Brett Gardner is an All-Star, not a platoon player

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.

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.

12 thoughts on “Brett Gardner is an All-Star, not a platoon player

  1. jay_robertson

    I hope you cc'd this to Cashman and Girardi.

  2. Joe

    Girardi clearly wanted Jones in there in order to show Gardner how real baserunning is done.

    • Mike

      Seriously, every time I see the lineups and Jones is in there against a lefty and Gardy is on the bench, I have a Norm MacDonald moment: "What the H!" If this continues after Jones' lackadaisical baserunning, just ARGH! Seriously not knowing the situation when you're a bench player, you only get limited chances you, better make them count.

      Here's what it comes down to for me: you don't sit a 6 WAR player. Especially when he doesn't even have a significant split!

  3. Matt

    Wow. Great article, Brien. Thanks. It is satisfying to see a blog finally "get it" relative to Brett Gardner. We should be seeing articles like this all over the place, but, unfortunately, many Yankee sites, fans, and those in the organization still treat Gardner like he's a Juan Pierre wannabe.

    Thanks for highlighting him.

  4. Tom

    I've been saying this over at Fangraphs: at this point Gardner might be a better player than Crawford (or at the very least relatively equal)
    - Better defense (especially when you look at how severe Crawford's UZR splits at the Trop are (he was ~15 runs better at home per season, over 8 seasons, which suggest something goofy is going on)
    - Gardner has a better OBP and a slightly lower wOBA over the last few year (though close to Crawfords career #'s)
    - Crawford has more raw power but t Gardner's power #'s this year are not that far from Crawford's career #'s
    - Gardner hits lefties better
    - Crawford is the far better base stealer (and probably baserunner), even though Gardner is probably faster.

    Gardner had a 6+ WAR season last year which many assumed was significantly flukish. His defensive #'s this year are ahead of where they were last year and he is on pace for ~6 WAR (just think if he played every day…..)

  5. TigerNYC

    Amen re Gardner! I've been saying the same things about him for more than a year, and love to watch his speed put to use on defense and base running. Yet, at The Stadium many fans are still heard to grumble about "that unqualified left fielder" (who should be playing CF) and batting lead off every game (except that stubborn, slow to adapt "unqualified" Girardi just doesn't get it and compounds the negative misperception by continuing to order him to bunt, which he simply can't do, and should NOT be ordered to do especially given the number of pitches he averages per at bat and his great OBA).

    When Jeter returns from the DL, I'd love to see Gardner retain the lead off spot (scratching the silly platoon at that slot with Swisher ASAP) AND to avoid the whole Jeter to bottom third of the line-up controversy have the Captain bat second with everyone else sliding down a slot (presuming that Alex's ego can handle batting fifth), i.e. a "regular" line-up of: Gardner, lf; Jeter, 2b; Granderson, cf; Teixeria, 1b; Rodriguez, 3b; Cano, 2b; Swisher, rf; Posada, dh; Martin, c. In addition to the benefits of Gardner leading off, his on base speed before Jeter diminishes the DP threat; also it puts the two biggest run producers so far in 2011 3rd and 4th, groups the fastest base runners at 1 to 3, and splits up the LHH and RHH. (If only Alex doesn't freak out, it seems to be the ideal line-up for this Team as soon as Jeter returns).

  6. Evan3457

    Gardner doesn't lead off everyday because the job can't be taken away from Jeter. Yet.
    So Swisher must lead off vs. lefties ("justified" by Swisher's platoon numbers vs. lefties). However, if both Swisher and Gardner are in the lineup, then it's idiotic not to have Gardner lead off, which would make him the everyday leadoff man, which can't be allowed to happen. Yet.

    Simple, isn't it?

    • BrienJackson

      Swisher has some pretty ridiculous numbers against lefties this year, and he's got good on base skills in general, so while it's a little unorthodox to say the least I'm not going to complain about him leading off against LHP's at all.

  7. Sean

    This is a beautiful post. Couldn't have said it better myself, and I have said it a lot. The stats back him up, so why won't Joe? If he can get on a roll stealing bases, in you're words, God help the American league.

  8. Money Mike

    I have been saying for the past 3 yrs I thought Gardner was going to be as good, if not better than Ellsbury. Even though Ellsbury is doing better now and does have more natural power, I still believe that the fact that Gardner walks at such a high rate he will have a better career than Ellsbury.

  9. DAVE

    I like Gardner a lot and agree that he should be considered an everyday player. I do know of at least 8 NL pitchers who could bunt better than him. Once he gets his bunting down, he will put up very credible numbers.

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