Does Gardner Take Too Many Strikes?

The correlation between the count and on base percentage is pretty much what you’d expect it to be; Gardner gets on base much more often after being in hitters’ counts, and struggles mightily in pitchers’ counts with two strikes.

So is the problem that Gardner isn’t swinging enough? Yes, it seems to be just that. In his career, Gardner has swung at just 47% of pitches inside the strike zone, according to Fangraphs. For the sake of comparison, Alex Rodriguez has swung at 68.5% of pitches in the zone, and even Nick Swisher, who faced some accusations of being too passive himself, has swung at 62.7% of them. By swinging at less than half of all pitches in the zone, Gardner’s giving opposing pitchers a lot of strikes, and they’re making him pay for it when he does.

So far this season Gardner has gone to an 0-1 count in 11 of his 14 plate appearances, and bunted on the first pitch in another one. He’s gotten a first pitch ball just twice in the teams first three games. Patience may be a virtue, but there’s a fine line between patience and passivity, and Gardner may be walking on the wrong side of that line. If opposing pitchers are going to feed Gardner fastballs in the zone early in his at bats, Gardner is going to have to start taking advantage of that at some point. Especially if he’s going to be hitting at the top of this Yankees’ lineup.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

16 thoughts on “Does Gardner Take Too Many Strikes?

  1. Oh thank you so much for saying succinctly what I've been saying for months and months and months. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Even wrote about it once and tweeted it several times. But you will get noticed and you are dead on.

  2. Brien,

    The unspoken issue here is that swinging the bat can lead to strikes, same as not swinging the bat. To get to a hitters count, patience is required. Though we in the blogosphere often refer to batters "being willing" to take strikes because they can hit well in pitchers counts, this can also be stated as "being willing" to wait for batters counts.

    In other words–if Gardner is able to swing at more strikes inside the zone *without* raising his absurdly low 18% O-Swing%, then you may be on to something. Of course, the next question is whether making the pitcher spend extra pitches has value (I'd say it does) and if so, how much. Because Gardner saw more pitches per plate appearance than anyone in baseball last season (and this is a statistic that the Yankees have long valued).

  3. Brien – don't listen to will. Just forward the headline to Geico – would make for a truly hilarious new commercial. Yesterday's first AB alone would work. Standing stoically, rigid as if carved from marble as three go down the middle.

    I agree, working the count rocks, Will. But he only saw what – 15 pitches in 5 ABs yesterday? That ain't how the script was written.

  4. Is there any data on what Gardner does when he swings at one of the first two pitches?

  5. that 1st AB yesterday was rough to watch..enrico polazzo would have called those balls

  6. I've analyzed Gardner's hitting approach here before, most recently in our roundtable. Gardner's success last year was a result of the approach he takes at the plate, and in particular his plate discipline: he was able to draw a high number of walks notwithstanding the fact that he's exactly the kind of guy no pitcher should want to walk (great speed, not much power). To do this, Gardner has been VERY patient at the plate, plus he makes contact a very high percentage of the time when he does swing. This did tend to mean that Gardner took most of his swings last year with two strikes in the count.

    So, to do what Gardner does requires not only great patience, but great skill.

    But you're highlighting the reason why I highlighted Gardner in the roundtable: Gardner's approach to hitting was very successful in 2010, but we can expect other teams to adjust and pitch Gardner differently in 2011. If Gardner likes to swing only when there are two strikes against him, then there's not much risk in throwing Gardner strikes early in the count. Gardner will need to react to this, change his approach at the plate and be more aggressive early in the count. But Gardner need not OVERREACT, since he IS so good at putting bat on ball when he does swing.

    Relax, everyone. We're only three games into the season. And the challenge facing Gardner in 2011 was a long time coming.

  7. He needs to adopt a better approach. With his speed, he definitely needs to bunt more, or at least get the opposing teams infield moving and thinking that way. He strikes out way too much for a slap hitter. Walks are fine, but he has to put the ball in play more. With his speed, he can make things happen. Unfortunately, he has to get at least a double, because Jeter is only gonna hit a ground ball, and end up with a double play.

  8. Guys….three games. Gardner was the 2nd most valuable Yankee last season (after Cano) because of his tremendous approach at the plate. Just because he happens to be in a cold patch doesn't mean he's suddenly worthless.

    Calm, calm, calm.

  9. For all we know, he may still be feeling something near the wrist. Heck, for all anybody knows, including Gardner himself, that wrist may still have some negative, possibly subtle yet considerable effect on his swing,