Brett Gardner is the longest-tenured current member of the Yankees. Furthermore, with the departure of David Robertson to Philadelphia, he and CC Sabathia are the only two players left from the 2009 championship squad. It was announced back on Halloween that Gardner signed a one-year deal worth $7.5 million after the team declined his $12.5 million option, and this was not particularly well-received by many.
Questions arose about what it meant for any chance that the Yankees would chase after Bryce Harper. Most were not keen on Gardner being the starting left fielder in 2019 after his subpar 2018 season.
Despite last year, he still brings value. For one, he’s well-respected in the clubhouse and is one of the veteran leaders. But he also has value on the field as well.
He sees a lot of pitches
Gardner ranked ninth in all of baseball last year seeing 4.24 pitches per plate appearance. Likely to hit at the bottom of the order, this tenacity can help wear down a pitcher and allow for the top of the order to see better pitches to hit.
He’s still a good defender
He also was 1.4 runs above average on defense (Def). Def combines a player’s value relative to his position’s average and the positional value relative to other positions. Gardner’s mark was good for fourth best in the league. If you look at the period from 2009 (his first full season) until now, he has the highest Def among qualified left fielders. He won the Gold Glove at the position in 2016. It is safe to say that he knows left field at Yankee Stadium better than anyone else.
He’s still got some speed
Gardner also still possesses plus speed. Although he hasn’t stolen nearly as many bases as he used to (he stole 47 and 49 in 2010 and 2011, respectively, but has not stolen more than 26 in any other season), this tool is useful for covering ground in left as well as putting pressure on the defense when on the base paths.
Even in his age-35 season, he 29.2 feet per second sprint speed ranked in the top six percent of the league (42ndoverall and best for his among players his age). In fact, Gardner could very likely steal many more bases if he were to improve his aggressiveness and reads. Whit Merrifield of the Royals lead the majors last season with 45 steals and his sprint splits are shown by the gray line below while Gardner’s are represented by the red line.
All in all, many fans seemed to have decried the decision to bring Gardner back at the amount the Yankees gave him. However, he can still be a tough out and a good defender.
Is he the best option for the starting left fielder? Perhaps not, but he seems like the choice right now until someone such as Clint Frazier can prove he is the better choice.