Way back on February 19th, FanGraphs’s Matt Klaassen wondered if Brett Gardner could do in 2010 what Nyjer Morgan did in 2009. Morgan came out of seemingly no where to post a fWAR of 4.9, fueled mostly by an insanely high 27.6 raw UZR mark.
Morgan’s performance at the plate was nothing to sneeze at either. He hit .307/.369/.388, which led to a .340 wOBA and a 108 wRC+. So, as we’d expect, great defense + above average hitting = high WAR.
Klaassen ended his piece with the following:
Should we expect ~5 WAR from Brett Gardner in 2010? No — that would be insane. But if Nyjer Morgan could do it in 2009, Gardner can in 2010. I suppose the Yankees would even settle for Michael Bourn’s “mere” four win 2009.
To say any of us expected Gardner to be worth 5+ WAR would be lying. But, regardless of our “low” expectations, Gardner ended up posting a 5.4 fWAR. How did he do it and how does it compare to Nyjer Morgan’s 2009?
In the field–Gardner spent most of his time in LF in 2010–Gardner nearly matched Morgan. In 150 games, he posted a raw UZR of 22.0 (21.7 in LF, 0.3 in CF). This is something we see every day with Brett: great defense no matter where he goes on the field. A UZR mark this high will certainly lead to a high WAR. In fact, on fielding alone, Gardner was worth 3.7861 WAR. That’s right–assuming 0 runs offensively, using the FanGraphs system–Gardner’s fielding ALONE nearly made him a four win player. Adding in the offense just bumped him up even more.
Offense is basically a bonus at this point with Gardner. So long as he had hit around league average, he would’ve been incredibly valuable for the Bombers. Brett bested average, though. All in all, Gardner hit .277/.383/.379, .358 wOBA, 123 wRC+ while also stealing 47 bases (Morgan stole 42 in 2009).
So, to answer Klaassen’s question, yes, Brett Gardner was 2010′s Nyjer Morgan, only better. Morgan may have had the slight edge defensively, but Gardner out hit him (and had a handful more PAs) and played great defense himself. This will not likely be the norm for Brett moving forward, but that doesn’t make his 2010 season any less special.