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.

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. jay_robertson

    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. Professor Longnose

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

  5. Dave

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

  6. LarryAtIIATMS

    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.

    • BrienJackson

      I think the issue is less what Gardner wants to do, and how he reacts to the way pitchers approach him. If pitchers are going to anticipate him taking early strikes and groove a few cheap ones in to get ahead, sooner or later he has to adjust his approach and start swinging at them. If he's going to get a first pitch strike 6 out of every 7 times at the plate, he simply can't keep taking them and getting himself in a hole.

    • roadrider

      I think you're giving Gardner way too much credit. I see a hitter with a very limited skill set who outperformed his ability last year and will have much difficulty repeating his success. Yes, he is very patient but he also took an awful lot of called third strikes among his untenable 101 punch outs last year.

      Gardner may be good at making contact with two strikes but the data indicate that he's not actually making good enough contact to translate that into hits which was painfully obvious in the second half last year. Not a small part of his first-half success involved beating out infield hits and having shallow outfield bloopers fall in. Teams adjusted their defensive positioning against him and that kind of stopped happening. The opposition's pitching approach, as you remarked, has also been adjusted and it remains to be seen if Gardner has an adjustment he's capable of making to counter it.

      I'm highly skeptical. I agree that we shouldn't kill him after 4 games (what was Joe Mauer hitting coming into this game?) but I'm not really expecting much more than .250-.260/.340-.350/.300-.330 from Gardner this year – numbers that are more likely to be representative of his true ability level as a major-league hitter.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        RoadRider, please don't forget that Gardner had a heckuva year last year: best OBP on the team, second best fWAR on the team, etc. Gardner does not need to produce at 2010 levels in order to be a valuable member of this team.

        Did other teams adjust to Gardner during 2010? Undoubtedly. Gardner now must make his own adjustments. Can he adjust and continue to put up a close-to-.400 OBP? I don' t know; it's one of the reasons why I highlighted Gardner in our opening day roundtable. I think this guy has enormous talent, and I expect his numbers in 2011 to be better than you're projecting, but not as good as Gardner hit last year. But he's one of many questions at this point.

        The guy I'M losing sleep over is Phil Hughes, but that's a topic for another day.

        • roadrider

          Yes, if Hughes has lost his fastball or is hurt that's orders of magnitude more important than whatever Gardner does. And don't get me wrong – I think Gardner is valuable (after all he kept the Yankees out of a ludicrous bidding war for Crawford or Werth). I just don't see the same ability level (at the plate that is, he is a really good outfielder) as you do. I'll be a lot happier if you're right and I'm wrong because the team will be that much better off. I just wouldn't bet much on it.

  7. Big Al from Jersey

    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.

    • Big Al–one of the good things about being that fast is that you can then steal second base. You're not going to see many XBH from Gardner, that's just not his game.

  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.

    • BrienJackson

      Well, a couple of points:

      1. Gardner really had a tale of two seasons last year. Yes he had the wrist injury in the second half, but it's also just as possible that pitchers adjusted their approach to him.

      2. I don't really have a problem with Gardner's approach, per se, but a batter has to adapt to the pitcher as much as the pitcher has to adjust to the batter. You can't take pitches just for the sake of taking them if pitchers are bringing strikes consistently. You just can't.

      • jerkblog

        He increased his isoD in the second half. So if pitchers were changing their approach, it didn't work. He still walked a helluva lot. The problem is that he couldn't turn around any pitch thanks to his wrist. He even acknowledged that he became more passive in the 2nd half because of the injury.

  9. DPR

    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,

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