Before I get going, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Stephen R, and I’ll be posting here on the weekends. You may remember me from my 2011 Free Agency post back in March. I’m very excited to join the The Yankee U team and hope I can make a contribution to the great analysis that happens here daily. You can find me on Twitter here, and also check out some of my other stuff at my other home, The Bat Shatters.
When Brett Gardner won the starting day left field position for the 2010 Yankees, Yankees fans had mixed feelings. Some fans still missed Johnny Damon. Some were happy to see Gardner get a chance, but feared that his bat wouldn’t be able to produce at even replacement level for a year. Others were hopeful that he would add a positive impact to the team even with a weak bat, given his reputation as a superb defender. 20 games in the 2010 season, Gardner has produced to the tune of .323/.397/.385. He is not hitting for power, as usual, but his on-base percentage has increased by over 50 points from 2009. This is quite obviously a statistically insignificant sample, but are there any developing trends in Gardner’s approach that bear watching going forward?
So far in 2010, Gardner’s walk rate has only increased from 9.2% to 9.5%. Over 600 plate appearances, an increase of 0.3% represents about 2 more walks. Gardner has also decreased his K rate, which was 23.6% in 2008 and 16.1% in 2009 but now sits at 12.3% in 2010. Quite obviously, his K/BB ratio has improved (0.65 in 2009, 1.00 in 2010) as a result. These are mostly miniscule changes, and probably don’t indicate an improved batting eye. In fact, Gardner’s increased OBP is probably the result of an inflated BABIP that stands 57 points higher in 2010 than it did in 2009 (.368 to .311). Given that his LD% has stayed static while his GB% has gone up(49% in 2009, 59% in 2010), we can likely conclude that some of Gardner’s ground balls have just been squeaking through more often than last year, or that he’s simply legging out more infield hits.
From an approach standpoint, Gardner has seen a decrease in his overall swing percentage from 34.1% in 2009 to 30.3% in 2010. This is probably the driving cause behind his increase in pitches per plate appearance. He currently averages 4.39 P/PA, good for 9th best in the major leagues. Unfortunately, his decrease in swing percentage is manifesting itself in a decrease in the percentage of times he swings at pitches inside the zone (Z-Swing%). In 2009, his Z-Swing% was 50.7%. In 2010, it is 40.1%. Additionally, Gardner’s O-Swing%, or the percentage of times he swings at pitches outside the zone, has gone up from 17.2% in 2009 to 19.7% in 2010. Gardner might be due for some regression as pitchers adapt to this increasingly passive approach to strikes.
This early in the season, it’s almost impossible to cut through the noise and draw any definitive conclusions about the 2010 Brett Gardner. It’s easy to like the OBP, which has allowed him to swipe ten bags already. It would be nice, though, if Gardner would take a more active approach towards pitches inside the zone, which Chris H argued for back in January. If he’s somehow able to maintain his Ichiro-ean BABIP and continue to get on base at a 38% clip, Yankees fans will be very pleased. If not, then Gardner might be due for some serious regression.