For a while now I've been thinking that Brett Gardner has been an outstanding baseball player. I watch him a lot being a Yankees fan so I get to see him play every day. I remember the discussions with my companions about who was better suited for center field, Gardner, or Cabrera. This was before the Yankees traded for Granderson by the way. Anyways every always took Melky in that conversation except me. Well Melky did have a lot of late game heroics in 2009, and made a couple nice diving defensive plays. But a few highlights don't make you a great player. Those balls that Melky had to dive for were easily caught by Gardner. His speed and excellent routes to the ball made him a better outfielder.
What was brought to my attention yesterday was Gardner is an elite player. It was this link that made me think Gardner was even better than I thought. Fangraphs Jack Moore posted that Gardy is 12th among all players in WAR since last season. His 9.2 WAR is tied with Adrian Gonzalez and is .4 points away from the 5th player (Josh Hamilton) on the list. This is remarkable. He leads the 14th best WAR player on the list Robinson Cano by .5.
Wait is Brett Gardner really the most valuable Yankee since the start of 2010? You mean with guys like Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Cano, and Granderson? Brett Gardner is the player who has been worth the most? This is interesting. Alex Rodriguez is expected to make $31 million this season and Derek Jeter is supposed to make $15 million. Alex is having himself a good year, he's almost matched his 2010 WAR total already. But he is still overpaid for his production. In fact Alex and Jeter combined WAR since 2010 is 10.6. Only a 1.4 WAR difference between Gardner and the two Yankee "super stars".
And how much money Gardner is being paid?Just $0.5495 million. He doesn't even make a million dollars this year. Good thing for him his contract expires this year and he should be able to sign a better deal. Maybe not A-Rod money, or even Jeter money, but a respectable major league contract.
Which brings me to last off-season. I remember the talk of the Yankees possibly signing Crawford and trading away Gardner. At the time it might have seemed good being that Gardner could have been a one and done situation. But the Yankees made the right choice, and it's funny to see that Boston extremely overpaid for Carl Crawford. Even is Crawford comes back from injury and continues his turn around this season he won't be worth the $14 million they're paying him. Then his salary increases to $19.5 million and then gradually increases until 2017. Which by then he'll be considered overrated by this deal.
So how can a guy with a career .272 batting average be an elite player? Well most of it has to do with his great base running and defensive abilities due to his speed. Though his bat isn't a joke either. Fangraphs points out his 121 wRC+ over his last two seasons. They also point out his ability to take pitches and walk. Last year he saw the most pitchers per plate appearance. Here is some of the post from fangraphs.
Despite the flash typically associated with the speedy players, the key behind Gardner’s game is the least exciting play in baseball: the walk. Gardner walked 79 times in 569 plate appearances in 2010 and should approach 70 walks again in 2011, with 25 entering Tuesday’s play. However, particularly this year, Gardner has made pitchers pay on pitches in the zone as well. Through his first 237 plate appearances of the current season, Gardner has added some power to his repertoire, socking four home runs — only one fewer than all of last year — to go with 11 doubles and four triples. The resulting .151 ISO is actually 14 points above the league average.
They also make an excellent point. While he isn't creating runs by getting on base he's saving runs with his glove.