Our next Pinch Hitter is something of a flashback. Doug Waage wrote a guest post last year, and he’s back to reexamine the same subject: The impact of Brett Gardner.
Doug is a 35-year-old equity analyst working in Manhattan and living in Jersey City. He’s a lifelong Yankees fan who, exactly one year ago, predicted that Gardner would thrive if given a chance to play everyday.
Immediately after the season, the team had three candidates from the 2009 season: Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, and Melky Cabrera, as well two home run-hitting free agents in Jason Bay and Matt Holliday to consider. Despite having the means to sign Bay or Holliday, or to bring back Damon on a reasonable contract ($20M for 2 years), the Yankees decided to pass on the all three free agents, trade away Cabrera, and give the job to Gardner.
The Yankees were widely criticized for not going with one of the more experienced (and more expensive) free agents and giving the job to the light hitting Gardner. A year ago I analyzed the Yankee’s decision and concluded that in addition to being the cheapest solution (Gardner only made $452,500 in 2010), Gardner would not only produce more wins for the Yankees than all of the other LF options besides Holliday, but his production would be similar to that of Teixeria’s 2009 output of 5.1 WAR (wins above replacement) production when Teixeria was 2nd in the MVP voting.
While some people agreed with my analysis, most of the fan base thought (a) that I was nuts, (b) that Gardner couldn’t produce anywhere near the level of Teixeria’s 5.1 WAR, and (c) that the Yanks should sign Damon, Bay, or Holliday to play let. With the 2010 season behind us, let’s take a look back at how the Yankees decision to go with Gardner vs. all the costlier options turned out:
From the raw offensive data, Gardner is clearly 2nd only to Holliday in 2010 offensive contribution. Both his wOBA and wRC+ are superior to that of Damon, Bay, and Cabrera, and he had at least 33 more stolen bases than any of them. Objectively, Gardner had a good year with the bat while Damon and Bay had OK years (but well below their historical standards and what was expected of them given their $8M and $15M respective salaries), and Melky was just horrendous.
Now let’s look at each players total 2010 contribution (including defense):
Holliday was awesome as expected, Damon earned his pay for the year, Bay was a huge disappointment (just ask any Mets fan), and the Braves should have benched Cabrera, who should have paid the Braves to compensate them for how badly he played. And then there was Gardner, who produced lots of value and cost next to nothing. The Yanks got $21.5M of value out of Gardner for an investment of less than $0.5M. If only all of us were able to earn such returns on our investments!
From a WAR standpoint, Gardner ended up producing 5.4 WAR, which was even higher than my 4.6 WAR projection from last January, which almost everyone said was crazy high. How did he do it? He had a good offensive year led by his 0.383 OBP (8th highest in the AL) and 47 SBs (3rd in AL), and his 21.9 UZR which was the best in baseball! Yes, you read that right, Brett Gardner was the best defensive player in all of baseball in 2010… at any position!
So just how valuable was Gardner in 2010? Gardner’s 5.4 WAR was better than every other member of the 2010 Yankees not named Robinson Cano. More valuable than CC (5.1), AROD (4.1), Tex (3.5), and Jeter + Posada combined (2.5+2.4 = 4.9 WAR)…and all for less money than what AROD earned playing about 20 innings of ball. So given Gardner’s huge contribution to the Yankees 2010 campaign, how much attention did Gardner’s performance get in print, on TV, on the radio, and online vs. his less productive teammates? Virtually none. Every other article was about Cano’s great season (which was well deserved), and seemingly about Jeter’s free agency. Now I realize that Gardner isn’t a household name even for many Yankee fans, but perhaps the fans and media should show Gardner a level of “love” more in-line with his on-field contributions. But I digress…
So what should we expect from Gardner in 2011? As great as Gardner was in 2010, his season could have been even better if not for the injury he sustained on June 27th. In that game, Gardner was hit by a pitch in his right wrist, and while he played out the rest of the season, it negatively affected his hitting in the second half. Prior to the HBP, Gardner was batting .321, with a .403 OBP, and a .418 SLG. After the HBP (which required surgery in the offseason), Gardner batted .233, with a .361 OBP, and a .342 SLG. So while Gardner still drew his walks, his ability to hit the ball fell off a cliff.
Now I don’t know if Gardner will be able to return to his level of production from the first 3 months of 2010, but if he can hit at that level for an entire season and his defense ability remains constant, Gardner could produce a 6.8 WAR in 2011. How good exactly is 6.8 WAR? Here are the players with a WAR higher than 6.8 in 2010: Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Beltre, Cliff Lee, Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Matt Holliday, and Carl Crawford.
So if Gardner can play all of 2011 like he did in the first three months of 2011 (a very large “IF” I realize) and the rest of the players’ production remained constant, Gardner would be the 11th best player in all of baseball. A high bar? You bet, but he hit that well in Triple-A in 2008 (.389 wOBA) and for the first three months of 2010 (.370 wOBA), so we’ll just have to wait and see if Gardner is able to maintain this level of production going forward. Barring an injury, my money’s on Gardner.
Associated Press photo