a mildly good contract for both sides.

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    • bjsworld says:

      I actually agree with this. Sure, there is a risk that Gardner plays outstanding baseball this year and the Yankees would have been saddled with a slightly larger contract (though not a huge contract considering comps to guys like Bourne).

      I would have taken my chances with a guy like Gardner and possibly approach him mid-season if all was going well. No need to do the deal now. His injury concerns would make me cautious to do a deal early – a full season earlier than you need to. Should Gardner only get in 110 games I doubt he would have sniffed at a deal this good. Would a guy with injury history that provides value with walks, steals, and defense really be that hot of a commodity? Especially as a 32 YO? He’s a lot like Chone Figgins in that regard. As was illustrated with Bourne, I think the market has softened quite a bit for that player profile.

      Now, to be clear, I PERSONALLY would value Gardner pretty high. I think the Yankees did well in that respect. I am just skeptical that the market would place such a premium on him.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        He’s never gotten in “only 110 games.” He broke his elbow once, and he’s remained productive while playing through a wrist injury once.

        That’s the extent of it. He’s only failed to reach 140 games once as a starter.

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      • Bip says:

        That’s kind of the point. The market is valuing players like Gardner more and more. I have no doubt he’d get a bigger deal than this as a free agent, assuming he doesn’t have some sort of disastrous 2014.

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        • Trey says:

          Bourn was coming off a 6+ WAR year playing in the pitcher park friendly NL East and only able to fetch $52M using the world’s greatest sports agent.

          Gardner could repeat his 2010 campaign, highly unlikely but let’s continue playing hypothetical, and I still don’t think he would get more than what the Yankees agreed to pay through 2018.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          You do understand that teams look at more than one year when they decide how much they’re going to pay someone, right?

          Gardner is a better offensive player than Bourn (12.7 Offensive Runs/650 and 9.0 wRAA/650 from 2010-2013 to Bourn’s 9.5 Runs/650 and 1.4 wRAA/650 from 2009-2012), and that offensive ability comes from more than just steals.

          He is viewed as a comparable fielder.

          Teams have more money now than they did 2 years ago.

          Gardner absolutely would have gotten more than Bourn did had he gone to FA after putting up an average Gardner year, much less repeating his elite 2010.

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        • Trey says:

          Yeah, and I also understand Gardner’s supposed ‘elite’ value in 2010-2011 was heavily weighted on his LF defense. 2012 was obviously a lost season while 2013 was a good but not great year. Defense, base running, and K/BB were all down. Bourn, on the other hand, had shown solid consistency before his peak 2012 FA season. Bourn was trending up going into FA, was nearly a year younger than Gardner would have been had he chosen FA next year, and $52M was all the market felt Bourn was worth.

          I don’t know why you feel the need to defend him so badly. He’s an okay player. Maybe he’ll still be useful. But you have to face the reality he’s replacement level once he loses his legs. And that may happen as soon as this season.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          …but he’s not replacement level when he loses his legs. That’s the point. He’s an above average offensive player even when he doesn’t do much on the basepaths, and he’ll still be a well above average defensive LF once he slows down.

          Also, I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that speed, defense and patience players age more poorly than offense first players, but you’re incorrect. Studies have been done.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          He’s been an identical player to Austin Jackson over the past 4 years, right down to the wOBA.

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        • Trey says:

          Believing he’ll remain an above average offensive player once he slows down is a total fallacy. He’s barely an above average offensive player today. Most projection systems believe he’ll be exactly average this season. I get you’re a Yankee homer, but you need to accept the fact he’ll probably never develop into a power threat and will have greater difficulty stretching singles into XBH like he did in his 20′s.

          Which brings me back to my original point. There’s no need to lock up a guy like Gardner up into his mid-30′s, before he hits FA, when there are already signals of a decline.

          And maybe he bounces back and puts up a 4+ WAR season. I still highly doubt another team would be dumb enough to swoop in and guarantee him more years/money AND lose a pick in the process. Gardner and similar player profiles are not worth the risk.

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        • Shit, the fact that I actually know what I’m talking about with regards to Gardner makes me a “Yankee homer”?

          I suppose it’s a better appellation than “aggressively uninformed moron.”

          I don’t think he’ll “develop more power.” He doesn’t need to develop at all, because he’s already an above average offensive player, even when you don’t take his SB into account.

          I think the issue is that you don’t seem to understand what Gardner’s “player profile” is.

          Because you’re too busy spewing your uninformed opinion to bother yourself with such minutiae as “facts,” “data” and “evidence.”

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        • Trey says:

          Maybe we’re talking about two different Brett Gardner’s who play baseball. I was referring to the one who plays for the Yankees and every projection system has him being a 100 wRC+ offensive player this season, which by definition, makes him average. How’s that for a data point?

          So explain exactly how he’s possibly above replacement when his only plus tools, speed and defense, inevitably decline with age?

          Actually, don’t. Instead of listening, you resort to ridiculing others who fail to share your skewed biased views of players, which by definition, makes you a fool.

          ‘But, but…. he’s basically Austin Jackson! I mean, look at the evidence!’

          Sigh.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          I’m actually going to keep ridiculing you until you demonstrate that you understand that “average” is not the same thing as “replacement-level.”

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Because, frankly, it’s fun to ridicule people who don’t know what words mean.

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        • Trey says:

          Read and read again.

          He’s average today.

          He’s replacement level when he loses his legs.

          “He’ll still be a well above average LF when his legs slow down.”

          Is that you or did you pull out a Boras quote when he was negotiating on behalf of 32 year old Johnny Damon in 2005?

          But hey, even though Gardner never had Damon’s bat, he’ll figure out a way. He’s scrappy!

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          …but he’s not “average today.” He’s an average hitter today, and an elite defender and runner. By 34 he’ll likely have slowed down to an above average defender and runner and a slightly below average hitter.

          Also, you really need to stop saying stupid and uninformed stuff if you want me to stop calling you uninformed. Far from “never having Damon’s bat,” Gardner was actually better than Damon offensively through age 29.

          Maybe you’re using a new definition of the word “bat,” just like you’re using a different definition of “replacement level”?

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        • Trey says:

          Ah, we’re moving the goal posts now. Okay, I can play. I tend to reserve elite status to those who actually grade out as elite (ie 70+). Gardner’s speed was elite…. in 2011. We’re now 3 years removed from that season and he’s already showing signs of slowing. His 2.6 BsR was good for 36th last year, ranking behind Josh Hamilton. That ain’t elite, sorry.

          ‘But that’s an aberration!’ Okay, maybe. Or it could be a guy on the wrong side of 30 needing to preserve his legs. I would have been willing to watch him play it out this year to confirm if it’s indeed a trend. Beyond his speed, I am also suspicious of his declining peripherals. They were masked by his better than career average BABIP, but again, I would like to see how it plays out this year before I am ready to sit down and talk.

          As for his defense, I guess you can convince yourself he’ll still be above average at 34. I am going to side with science and empirical data to suggest he’s going to be average or worse.

          The ‘he’s better than Johnny Damon through age 29′ just wreaks of defeat. Now you’re just grasping at straws. Damon spent 2.5 years figuring it out in the bigs before he turned into the player many expected during his age 25 season. Gardner didn’t even become a regular until his age 26/27 season.

          Regardless, there’s a much higher probability Gardner’s career trajectory trends towards Ryan Freel than Johnny Damon. With the exception of B/T, Freel is almost the exact same player, to a point where it’s eery.

          But whatever. You go on thinking Gardner still possesses ‘elite’ tools and pretend to be objective about it. Me and Ryan Freel will come back to this article in a few years to see who was right.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Oh, the difference between the two is greater from 26-29 (106 vs. 102 wRC+) than just through 29 (101 vs. 98).

          Again, things you’d know if you actually knew what you were talking about.

          Also, his “declining” peripherals weren’t offset by his BABiP, they were offset by a power boost of over .040 relative to his career ISO.

          That, combined with his career highs in LD%, FB% and batted ball distance, suggests that his increase in BABIP stems from his hitting the ball harder than he usually does, which makes sense when you consider his more aggressive approach.

          Also, the decrease in SB and UBR can largely be attributed to the fact that he and Robinson Cano were the only above average hitters on the team in the first two thirds of the season. He couldn’t risk making outs on the basepaths when no one else could be expected to get on base for Robbie.

          It’s very telling that his steals ticked back up in the second half of the season, once Soriano lengthened the lineup.

          And then there’s the fact that speed and defense players age far better than bat-first players…

          But hey! One speed/defense/OBP guy stopped being good after tearing his meniscus and having two crippling concussions that gave him Stage II CTE! That’s obviously evidence that Brett Gardner won’t be good when he’s 31.

          Serious question: Do you check anything before you write? Or does knowledge get in the way of your ability to say dumb shit?

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        • caltown says:

          @Trey – you do realize Freel killed himself a few years ago, right? Not trying to make light of the situation, but let’s at least give Gardner a comp that doesn’t end in death at 36.

          I do agree with Trey’s original comment. Specific to OFers, there are not many speed/defense first guys who have sustained a high level of success into their 30′s.

          But there’s no better park than Yankium stadium for Gardner. He’s more valuable there than just about anywhere else and might still produce at a decent enough clip to remain relevant. Which is why I overall agree with Trey and don’t see another team valuing him anywhere near as high.

          It’s probably an overpay, but the Yankees obviously don’t care. Not going to cripple the franchise.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Speed/defense guys have historically maintained their performance longer than non speed/defense guys.

          Also, this is the same contract Bourn got, and Gardner’s much, much better than Bourn offensively.

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    • Steve says:

      “Why now? ”

      Well, look up next winter’s class of free agent OFers and get back to us…

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  7. GMH says:

    “The days of average hitters with defensive skills being overlooked and drastically underpaid seem to be coming to an end.”

    Well…

    http://research.sabr.org/journals/is-ozzie-smith-worth-2000000-a-season

    Ozzie Smith was the highest paid player in MLB in 1988. He signed the contract that would make him the highest paid player after the 1984 season when he put up a line of just .257/.347/.337 and a wRC+ of 97, by far his best offensive season. He was a career .238 hitter with 7 career home runs when he signed that contract.

    Perhaps this was just another example of how ahead of his time Whitey Herzog was, and Ozzie Smith actually turned out to be a pretty effective hitter during the length of his contract. But I think it is a bit myopic to assert that MLB front offices have historically under-valued or underrated defense.

    Larry Bowa made more than $500,000 in salary every year from 1982-1985, which may not seem a lot by today’s standards, but it was far greater than the average MLB salary for the time, and that was at the tail-end of Bowa’s career when his defensive skills had eroded. Mark Belanger was paid considerably more than the average MLB salary in the late 70s. Frank White was paid handsomely by the small-market Royals after he became eligible for free agency. Brooks Robinson was among the highest paid players in the game in the late 60s and early 70s – and that was before free agency. Granted, Brooks Robinson had some seasons where he put up good offensive numbers, but over his career he was basically an average hitter. And there is no question he was valued primarily for his glove. The other players I mentioned were pretty awful at the plate but outstanding with the glove.

    I think that teams have historically placed a greater value on defense than we’d like to think, and they did so without the benefit of advanced defensive metrics. Perhaps teams in the past didn’t place much value to corner outfield defense, especially left-fielders, but Brett Gardner is a good baserunner, a skill that front offices used to value far greater than they do now.

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    • Bip says:

      While I do definitely think that teams have historically undervalued defense in general, you have raised another possible source of bias. I think people have a strong bias towards extreme ends of the spectrum. So, for example, the best defensive player in the league will be valued very highly, and the best offensive player in the league will be valued very highly. A player who is very good at both offense and defense, but not the best at either may not be valued as highly, even if his total value is about the same as those previously mentioned.

      It’s possible that teams from the low-scoring era of the 60′s-70′s valued defense very highly as well. All I can really speak to is the change that has occurred over the past 10 years, and it seems clear to me that in that time, the value placed on defense has increased markedly.

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      • Ian R. says:

        Which, as an aside, is why both Ozzie and Cal Ripken are in the Hall of Fame while Alan Trammell is not. Or why Tony Gwynn is in the Hall of Fame while Tim Raines is not. Players who are very good at one or two things tend to be valued more highly than players who are pretty good at a lot of things.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          Well, Cal was both a better hitter and a better fielder than Trammell. That doesn’t change the fact that Trammell deserves to be in the Hall, though.

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    • joser says:

      That was the 80s. Offense got all the attention in the 90s, and skewed things. So the pendulum may be swinging back.

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  8. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I guess I don’t see how Gardner is worth $13M/yr.

    Just a few data points:
    League average line for 2013:
    BB%=7.9% / K%=19.9% / ISO=.143 / AVG=.253 / OBP=.318 / SLG=.396 / wOBA=.314

    And here’s Gardner’s career line:
    BB%=10.3% / K%=17.9% / ISO=.114 / AVG=.268 / OBP=.352 / SLG=.381 / wOBA=.329

    Gardner posted a UZR/150 of -0.3 in 2013.

    Gardner ranked 29th in Offense WAR, Marlon Byrd ranked 10th

    So where is the value with Gardner? You buy him for his defense, but it wasn’t spectacular last season. So maybe it improves in a move to LF, but then he also loses a full Win in his WAR for the position change.

    And is it really that hard to develop a guy with a defense focus like Gardner? Just seems like another example of the Yankees allocating funds to older players and hurting their long-term prospect of success.

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    • Bip says:

      Well, you conveniently left out his baserunning, which is near-elite. Also, his track record of defense is absolutely stellar, so it seems likely his defense will improve over his 2013 numbers. In fact, it’s kind of weird that you selected his career hitting numbers, which are worse than 2013, but also selected his 2013 defensive numbers, which are worse than his career numbers.

      Plus, at the end of the day, market rate for a win is 6-7 million a year, meaning he’d only have to be worth 2 wins to make the contract worthwhile, and he has easily exceeded that number every year he’s been healthy.

      +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RSF says:

      Pointing to one year of UZR is not extremely helpful, especially when most of the year was spent playing CF rather than LF (the position he will play in the future). For his career, Gardner’s defensive numbers in LF have been elite, while his numbers in CF have been solid-plus. These stats, combined with the many positive scouting reports concerning his defense, led to the reasonable conclusiont hat he is a defensive asset.

      His defensive value, combined with his being an above-average hitter (.329 career wOBA and even higher than that last year), is where he will get his value.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JCCfromDC says:

        Don’t interrupt when he’s cherrypicking stats!

        +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • MLB Rainmaker says:

          There’s a big difference between cherry-picking and looking at the most recent stats for a player past their prime. He’s not put up an elite UZR/150 in two seasons; its just as easy to make the argument that his past season are no longer valid data points for his current talent level. Specially when he stolen base decrease seems to indicate he has lost a step.

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        • RSF says:

          The issue with focusing on his UZR over the last two years are as follows:

          1) In 2013, he played CF almost exclusively. In the future, he will be playing LF, a position where he has performed at an elite level throughout his career.

          2) In 2012, he only played 85.1 innings. This sample is bordering on meaningless.

          3) Using a one-year sample of UZR to identify a player’s true talent level is a misuse of the stat. One year of UZR results do not correlate all that well with a player’s true defensive talent.

          +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          What do you mean “bordering on meaningless,” RSF?

          You can just say “meaningless.”

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        • JMS says:

          I am not nearly as statistically savvy as many other posters here, but it seems like any difference in his relative ability in CF and LF would already be reflected in his positional adjustment, such that (LF ability) + (LF adjustment) = (CF ability as reflected in, e.g., UZR) + (CF adjustment). My understanding is that the purpose of a Defensive Rating was to allow cross-positional comparisons of this sort, and that, while not perfect, the whole thing works out fairly well.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          JMS,

          Gardner actually shows an issue with our defensive adjustments, because there’s a far greater difference between his LF and CF UZR (and DRS) ratings than the position adjustments would expect. He’s a +5 or +10 CF and a +25 or +30 LF.

          He kind of breaks the system, because good defensive CFs just don’t get shifted to LF.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Boris Chinchilla says:

          Mike Trout says hello warm lester gristle

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Ooooh, that’s a good one!

          Anyway, what position is Mike Trout starting at for the Angels this year?

          I’ll wait.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • j says:

      Centerfielders who can both hit and field at an league average rate are quite valuable. The stats you cited suggest that Gardner is an above average hitter was an average fielder at CF in 2013. Thus, he is quite valuable.

      Yes, I am aware he is moving to LF. He hits like a league average LF and is the best fielding LF in the game. Still quite valuable.

      This isn’t superstar money. He only has to be worth about 2 WAR per year to be worth the contract, so its not that high of a bar to clear.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Yes, it really is that hard to develop an above average offensive player with elite defense and baserunning.

      Just for reference, here’s Austin “Shouldofkept” Jackson’s career batting line: .278/.344/.416 wOBA=.334 and, since we’re using one year UZR samples of evidence of his true talent, his UZR was just -3.8 last year, even worse than Gardner’s!

      UGH! Why can’t the Yankees keep guys like Austin Jackson!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RC says:

      You don’t see how hes worth $13M/yr?

      I think you’re drastically out of touch with what baseball players make these days. Free agent players are making roughly 6M/WAR these days. $13M is a 2 WAR player, or average starter.

      Gardner has produced about 3.5 WAR/yr. He’s not only worth $13M, hes drastically underpaid. Yes, there’s some injury risk, but his last 3 healthy years (’13, ’11, ’10) he produced 14.1 WAR.

      He needs to produce 8.5 WAR over the course of the contract to be worth it. There’s a not-insignificant chance he does it in the first 2 years.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. jim S. says:

    Good hands but no range cannot possibly make Peralta a plus defender.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      For some reason, Peralta’s UZR has been much better in 2011-2013 that it had been in any previous seasons. I don’t watch him so I don’t know, but maybe he improved his range?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jruby says:

      There’s been a fair amount of writing about this on FG, especially when Peralta signed his contract. Basically, all analyses seem to point to the conclusion that Peralta is a very good defender. Like, top five in total DEF, almost definitely top 10 even if you look at rates instead of counting metrics.

      As Eno very astutely put it when Peralta signed: “The metrics give players full credit for their positioning, so perhaps Peralta is a triumph of the spray chart. If his new coaching staff can give him as much attention in that regard, maybe what our eyes say about his quickness and athleticism at shortstop will continue to betray us.”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Rob says:

        You might want to look at something beyond just UZR. By DRS, Peralta hasn’t even been one of the best 25 defensive SS’s in baseball over the past 3 seasons. The thought that he is actually one of the 5 or 10 best defenders in the game is absolutely asinine.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • jruby says:

          The right answer’s probably somewhere in between. Of course, if one starts with DRS, it’s possible to say “but look beyond DRS, where UZR actually paints a bright picture.”

          I mean, I think it’s definitely easier to trust the stat that matches the eye test rather than the one challenging it. And probably more correct to do so with stats we don’t have much reason to trust at all.

          I guess I’m saying that he UZRs well, DRSes poorly, looks questionable, and is probably average. I don’t believe the savvy Cards would pay him 52 million, after a suspension, if they thought his defense was any worse than average.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Rob says:

          If it wasn’t clear, that was essentially my point. I would tend to trust DRS a little more here since it is inline with his UZR before 2011, but that would still make him an average defensive SS from 2011-2013 after being below average previously.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • chuckb says:

          except that no one’s made the claim that he’s one of the top 5 or 10 fielders in the game.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • RC says:

          So you trust DRS because it matches his old UZR, but you don’t trust his new UZR because it doesn’t match DRS. Sounds like a bit of circular reasoning to me.

          I’m inclined to think he’s slightly better than average (a mix of the two I guess), which as a shortstop who can hit some, is extremely valuable.

          I take almost no value in what fans think of defense watching games. Most fans thought Jeter was a good defender. Range is tough to judge live. A play can make a defender look rangy when the truth is just that it was hit softer than it looked.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Alex says:

          chuckb,

          “Like, top five in total DEF, almost definitely top 10 even if you look at rates instead of counting metrics.”

          jruby said just that in the comment I was responding too.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Alex says:

          RC,

          I don’t trust his recent uzr because it not only doesn’t match his recent or past drs, but also because it doesn’t match his established performance level by uzr. I think it is far more likely that he went from bad to average than that he went from bad to elite. Make sense?

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • chuckb says:

      Perhaps, but averaging a +8 UZR over the last 3 seasons is probably a pretty good indicator that he is.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Dan says:

        Let’s not get too comfortable with out defensive metrics. Any system that says Peralta has been an above average SS over the last few seasons is not measuring the right thing. It’s silliness.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • RSF says:

          What’s the point of having defensive metrics if an interesting outlier is used to argue against the stat. Perhaps UZR is measuring something our eyes can not see. Both are reasonable possibilities.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. GilaMonster says:

    I like this contract a lot. Think of all the holes in the 2015 Yankee lineup. RF,2B,SS,possibly 3B.

    Rickie Weeks is the top FA option at 2B….Yeah. I could see the Yankees going hard after J.J. Hardy. But the OF was hole of holes and this locks a good player up for the back end of this prime for a reasonable cost.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. LONNIE says:

    The days of the LF being a basher and an offensive force are long gone. They had the 10top LF in the game now on the MLB network and it was ugly. Carlos Quentin was actually ranked in it. Gardner will provide value for the Yanks and would have made more money had he hit the FA market next year, there is slim pickings for OF in the market next year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. tz says:

    A key factor is that LF in Yankee Stadium is huge, and having a second CF playing LF is a great fit for them.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. pft says:

    You would think someone would have come up with a quantitative analysis of what teams are actually paying for offense and defense. I doubt they use a universal number of X$/WAR for both and it seems this should be easily quantified.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. BP says:

    Gardner will hit 20 hrs this year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Tymesup says:

    Subjectively, it appears the numbers are overstated for Gardner. He seems to get thrown out more when it’s late in the game and/or the base is important. While he’s made nice catches at the fence, he seems to “just miss” a fair number of balls.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. DNA+ says:

    As a Yankees fan, I’ve gotten to see Gardner his whole career. There is no question he is a very fast runner who puts the ball in play, but gets a fair share of walks. The problem is that much of Gardner’s perceived value is in his base running and defense. For a fast guy, Gardner is among the worst base runners I’ve ever seen. He is an absolutely terrible base stealer. He gets thrown out a lot, and is too indecisive to run in the appropriate count, thus annoying the batter at the plate. Even as a pinch runner when he is sent in specifically to steal a base, he often won’t even try for timidness. This will frequently cost the batter a strike on a hittable fastball.

    With respect to his defense, there is no question he is fast and can cover ground. The problem is he often fails to catch balls that he gets to. He routinely overruns balls, and has hands with all the softness of a concrete block. He also has a weak arm.

    I was really hoping the Yankees would trade him while his perceived value is high.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Seattleslew says:

      I agree. Most Yankees fans seem to drool over Gardner’s defense and speed and some appear to be delusional in thinking he will have a career year and hit 20 HRS or steal 40 bases again. You can’t just use stats that a guy put up in his 20′s to predict his stats in his 30′s. It just doesn’t work. Its possible that now that he got paid, he feels he has already done his duty for the franchise and wants to spend more time with his family.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason B says:

        “he feels he has already done his duty for the franchise and wants to spend more time with his family.”

        lolwut

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • BP says:

          usually when someone is offered a lucrative job opportunity they just go home and spend the remainder of their days playing monopoly with the family and watching re-runs of good times. they stop going to work and declare every night taco night. thats just how it works.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Hawk Harrelson says:

      I agree. I’m sure some nerd will point out that he’s always had an elite SB%, and he doesn’t make errors, and his quick release makes his arm more than acceptable for LF, but my anecdotal evidence obviously overrides that.

      The only reliable measure of baserunning, defense and offense is TW^2

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Michael says:

    I think if you want to get a better sense of both the differential of a player’s offensive and defensive skills while still giving an idea of how good the player is, it makes sense to play around with exponents and standardization.

    It’s a tough task, and I’m sure someone can formulate something that improves on this, but I think [OFF-(-1*DEF)]*sqrt(OFF^2+DEF^2) gives a good sense of that, even in extreme cases (although it could be improved in the case where the differential is zero). It favors volatility as long as the expected outcome is positive, which I think is pretty generally the case in real life, despite what the Sharpe ratio implies and especially in the context of sports.

    That is, consistent bats are nice and all, but if you’ll only win 87 games that way, you’d prefer some volatility to either make the playoffs (improved state) or miss the playoffs regardless (likely same state you are in with 87 wins).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. BradJohnson34 says:

    Is there a way to see OFF and DEF on customized stat lines and leaderboards?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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