Theo makes the case for Gardner in left

In an interview with WEEI, while discussing left field for his ballclub in 2010 and stressing the importance of defense at that position, Red Sox architect, Theo Epstein, inadvertently made the case for starting Brett Gardner in left field for the Yankees as well. And, though it pains me to give any Red Sox fan credit, his argument was rather effective.

Here’s what Epstein had to say via a WEEI transcript (the interviewer’s words are in bold, Epstein’s are not):

We knew Julio Lugo stunk and Lowell was hurt. But we never thought Bay was less than average or Ellsbury was less than good.

What you will see this year, contrast with Carl Crawford’s left field defense for example, with what we’ve typically see in left field. We’ve had bat-first left fielders. If you don’t see a left fielder making an egregious mistake, that doesn’t mean he’s doing a great job. Look at how hard it is to hit doubles when we play Tampa Bay. We’ll hit balls that would doubles that turn into outs, that’s a huge swing. If that happens once a game, once a series, you take a ball that would be a two-base hit and zero outs recorded and turn it to zero on base and an out recorded, that is a monumental swing. If you add that up over the course of a season and add that into a player’s offensive value, it changes the whole nature of what the player contributes. Again, those players who contribute offensively and turn those balls into outs that others wouldn’t defensively that makes a really valuable player.

That’s basically the reasoning behind playing Brett Gardner in left field, right? Although his bat may not be the typical weapon wielded by most left fielders in the baseball, Gardner does excel at run prevention – more so than the average left fielder – and that has real, tangible value, value that can be measured and then translated into wins (WAR).

Long-term, I’m not a big fan of Gardner as the Yankees’ everyday left fielder, but, this season, he can be a very useful player in the left corner at Yankee Stadium. His defense alone will make it worthwhile for Joe Girardi to deploy him. As said by Epstein, such fielding can provide a big impact, and alter the “whole nature” of a player’s contributions.

Photo by the AP

15 thoughts on “Theo makes the case for Gardner in left

  1. smurfy

    willie Mays was making this very point in an interview a couple weeks ago. He said his dad had impressed the point on him to take his defense seriously, for a run saved was one you didn’t have to make up at bat.

  2. leftylarry

    I stll think Gardner will end up in CF.

  3. Chip

    This brings up an interesting question, do the Yankees have a better outfield defense than the Sox? I’d obviously take Drew over Swisher but I think I’d also take Granderson over Cameron (close) and Gardner over Ellsbury (not really all that close)

  4. DaveinMD

    Cameron is likely better than Granderson on defense.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Agreed.

  5. Steve S.

    Yeah, that’s the argument. That’s also something that falls between the numbers, as Theo explained. It’s why stat guys will never love Gardner, because much of what he brings falls between the cracks, statistically.

    For example, say Gardner’s at the plate leading off an inning. He dribbles a ball down the 3B line. The 3B rushes the throw (due to Brett’s speed) and tosses it away, allowing Brett to reach 1B safely and advance to 2B. The next batter hit’s a ground ball to 2B, Gardner advances to 3B. The next batter hits a fly ball to the OF, Brett scores a run.

    In that sequence, he didn’t get credit for a Hit, AB or SB. He gets credit for scoring a Run, but that’s it. Yet every part of that sequence was influenced heavily by Brett’s speed and nobody else on the team makes those plays happen. If you want to say ‘big deal, just one run’ in a tight game facing a stud pitcher, that one run can be the difference in the game.

    That’s why people who criticize Brett for having no power are way off. He’s not that type of player, he’s a tablesetter. I mostly look at Runs Scored and OBP for Brett.

    • DaveinMD

      I like Gardner and am pretty happy with going with him over Damon.

      However, the incidences you mention are pretty rare. There is little evidence that speed creates more errors. However, in a full season Brett will steal about 60 bases if he gets on base at a 350 clip. And his defense is pretty remarkable. He’ll be a good player for us.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Playing Devil’s Advocate because I think Gardner could be a successful player if he improves his OBP skills and plays good defense:

      1. As Dave said, those incidences are really, really rare.
      2. In re: BG’s potential runs: Is that due to his speed or the players who will be batting behind him who are really good hitters and drive in a lot of runs, regardless of who’s on base? It’s a combination of both, obviously, but most guys would score a ton of runs in front of the Yankee lineup.

      • Steve S.

        I wouldn’t say “really rare” but anyway, that was just one example. Theo’s scenario where he converts doubles into outs is another. Brett will never make some people happy unless they’re looking at his UZR-150 and win shares.

        • DaveinMD

          He’ll make smart fans happy if he does what we expect in terms obp, steals and defense. In fact, we may be better off with him than with an aging Damon.

  6. -Leftylarry

    I’d like the STAT guys to take Gardner’s stats before he broke his thumb and then tell me how he holds up.CLearly after the injury he was not the same player.

    • Ballpark

      If you take out Sept.Gardners numbers would have been-AVG=275,OBP=354,OPS=755.
      APRIL- Gardy had a horrible start.
      MAY-got hot 417OBP,955 OPS, 327 AVG
      JUNE -stayed hot 433OBP, 918OPS,333 AVG
      JULY- cooled off and got hurt on the 26th while having a big game

  7. DaveinMD

    I think he had an ops over 900 for about a 10 week period. If he comes close to that, he’ll an amazingly valuable player.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Here’s Gardner’s season:
      April: Awful (.220/254/.271)
      May and June: Fantastic (.330/.427/.510)
      July: Awful (.220/.304/.317)
      August: Injured
      Sept/Oct: Bad (.250/.304/.292)

  8. Peter Lacock

    If Winn has his head right and is ready to compete, he’ll be starting in LF. He is the most complete OF in camp not named Granderson. In fact, if everyone is ready to play, Gardy could be in Scranton or traded. Hoffman, Winfree and Golson all have as good or better skill sets than Gardy and Thames could hit his way to a roster spot. I like Gardy and speed kills but he has some competition and nothing would surprise me.

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