One item we always hear about when discussing Yankee outfielder, Brett Gardner, is his tremendous plate discipline, a skill viewed through the prism of his stellar minor league on-base percentage (.388). Well, this past season, though Gardner’s OBP of .345 was not the best display of plate patience on the Yankees with regards to that specific statistic, he did exhibit a particular level of discipline at the plate that went unmatched by most of his pinstriped brethren.
To be straightforward, in 2009, the gritty young South Carolinian simply did not swing at pitches that were outside of the strike zone. According to FanGraphs’ plate discipline data, Gardner swung at only 17.2% of the pitches that he saw off the plate. Believe it or not, when compared to eagle-eyed sluggers like Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Hideki Matsui, Gardner actually swung at fewer pitches outside of the zone than any other player on the Yankees. Interestingly though, while Gardner did not swing at balls, he also did not swing at many strikes. Last season, the speedy outfielder swung at 50.7% of the pitches thrown to him that were in the strike zone (the team average was 64.6%). The percentage stands as the lowest in-the-zone swing mark of any Yankee last season. All in all, Gardner swung at 34% of the pitches he saw, which was, again, the lowest percentage of all the club’s hitters.
In addition, when actually swinging at pitches that were either in or out of the strike zone, in 2009, Gardner was actually very good at making contact. When swinging at a ball, the left/center fielder was rather Cano-esque, making contact 75.5% of the time. Furthermore, when swinging at a strike, Gardner made contact 91.9% of the time.
I bring these statistics up because, in 2010, if Brett Gardner is, indeed, the team’s everyday left fielder, it seems as though being a bit more aggressive with pitches when they are inside of the strike zone could be offensively beneficial. Basically, if the pitches are not balls, he has the ability to make contact and should try and put the pitch in play. As a regular, proud pitchers will be inclined to challenge Gardner given his specific offensive skill set — he’s a slap hitter with very little home run power — and, therefore, perhaps a slightly more aggressive approach within the strike zone would help the club in 2010. This is something the Yankees actually tried to emphasize to Gardner prior to the 2009 season. As he himself said in ‘08, “I feel like some pitches I should be swinging at, I’ve been letting go, but I learn from every at-bat, and that’s one thing I can continue to work on — not allowing them to just get one over for a strike.”
Thus, this season, I would anticipate Gardner to be more aggressive in the box, but not in a general way. He will continue to avoid off-the-plate offerings, as his keen eye simply won’t allow him to chase bad pitches. Beyond that, though, expect a significant increase in Gardner’s swing percentage with pitches that are actually over the plate.
Photo by Reuters