Will Brett Gardner perform in pinstripes?

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Gardner sporting a uniform that would make any owner proud, and, despite what the awkward angle of the photo might lead you to believe, he does have both of his legs. (Icon/SMI)

This offseason the Yankees did not sign Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million contract, nor did they try to lure in Jason Bay with a four-year, $66 million deal. They would not even let incumbent left fielder Johnny Damon sniff at a deal more than one year that paid over $6 million per.

Forgoing the traditional Yankee way of paying the biggest name the most money, the Yankees seem content to let 2005 third-round pick Brett Gardner patrol their left field for somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000. It is not my place to determine whether it is the right move from a team standpoint but since the Yankees are opting to give Gardner plenty of at-bats in 2010, as fantasy owners we might as well look at what Gardner can offer to fantasy teams with those at-bats.

First, a look at his past numbers:

+------+-------+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+-------+
| Year | Level | Age | AB  | R  | HR | RBI | SB | AVG   |
+------+-------+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+-------+
| 2007 |    AA |  23 | 197 | 41 |  0 |  17 | 17 | 0.294 |
| 2007 |   AAA |  23 | 181 | 37 |  1 |   9 | 21 | 0.260 |
| 2008 |   AAA |  24 | 341 | 68 |  3 |  32 | 37 | 0.296 |
| 2008 |   MLB |  24 | 127 | 18 |  0 |  16 | 13 | 0.228 |
| 2009 |   MLB |  25 | 248 | 48 |  3 |  23 | 26 | 0.270 |
+------+-------+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+-------+

As you can see, Gardner has progressed nicely up to the major league level, never becoming too overmatched at any level along the way. 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.

Speed

+------+-------+------+
| Year | Level | SB%  |
+------+-------+------+
| 2007 |   AA  | 81.0 |
| 2007 |  AAA  | 87.5 |
| 2008 |  AAA  | 80.4 |
| 2008 |  MLB  | 92.9 |
| 2009 |  MLB  | 83.9 |
+------+-------+------+

Of course what sticks out the most are Gardner’s stolen base totals—especially that 37-steal mark he posted in Triple-A in 2008. On the right is a chart of his stolen base success rates, showing he has the ability to steal bases efficiently and therefore accumulate steals quickly.

Also working in his favor are his tendencies to hit singles and draw a fair amount of walks. What these singles and walks do is put Gardner on first base often—as opposed to second base after a double or the dugout after a strikeout—which puts him in prime stealing position. The more opportunities you have to steal, the more stolen bases you’ll be able to attempt, and the more successful you’ll be.

Given almost a full season of at-bats, Gardner should have little problem breaking 30 steals and I feel most likely he will steal around 40 bases. Clearly Gardner is an elite base stealer, but without enough skill in the other aspects of baseball even the fastest of players begin to lose playing time (a la Scott Podsednik).

So how do Gardner’s other skills stack up?

Power

In the power department Gardner is obviously lacking, even in gap power. And since no amount of short right-field porch can save him, Gardner’s home run potential is capped at a measly six home runs. Even without any power game to speak of Gardner can still provide solid fantasy production, most easily if his batting average stays in the .270s or above. For that reason, let’s take a look at his plate discipline stats.

Plate discipline

To learn these stats or for a refresher on them click here.

+------+-------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+ | Year | Level | BB% | K% | Judgment | A/P | Bat Control | Bad Ball | +------+-------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+ | 2008 | AAA | 16 | 22 | --- | ---- | -- | -- | | 2008 | MLB | 6 | 24 | 83 | 0.14 | 97 | 75 | | 2009 | MLB | 9 | 16 | 102 | 0.06 | 92 | 76 | +------+-------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+

From the looks of this table, Gardner has the plate discipline of a polished hitter, one certainly capable of posting batting averages in the .270s and most likely even higher. Despite average judgment in deciding which pitches to swing at, Gardner is excellent at making contact with all pitches, both inside and out of the strike zone. With his generally passive approach at the plate he draws his fair share of walks and has done well at cutting back on the number of strikeouts pitchers get on him.

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.

Final thoughts

Summing the parts together, Gardner is a player I see capable of posting a line of 85 runs, four home runs, 60 RBIs, 40 steals, and a .290 batting average. Call me optimistic, but looking at Gardner’s skill set and also players he has aptly been compared to like Nyjer Morgan, I feel that line is within Gardner’s limits.

Even with Randy Winn applying some pressure in terms of playing time, 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 although he is slated to bat last in the Yankee lineup, with Nick Swisher or Robinson Cano in front of him and Derek Jeter behind him, batting ninth in that lineup will provide similar run and RBI opportunities to batting second in many other lineups.

Currently Gardner’s ADP over at Mock Draft Central is 333 and he is going undrafted in most drafts. In Yahoo’s preseason ranks he ranked as the 83rd outfielder, behind plenty of players I feel he will outproduce in 2010, including Jermaine Dye, Mark Teahen, and Conor Jackson to name a few. So at the moment he is flying under most people’s radars.

Gardner probably won’t find his way on teams in shallow mixed leagues, but in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only leagues he makes a solid late-round outfield option with elite stolen base potential.

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Comments

  1. Travis M. Nelson said...

    Gardner looked to me like he could be the next Michael Bourn last spring, though I didn’t mean that in a good way.

    http://www.boyofsummer.net/2009/03/brett-gardner-put-me-in-coach-im-ready.html

    But then of course Bourn went out and put up a perfectly respectable season for the Astros, hitting .285 with 97 runs and leading the NL in steals.  Gardner had very similar rate stats, a year younger than Bourn and in the tougher league no less, but he got a lot less playing time, so he only had 26 steals.  If he plays every day and if his 2010 rate stats don’t prove to be a fluke – and given that he strikes out less often than Bourn, I think he’s more likely to reproduce those rate stats than Bourn is – he could steal 50 or 60 bases. 

    I do have one bone to pick with your analysis: Batting 9th for the Yankees is not like batting 2nd for most other teams.  The 2009 Yankees #9 hitters got an RBI once every 9.3 plate appearances, while the AL average was once every 8.6 PA, about 8% less often.  That’s only RBIs, not RBI opportunities, I understand, which I don’t have a good way to check, but it seems to me that you’re a little overly optimistic about his RBI chances.  I’ll be very surprised if he racks up more than 35 or 40, which basically makes that a wasted category for fantasy purposes.

  2. BD said...

    @ Travis: Not to be nit-picky, but the OP said Gardner’s RBI opportunities in the 9th spot would be SIMILAR to that of a no. 2 hitter in MANY lineups.  From the stats you produced, it looks like it would be “similar.” Moreover, if the AVERAGE no. 2 hitter gets an RBI every 8.6 PA, then there probably are “many” that don’t get an RBI more frequently than once every 9.3 PA.  That’s just the nature of averages.

  3. Paul said...

    I think 60 RBI’s is VERY optimistic. If he tops 40 RBI’s I would be shocked. I see more of a .270/.320/.375 with 40 RBI’s, 80 runs, and 40 SB’s. Worth a late round flier but his steals might not overcome his massive lack of even doubles power.

  4. Paul Singman said...

    Perhaps 60 is more of a high end expectation for his RBI total, however I still say 45-50 RBIs is more probable than 40 or less.

    @BD—Did you refer to me as the OP? I’m not one to be arrogant about my “expert” status, but I’m not some random forum poster either… Regardless, thank you for the sufficient response to Travis.

    @Miguel—Jackson is a little safer in terms of playing time (though Gerardo Parra does exist) and a bit safer a bet for .300/15 than Gardner is .290/40. Having said that, when determining between two players drafted this late its often upside potential I’m interested in and with Gardner’s elite speed he has the potential to have more of a direct and appreciable fantasy impact.

  5. Travis M. Nelson said...

    It was nitpicky, but then so was my comment.  Picking nits is what fantasy (and probably to an even greater extent, real) baseball is all about. 

    But the Yankees’ entire cast of #9 hitters only amssed 69 RBIs last year, and that included 22 from Melky, who hit .317 in that role.  Gardner, for his part, hit only .222 batting 9th, hopefully not a harbinger of a bad year.  Throw n the fact that the Yankees will split his time in LF not just with Winn, but also potentially with Marcus Thames, and Gardy will be lucky to play 120 games. 

    You have to rember with the #9 vs. #2 comparison, that most hitters who are good enough to bat second in a MLB lineup are good enough to play every day, while #9 hitters, are generally not.  Opportunities or otherwise, I’m still not convinced that Gardner is that good.  Though I hope he is.

  6. Paul Singman said...

    Fair enough, Travis. I wouldn’t get so held up on the #9 vs. #2 hitter thing, though I can understand why you felt the need to “pick nits” with it. Gardner’s biggest concern is playing time and I like his skillset so I’m predicting him to earn more and more of the playing time from Winn as the season progresses.

  7. injunsteve said...

    Gardner is a superior defender to Thames and probably Winn, although UZR has Winn as a premeir defender in LF the last 2 seasons.  Gardner’s range stands to be a game changer for the Yankees and should help to keep him on the field.

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