What’s the secret to Gardner’s surprising level of production? Well, first of all he plays excellent defense. Secondly, he gets on base. A lot. His current .371 OBP is second on the Yankees, behind only A-Rod’s .374. It’s also very impressive considering how much Gardner struggled in April of this year, and speaks to the torrid pace he’s been on since then. And at this point, given Gardner’s similarly superb numbers in 2010, it seems safe to say that this is no fluke. In his first full season as an everyday player, Gardner put up a .383 OBP, saved 24.9 runs in the field according to UZR (he’s saved 13.2 runs so far this season), and was worth a a total of 6.2 fWAR.
Unfortunately, one person who seems to have been slow to realize what a great player Gardner has been over the past year and a half is Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, because rather than treat his left-fielder as one of his most valuable players, Girardi has moved him into a platoon role with Andruw Jones, the same Andruw Jones who’s performed at slightly below replacement level this year, according to Fangraphs. Jones had been worked into a platoon role at the DH position with Jorge Posada, who of course is having a lot of trouble with left-handed pitchers this year, but lately Girardi has been giving more DH days to Alex Rodriguez (possibly because of his barking shoulder) and Derek Jeter (presumably to help him reach the 3,000 hit plateau sooner) on days when Posada is not in the lineup. Those decisions are fine for what they are, but Girardi has compounded those decisions by giving playing time to in left-field to Jones at the expense of Gardner, and that’s absolutely not okay.
Becca touched on this yesterday afternoon, but Gardner really doesn’t have much of a platoon split. He’s a little worse against lefties than he is against right handed pitchers yes, but his .339 wOBA and 111 wRC+ are certainly above the league average mark, and when you factor in his plus baserunning (and god help the American League if he ever develops solid instincts on the bases) and truly elite defense, there’s no reason to look at Gardner and see a player who needs to be benched against southpaws. The guy is the definition of an everyday player, and unless he needs a day off he should be treated like an everyday player, because his performance has established him as an bona fide All-Star caliber outfielder.