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at Yankee Stadium on July 9, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

The scoop on Brett Gardner’s hot month

After a solid start to the season, Brett Gardner hit a slump six weeks into the season. From May 16 to June 16, Gardner batted .212/.291/.346. Since then, he’s been on a tear, with his .392/.459/.660 since June 17 carrying him into Tuesday’s all-star game. It’s unreasonable to think that Gardner will be able to carry this production on forever, and it’s likely to taper off sometime soon. However, some of Gardner’s newfound prowess might stick around due to some changes he’s made in his approach.

Gardner has long possessed an above average batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with a career mark of .325 due to his speed that allows him to accumulate a high number of infield hits. However, Gardner’s BABIP was abnormally high over the past month at .465. His line drive percentage, which is a strong indicator of a hitters’ success (as hitters as a whole bat .685 on line drives) has barely changed, and remains near league average at 23%. While Brett has experienced a power surge, hitting half of ten total home runs over that span, it’s come about as a result of his elevated 19% HR/FB ratio. While Gardner has indeed increased his power output, with a nearly 12% HR/FB ratio over the past season and a half, 19% is unsustainable for the speedy outfielder. All of this taken together means that Gardner’s recent success has been due in large part to luck.

Yet, there is still reason to like what Gardner is doing. He’s increased his bat speed, as he’s averaged a 90 MPH exit velocity over the past month while he averaged just less than 88 MPH for the previous month. He’s also begun to strike out less. Brett has always struck out quite a bit, but that was true even more so from mid-May to mid-June, as was K’d in nearly 26% of his plate appearances. He’s brought that down to 19% since June 16, and he’s also walked slightly more.

Why has this been so? It’s not just luck—it’s a change in approach. Whereas Chris Young began swinging at and hitting more pitches outside of the zone, Gardner has been swinging at more pitches in the zone. Always a patient hitter, sometimes to a fault, Gardner has swung at just 52% of pitches thrown in the zone during his career. The league average is around 65%. This means that Gardner has seen a lot of called strikes float by.

This has changed. Since June 16, Gardner has swung at nearly 67% of pitches inside the zone. He’s not making more contact as a percentage of his swings. Pitchers aren’t throwing him more pitches inside the zone. However, the simple fact that he’s simply swinging at more good pitches has meant that he’s making more contact as a percentage of the total number of pitches he’s seen. Combined with his higher exit velocity and the fact that he’s hitting more balls up the middle, and you’ve got the other part of the explanation for Gardner’s recent success.

Nobody expects Gardner—or anybody, for that matter—to keep hitting nearly .400 with a .660 slugging percentage, and I’ve shown you why that’s so. However, if he can continue to swing at good pitches, he could beat the projections that have him hitting .260-.270 for the rest of the season.