Brett Gardner, Good Eye or Non-Swinger?

On the surface, Brett Gardner looks like a Bobby Abreu protege (without any power). Since 2010, Brett has shown off his great eye for pitches, posting the 2nd lowest chase rate in baseball at 18.1%.

His ability to make contact with pitches is also astonishing, as he makes contact with 97.2% with pitches in the strike zone, behind only Juan Pierre and Marco Scutaro. Of the 2789 pitches Brett has seen since the start of 2010, he has only swung and missed at 265 pitches.

Where Brett Gardner lacks is in his ability to swing at pitches in the strike zone. Over the last two seasons, Brett has swung at a major league low 45.2% of pitches in the strike zone. He owns this record almost 6% (next lowest is Elvis Andrus at 50.9%) and is almost 20% below the league average. Combined with his low chase rates, its only natural also that Brett has the lowest swing rate in MLB at 31.3%, compared to the league average of 45.6%.

Here’s where things get really interesting. In 2010, Brett Gardner saw 2625 pitches. Of those pitches, 48.3% were in the strike zone, or 1268 strikes. At a 44.7% Z-Swing%, that means last season, Brett Gardner took 701 pitches for strikes. while swinging at 567 strikes. Brett had a Z-Contact% of 97.5%, meaning he only swung and missed at 2.5% of these strikes. That means that after 2625 pitches, Brett only swung and missed at 14 strikes in the strike zone.

Looking at his O-Swing% (Chase Rate) , of the 1357 possible balls thrown to Brett, he swung at 18.2% of them, or 247 pitches. At (1-O-Contact%) he missed 25.2% of these pitches, or 62 times.

In total he swung and missed at 76 pitches in 2010.

Brett Gardner struck out 101 times in 2010. Of these 101K’s, 56 were swinging. 56! That means that in 2010, of the 701 pitches Brett took for strikes, 656 of them were for strike 1 or strike 2. Considering he only had 569 PA in 2010, he took 1.15 strikes per plate appearance before taking strike 3.

But aren’t there times where a hitter is trying to “take a pitch”? That is true, most singles hitters don’t swing in 3-0 counts, since a walk is just as good. In 2010, Brett ran the count to 3-0 31 times. 8 times he walked on the 4th pitch and hit no balls in play, so we’re going to assume for Brett’s sake, he took one strike (non-swinging) in the other 23 PA.

To give Brett a further benefit of the doubt, lets say he had the same strategy at 3-1. In 3-1 counts, Brett had 29 BB and 2 H in 84 PAs. Again, assuming he didn’t swing at a single pitch at 3-1 other than his 2 hits, Brett took 53 strikes in 3-1 counts.

Therefore the maximum number of strikes Brett could have taken in 3-0 and 3-1 counts is 76. Lets go back to our 681 non strike 3 strikes and back out the max 76 strikes taken. He still took 580 strikes in 569 plate appearance. Even accounting for strikes taken in 3-0 or 3-1 counts to try to get on base, Brett Gardner takes just over 1.0 Strikes per PA before taking strike 3.

Pitchers this season sense understand that Brett refuses to swing before 2 strikes and are currently throwing Brett a first pitch strike at a 70.5% rate, up from 56.2% last season. Brett, having only put the ball in play 4 times (1/3, 1 2B, 1 Sac Bunt) has run a 0-1 count 25 times, after which point he is a career .224 hitter, and a .136 hitter this season. If he is to see success in really his 2nd full season in the big leagues, he needs to get his bat off his shoulders and start putting the bat on the ball early in the count, because at the moment, he’s giving away 1/3 of the at bat before he even steps into the box, and pitchers have no reason to pitch around him with his weak power stroke and weak, double play prone Derek Jeter hitting behind him.

This article can be found in its original form at yankeeheckler.blogspot.com. Please feel free to comment below with any weaknesses in my math, etc… My hypothesis is that Brett takes more non-swinging strikes per PA than anyone in baseball, and I’d love some suggestions as to possible names that are worse about it than he is.




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11 Responses to “Brett Gardner, Good Eye or Non-Swinger?”

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  1. […] Check out this FanGraphs Community post about Gardner’s propensity to take strikes. Very interesting stuff. Share Tweet […]

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  2. Greg W says:

    If he’s taking 70.6& first pitch strikes, I can only assume the number of pitchers trying to get the first pitch over is even higher. So, the secret is out, how long until he adjusts, I wonder.

    Very well presented article.

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  3. bureaucratist says:

    Truly a great article. Touches on some questions I have wondered about for a very long time. I would love to see this analysis harnessed into some type of single stat that can give an immediate impression as to whether a guy has a great eye or is just a non-swinger.

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  4. tdotsports1 says:

    Nicely done, and spot on really. Is Gardner really talented with the bat or just a guy hoping to take four balls? We’ll find out.

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  5. Kris says:

    I pretty much interpret this data as Brett sitting on pitches. When he’s looking for a low-fastball, he’s not swinging unless he’s getting a low fastball.

    It would be interesting to see his performance against pitchers that have a bundle of pitches versus pitchers that rely on their fastball 60% of the time or have a third pitch that comes in at more than 10% of the time. whatever.

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  6. BreedenT says:

    @ Kris

    If that were the case, he’s either really awful at picking the right pitch to sit on, or putting the ball in play.

    For 2011
    In 0-0 counts, BG is 1/3 with a double
    In 0-1 counts, BG is 0/2
    In 1-0 counts, BG is 0/3
    In 1-1 counts, BG is 0/2
    In 2-0 counts, BG is 1/1
    In 2-1 counts, BG is 1/3
    Brett has never gone 3-0 this season.
    In 3-1 counts, BG is 0/1 win no walks

    That means in aggregate, Brett has put the ball in play 15 times in 47 PA this season before 2 strike counts, or 32% of the time. Assuming he sits on every pitch in a strike 0 and strike 1 count, giving him 2 chances per at bat to put the ball in play before 2 strikes, that means he’s got a 16% rate of actually guessing the right pitch, or a 1 in 6 chance.

    If a starting pitcher has 4 pitches, and Brett sat on random pitches, he should at least exhibit a 25% success rate, implying (but in a short sample size of course) that he’s worse at guessing the pitch, than he is at just picking randomly at the plate.

    In addition, if we continue the previous assumption, he’s batting .200 when he guesses the right pitch (3/15) and is slugging .267.

    A-Rod by comparison, if you made the same assumptions is 11/25 with 4 walks in pre-strike 2 counts, or batting .440. 25 of his total 44 plate appearances (48 – 4 pre-strike 2 walks) have ended before strike 2, or 57% of the time. 54/2 puts his guess rate at 28.5% this season, or a 1 out of 3.5 so (slightly better than random), hits .440 and slugs 1.120 (5 doubles, 4 home runs)

    Basically, If Brett is sitting on pitches this season, he’s not good at it, both in terms of his guess rate, and his ability to do anything with a pitch he knows is coming (slug pct)

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  7. BreedenT says:

    Larger sample size, last season, Brett went 57/148 in pre-strike 2 counts, or .385 avg, across 519 plate appearances (556 Plate Appearances – 42 strike-2 walks), meaning he was guessing at a 31%/2 = 15.5% guess rate, or 1 out of every 6.5 pitches.

    He was driving the ball better, but if he was only swinging at balls he was sitting on, he was doing so at a worse rate than he’s doing so this year.

    This analysis is all slightly flawed because its not taking into account fouling off pitches in specific counts (a very hard stat to find), but for a simplified purpose, lets just assume if you were looking for a low fastball, and you got a low fastball, you could put it in play. At a 15.5% guess rate, you’d have to foul off a lot of pitches you were sitting on to get close to the 25% random choice, which means even pitches he knows are coming, he still can’t put them in play.

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  8. Matt Goldfarb says:

    Nicee job. He def has taken this strategy to the EXTREME.

    As a Yankee fan, I’ve long been nervous on Gardy, and never thought his MiLB BB% would translate to MLB BB%. It looks like he was using a crude strategy that was outed during the off-season (behind closed-doors) and then picked up by you.

    Out of curiosity I pulled some Yahoo! numbers.

    Of Gardy’s career 8HRs, 6 have come with 2 strikes; none of the 8 have come with no strikes (2 with 1 strike). I know he’s hit at least 1-2 HRs inside the park, but I cant find what the count was.

    Given Gardner’s strategy it seems that the obvious Nash Equilibrium would be for pitchers to throw the ball down the middle of the plate for strikes 1 and 2.

    I hope he can adjust.

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  9. Matt says:

    Brett’s Strategy has changed a bit since this article. He hit 3 HRs in 3 games right after this was published.

    2 of those HRs were on counts with < 2 strikes, the other was your typical Brett Gardner 3-2 count.

    Also yesterday Gardner roped a first-pitch single with runners on first and second, no out.

    It's a great short term adjustment, but he will need to swing at a couple more pitches early in the count to "scare" pitchers from pouring in strikes 1 and 2.

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  10. […] room on our first volume. New MILFS include Brooklyn Slut Ginger getting fucked by Logan. British swinger Cindy James fucks a black dude, and […]

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  11. […] Gardner has a good eye towards plate discipline or if he’s just extremely reluctant to swing. The difference between the two is starting to look important in 2011 as Gardner is struggling and is getting pounded with […]

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