When many discuss Brett Gardner’s value, they are quick to point to his defense, citing UZR as well as UZR/150 to outline his tremendous glove. For instance, in 2009, over 99 games, Gardner’s 7.4 UZR and 15.4 UZR/150 were two of the best marks in the American League. However, while there is an apparent sample size issue with regards to Gardner’s rating, I think another aspect we should look to examine further is Gardner’s interesting arm rating.
Last season, a significant chunk of Gardner’s UZR was derived from arm runs. He was worth 3.0 outfield arm runs above average, which was, in fact, one of the best numbers in baseball relative to his position in center field. This was no fluke either, as Gardner’s arm in ’08, between left and center field, was worth 4.9 outfield arm runs above average. Now, most people assume Gardner’s great UZR is predicated upon range and, while that is true, he does have good range – over the past two seasons, he has been valued at 12.2 range runs above average, which is another top-rated number among all outfielders – many Yankees fans would be surprised to know that Gardner’s arm is such a contributing factor – 7.9 arm runs over the past two years – to his overall defensive value, according to UZR.
The added wrinkle here, however, is that Gardner’s arm is not actually as good as UZR perceives it to be. Though Gardner has a fairly accurate arm, I think – based on what we have seen with our own eyes over the past two seasons – it is safe to say that his arm strength is nowhere near a Melky Cabrera, or even a Nick Swisher, who has a stronger arm but is not very accurate with his throws. Gardner’s arm rating, then, is founded upon arm accuracy but is inflated by his speed. Basically, Gardner’s wheels allow him to get to balls quicker than expected. This, then, allows him to gun down runners who wish to challenge him on the basepaths, because of his seemingly weak throwing arm. So, while Gardner’s arm rating is very good, the measure is also very generous as it is furthered by a non-arm factor.
As a result, Gardner’s UZR and UZR/150 are also somewhat aerated. If the 26-year old is given the opportunity to play a full season in 2010, I would guess that his arm rating will decrease as runners will grow more aware of his great speed, forcing them to limit their attempts to stretch out base hits. Thus, Gardner’s UZR figures will also go down (of course, I am drawing upon small samples, so perhaps we will see something entirely different). The reason I write this is to temper defensive expectations for Gardner, especially if he patrols center field. While he is a good defensive player – that much is clear – his defensive ratings could come down to earth a bit in 2010.
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