Now, it is no secret that this blog is a fan of Brett Gardner's. In the number 9-hole and manning center, he gives the Yankees something they don't have—speed and solid defense. The ability to be a pest and distract opposing pitchers, to take the extra base and to cover tons of ground in Yankee Stadium. On the whole, we feel, that is not so bad a thing.
So, his slow spring training start notwithstanding, we were happy to see an article in The Hardball Times, reiterating something we felt and wrote about previously: And that would be, that people who feel Gardner won't hit in the majors have history and stats working against them. All Gardner needs is consistent time and he will respond.
Thanks to good plate discipline and contact ability (something we will look into further later), Gardner was able to maintain respectable batting averages, and after an uninspiring major league debut in 2008, Gardner showed he has the tools to stick around the majors with his 2009 performance.
THT goes on to laud Gardner's speed and plate discipline—stating that Gardner draws walks, cuts down on strikeouts and generally makes contact and could be an above average defender and a contributor at the plate. "Coupling his good approach at the plate with his ability to hit the ball on the ground and run—a great recipe for BABIP success—I would expect his BABIP to rise from his 2009 mark of .311 to his CHONE-projected BABIP of .324. When you factor these things together, I see the picture of a .290 and possibly .300 hitter forming, and certainly not one below .270."
THT then goes on to quote another article from Fangraphs which states that Gardner compares favorably with Nyjer Morgan. Fangraphs's article states:
The offensive comparison is more interesting. Despite Morgan’s good 2009, CHONE still sees him as a below average hitter (.321 wOBA). Gardner’s CHONE projection is surprisingly good — .335 wOBA. ... For example, Gardner has the higher walk rate. This is likely a reflection of Gardner’s superior plate approach. While Morgan swings at bad pitches slightly more than average, Gardner has been better than average, while still having a slightly higher overall contact rate than Morgan.
Further, CHONE's projected OPS favors Gardner over Morgan again; .726 to .712. True, these are all just projections. And Morgan's power projections rightfully demolish Gardner's power projection. But again, power is something the Yankees have in abundance, and don't need from Gardner.
However, projections aside, the Yankee Universe seems to hate the fact that since the Yankees didn't get Holliday or Bay or someone expensive and flashy (and a station-to-station power hitter, no doubt. Where have you gone Jason Giambi, Danny Tartabull, Jack Kemp?) Gardner is nothing but a stopgap failure. The Forum at NYYFans has a question "How long with Gardner last?" Type in "Brett Gardner Sucks" or some such statement into Google and see how may hits you get.
So, as a champion of giving Brett Gardner a chance, my only caveat is something that THT writes: "...as long as Gardner does not stumble out of the gate I feel he will secure for himself the lion's share of starts in left field. And ... batting ninth in that lineup will provide similar run and RBI opportunities to batting second in many other lineups."
In short, Gardner needs to show early that he can handle the 9th spot batting-wise. With Brian Cashman getting in half of the waiver wire, street free agents and Plan B players out there to challenge for the last outfield spot, Gardner needs to make a claim to not only get some start duty, but to claim the everyday position. Should he fail to do that, the overwhelming odds are is that someone else will be in the Yankee's outfield next year, and Gardner will be elsewhere.