(Probably beat that out for a hit. Courtesy of The AP)
I'm a big Brett Gardner fan, so I was all excited to write this post about how his return later this week should help spark the the team and get them back on the winning path they were on before he went down in mid-April. But then his rehab outing got delayed by weather last night, likely pushing his whole return schedule back a day. This gave me some time to check some numbers on what the Yankees have done with and without Gardner and I was a bit surprised at what I found.
Gardner went down on April 17th making a sliding catch in a win against the Twins. In that game he went 2-2 with 2 doubles, 2 walks, 3 runs scored, an RBI, and the sliding catch that led to the injury to boost his season line to .321/.424/.393. That's not too shabby and about as Gardnerish as a batting line gets, but the Yankees were only 6-5 in those 11 games that Gardner played before hitting the DL, averaging 5.18 runs/game.
Since he went on the shelf, the Yankees have used a rotating cast of characters in left field and that cast has not been nearly as productive as Gardner. In the past 17 games, the Yankee left fielders have combined to go 11-60 at the plate (.183 BA) with 16 strikeouts to just 6 walks, 2 runs scored, and 4 RBI. The lone bright spot in that stat line is the fact that 5 of the combined 11 hits have gone for extra bases, but the production hasn't been there. I thought for sure this would lead to a big drop in runs scored as a team, but the average of 4.94 R/G over the past 17 games really isn't that far off from what the Yankee offense was doing with Gardner, and the 9-8 record over that span doesn't look any better or worse than the 6-5 with Garder. So is Brett Gardner really that meaningless?
Not likely. We're dealing with relatively small sample sizes of production in both Gardner's 11 games and the 17 games without him, and the inconsistent starting pitching and lack of offensive production from the middle of the order in those 2 samples likely overshadows anything that Gardner or whoever else was playing left field in his absence did or didn't do. And there's plenty of things that Gardner brings to the table that have been lacking in his absence, namely the elite-level defense. Over the past 3 weeks we've seen Andruw Jones loaf, Raul Ibanez wander, and Eduardo Nunez flop and flail around in left field. All of that will go away when Gardner gets back, and his help in run prevention should be just as valuable as whatever he does to create runs on offense.
Clearly he's not the catalyst for the offense that someone like A-Rod or Robinson Cano is capable of being, but it's going to be good to get Brett Gardner back on the field. He's a gold glove defender and gives the offense more flexibility with his speed, ability to work counts and make contact, and the added hit-and-run option he creates at the bottom of the order. Now if only the damn weather would cooperate so he can finish his rehab assignment.