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Let’s get to the projections. What follows is a list of those culled from various sites. The Bill James projection and the RotoChamp projections come from Gardner’s Fangraphs player page. The Baseball Prospectus projection will be linked, but keep in mind that BP is a pay site:
- Baseball Prospectus: .265/.353/.368 with a WARP of 2.4, a drop of 1.1 wins above average the site gave him for 2011.
- ZiPS: .260/.352/.370
- Bill James: .273/.369/.372
- RotoChamp: .268/.360/.376
Only Bill James is optimistic that Gardner can improve his batting average to near to Gardner’s 2009 and 2010 level. But all the projections agree that Gardner’s on-base percentage (the number we really care about) will be higher in 2012. That would mean that they all expect Gardner to go back near to his walk rate from 2010.
Batting average is a statistic that analysts have little use for these days. But as it is one part of the on-base equation, it does have some value. Unfortunately, Gardner has made the batting average pessimism by being remarkably consistent in the amount of hits he has over the last two season. For example, if all other things remained equal for Gardner in 2012 but he could add twenty hits to his 132 total, then his on-base percentage would jump to .374. If he could do that and also get those nineteen walks back that he lost in 2011, then Brett Gardner is close to a .400 on-base kind of guy. Wouldn’t that be great?
But is that realistic? One number that really pops out when looking at Gardner’s splits for last season is a significant increase in the number of times he popped up to the infield last season. The biggest thing Brett Gardner’s game has going for him is his speed. Nothing about a pop up helps his game. And the observation here is that it always seems that Brett Gardner is deep in a pitcher’s count. Despite trying, proving that in the numbers is hard to do. Gardner was in an 0-2 hole only about a dozen more times than Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in 2011.
What else can Gardner do? While you wouldn’t want Gardner to lose his patience at the plate, perhaps it would help him if he swung at more fat first-pitch fastballs. Derek Jeter swung at more than twice the number of first pitch strikes than Gardner and Jeter had a .388 average when he did so. Gardner put the first pitch in play only 42 times in 2011, but when he did, he had a .964 OPS including a .382 batting average. It’s great to be patient, but if the pitcher is going to give you a fat batting practice fastball on the first pitch, recognize it and take a good hack.
There were two other areas that Brett Gardner struggled with last season. The first was as a lead off batter. Gardner had 264 plate appearances as a lead off batter last season and put up a slash line of .230/.322/.330. That’s terrible of course, but Brett Gardner sure seems like a lead off batter. The thing is that if you want to bat Brett Gardner at the lead off position, start him out there in Spring Training and leave him there all season. It seems a comfort factor, but perhaps that thought is reading too much into the situation.
The other area that Brett Gardner struggled with last season was high leverage situations. Last season, Gardner only had a .630 OPS in important situations in a game. But if you remember, the same knock was given to Robinson Cano in 2009. Nobody says that about Robinson Cano now. There is no reason that Gardner can’t improve the more he faces such situations.
One thing interesting in the Baseball Prospectus projection is that that site predicts that Brett Gardner will improve (slightly) his offensive peripherals, but will be worth almost a whole win less in 2012 than he was in 2011. Brett Gardner has put up such amazing defensive metrics the last two season and the numbers given him are so off the chart that nobody can believe them. There was a comment on Gardner’s Fangraphs page that the fielding numbers were out of whack. Baseball Prospectus has to agree because the only way Gardner’s worth can be less in 2012 than it was in 2011 is for his defense not to be as valuable.
But those defensive numbers have been consistent for two straight seasons. There is no reason to believe his defense will falter in 2012. As that being the last piece of the projecting puzzle, there is no reason to believe that Brett Gardner can’t be as valuable in 2012 as he was in 2011. And all he has to do is get back those sixteen lost on-base opportunities to be even more valuable. If he can add twenty to twenty-five on-base opportunities, Brett Gardner will be terrific.