One of the most popular nicknames for Brett Gardner is GGBG — Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner. Though Gardner still embodies those characteristics, he’s also added another tool to his game this season…
The Gritty Gutty Power Hitting Brett Gardner.
With nearly half of the season remaining, Gardner has already matched his career-best home run total (set last year), and is on pace for the highest slugging percentage and isolated power marks of his major-league career.
Let’s take a deeper look at how Gardner has transformed himself from a slap-hitting, bottom-of-the-order player to a top-of-the-lineup hitter with modest pop and pull-side power.
A More Powerful Gardner
One reason to be optimistic that his power surge is sustainable is the fact that Gardner is simply hitting the ball harder and farther this season than ever before.
Inside Edge tracks every at-bat of every game and categorizes each ball in play as “hard-hit”, “medium-hit” or “soft-hit”. The video trackers are looking for “beneficial trajectory and velocity and contact with the sweet spot of the bat” to determine whether the ball was hit hard or softly.
According to this measure (which is admittedly a subjective stat), 16 percent of Gardner’s at-bats have ended in a “hard-hit” ball this season. Prior to 2014, his highest hard-hit rate in a full season was 14 percent in 2011. The 16 percent mark is also nearly equal to the major-league average of 16.8 percent this year.
His flyballs are also traveling a career-high 263 feet this year, another sign of his increased power. It’s no fluke, therefore, that one out of every 10 flyballs he hits is going over the fence, a rate that is almost double his career average.
Another indication he is making more solid contact is that only eight percent of his flyballs are turning into infield pop-ups, which is nearly six percentage points lower than his career average entering this season.
Gardner has been at his best this season when pitchers try to jam him inside and he is able to turn on those pitches with power. He is slugging a career-high .526 on pitches located on the inner third of the plate and 18 percent of those at-bats have resulted in a hard-hit ball.
Home Sweet Home
There is no denying the fact that Gardner is taking advantage of the friendly dimensions of his home ballpark. His slugging percentage at Yankee Stadium is nearly 200 points higher than on the road, and six of his eight homers have come in the Bronx.
Yet that increased power at home is not all due to the short porch in right field. All six of his homers at Yankee Stadium have been pulled, but only one would not have been a homer in any other park.
He is legitimately hitting the ball with more authority at home, with 19 percent of his at-bats ending in a hard-hit ball, compared to 14 percent on the road.
Gardner also seems to be benefiting from some well-placed flyballs at home. His slugging percentage on flyballs that stay in the park at Yankee Stadium is .346, but that number is just .233 in away games.
Though it’s obvious that Gardner will never be known has a home-run hitter, he has shown increased power this season that appears to be legitimate and sustainable for the future. He is aware of his strengths – pulling the inside pitch towards the right field seats – and is clearly enjoying a ballpark that favors left-handed hitters with a quick bat.