Despite the popular vote amongst New York Yankees’ fans being that Brett Gardner should be on his way out, they sincerely don’t recognize how underrated the speedster really is.
During the youth movement that is currently taking place, that is reasonable. Heck, every single fan hopes the highly touted Clint Frazier takes over as soon as this season, yet that would mean kicking the most successful draft pick since Derek Jeter to the curb.
No, that’s not a typo. According to baseball reference’s play index, only one draft pick since Jeter was selected in the 1992 amateur draft has a higher Wins Above Replacement than him and his name is Brett Gardner.
Additionally, Gardner is in the top-10 in walks, runs scored, hits, triples, and stolen bases among Yankees’ hitters since 1990.
So, despite being the most valuable draft pick in the Bronx since the no-doubt Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter, he continues to be devalued and underappreciated.
To perfectly clear, the way New York is built right now, they should ponder options to deal their nine-year veteran for younger options, especially a promising pitching prospect. Especially with Clint Frazier knocking on the door and decently competent guys like Aaron Hicks or Mason Williams able to step in.
However, understand that the Yankees would be sending away a home-grown Yankee that doesn’t slightly earn the praise he warrants with his everyday play.
Since 2014, his cumulative batting average is .259 which ranks 20th among Yankees hitters in that span but while that seems, and is, mediocre, that’s not the configuration of his offensive approach.
From the year in which Gardner made his major league debut, he ranks second among Yankees’ hitters in on-base percentage (.346) and led his .351 OBP in 2016 ranked ahead of all qualified Yankees this season.
That, mixed with his Ultimate Base Running (FanGraphs way of accounting for the value a player adds to their team via base running) ranking third in all of major league baseball this season, he was able to lead the 2016 Bombers with 77 runs created.
So, in terms of genuine production, no one on the Yankees was more valuable throughout the course of 162 games than Brett Gardner was last season. Opinion? No, that’s a fact.
As mentioned, his relatively low batting average does paint his value in a negative image, but just like wins aren’t the ideal representation of how tremendous a starting pitcher is/was, Gardner’s .261 average simply doesn’t define what he brings to the ballpark on a daily basis.
Case closed. Oh wait, we didn’t even mention his defense.
Gardner’s ultimate zone rating (UZR) ranked second among qualified AL left fielders while leading them in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) according to FanGraphs.
Since 2008, his Defensive rating, which, according to FanGraphs, adds value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment), leads all Yankees’ fielders with a rating of 32, meaning his overall defensive value tops anyone who has taken the field in the Bronx.
Yes, even Mark Teixeira.
Gardner has additionally made improbable plays on a regular basis to save his pitcher’s behinds — for lack of a better term.
The most memorable catch came on Sept. 6 when he robbed Justin Smoak of a go-ahead extra-base hit in the ninth inning to seal a dramatic win for the Yankees.
Don’t believe that attests to true “talent?” No worries, there’s a number for that.
FanGraph’s Inside Edge Fielding takes each play (dating back to 2012) and assigns them a rating based on how often a player at that position has made a very similar play. 1-10% would be rated as close to impossible, 10-40% would be unlikely, 60-90% would be likely, and 90-100% is categorized as certain.
This season, Gardner made 15.4 % of “close to impossible plays” which led all qualified left fielders. That is, simply, outstanding natural talent.
More importantly, Gardner just flat out plays the game right and damn does he plays it hard. My colleague, Allison Case, touched on the passion he plays the game with and you better bet someone will pick up a player like that — especially at a bargain of $12.5 million.
Does this mean the Yankees shouldn’t venture options? Of course not. I’ll reiterate: the path of the organization doesn’t view Gardner as their starting left fielder of the future. At 32-years old, there is no problem with that.
On the other side, he’s been the most consistent player in the Bronx for quite some time now and doesn’t earn enough respect in this league, or from his own fans, the way he should. Perhaps that needs to be reconsidered.
Christian Kouroupakis covers the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball for ESNY. Interact with him and view his daily work by “liking” his facebook page and follow him on Twitter. All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Don’t hesitate to shoot him an email with any questions, criticisms, or concerns.