Choose your preferable player. Player A: .247/.356/.474, .357 wOBA, 1.7 fWAR
Player B: .286/.352/.454, .350 wOBA, 2.6 fWAR
Player A is a two time All Star, two time MVP candidate, and a silver slugger winner, all at the age of 25. A former 1st overall pick, this outfielder opened up the season as one of the top players in the National League.
Player B has no rewards or accolades, not even a gold glove to his name. He's earning four times less than Player A, despite owning a higher career fWAR with just 58% of the playing time.
Player A is Justin Upton.
Player B is Brett Gardner.
After missing nearly the entire 2012 season, Gardner opened up 2013 with a less than spectacular month of April, which carried over into the month of May. From opening day until May 16th, Gardner was hitting just .253/.324/.380 with 40 strikeouts. The light-hitting center fielder was never expected to put up much of an offensive show, but in the past he'd used his excellent plate coverage to work walks and beat out infield singles for a career .355 OBP.
With his speed on the bases and range in the outfield, Gardner's value has often been overlooked as Yankee fans have watched the Bronx Bombers continue to shell home runs over the right field porch. Now that the Yankees are facing a clear offensive decline, Gardner's value in the field and on the bases has grown much more appreciated.
Over the last month, the center fielder seems to have regained some of the stroke he lost in his injury-filled 2012. Not only has he returned from his former self, Gardner is hitting better than ever. Over the last month, Gardner is batting .337/.395/.567 in 115 plate appearances. His strikeouts have plummeted, and he's hitting a ton of extra base hits. He's one of the few Yankees hitting at the moment, and with his value on the field already in the mix, there's a case to be made that he's been the most valuable Yankee. Of course, Robinson Cano would have something to say about that, but Brett Gardner has shown an incredible resurgence.
Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long had plenty to say about Brett Gardner and his new approach at the plate in a recent interview with Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger. McCullough does a great job detailing Gardner's new aggressiveness at the plate, which has not only translated to fewer strikeouts, but also more extra base hits.
"It was hard for him," Long said. "I will say that. It was an adjustment. ... He hadn’t done that in so long. I’m sure there was some hesitation, like, ‘I’ve made some pretty good money, and I’m a pretty good player where I’m at. Is this something I want to do?"
Gardner also commented on his new willingness to swing.
"There’s no need to wait around for an 0-2 changeup," Gardner said, "when you can get a fastball early in the count, over the plate. I’m just trying to get good pitches to hit. Swing at the pitches you’re supposed to swing at, and take pitches you should be taking."
The new approach is clearly working for Gardner, but is it sustainable? At the moment, the batted ball rates are within reasonable expectations, and his batting average on these hits are also acceptable. Obviously he's hitting for much more power this season, and that's something that may change as pitchers change their approach and throw more pitches outside of the zone against the lead off hitter. As long as he can maintain his good eye at the plate, Gardner shouldn't have a problem working to get a fastball down the middle of the zone, and if he can indeed hit that pitch with readiness, it's a rare positive for an offense that has done nothing but struggle.