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.