Analysis

Yankees: Is Brett Gardner’s Time Almost Up?

Brett Gardner has contributed to the Yankees for the past decade, but with age and regression becoming a factor, is his time almost up with the Bombers?

As Yankee fans, we all love Brett Gardner. The longest-tenured Yankee has been a staple in the lineup and in the clubhouse over the course of the past decade. With that being said, it might be time to say goodbye to Gardner (who is turning 37 this month), at least in the starting lineup. 

In 2019, Gardner had a power resurgence, as he had a career-high in home runs at 28, and a career-high in ISO (isolated power) at .253. This could potentially be seen as a positive; however, it is significantly more complicated than the numbers on the surface. As we know, the baseballs were incredibly juiced last season, to the point where a .200 ISO (which used to be considered elite) was incredibly easy to obtain. His xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average) was .307 last season. This stat measures quality of contact. For reference, the league average xwOBA last season was .319. To be fair, his xwOBA was hurt slightly because of the short porch in right field, but not to the point that it would significantly change his entire outlook as a hitter, as he was in the 14th percentile. Overall, Gardner’s fWAR (Fangraphs wins above replacement) was 3.6, which is well above average. He had a good season last year, but the numbers below the surface pointed to signs of regression.

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In a lot of lineups, a 115 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) hitter could be one of the best hitters in a given lineup. However, this is the Yankees that we are talking about, who arguably have the best and deepest lineup in the game. In fact, excluding Didi Gregorious, Brett Gardner’s 115 wRC+ was the lowest on the Yankees last season. This speaks volumes to just how good NYY’s lineup was last season, as a 115 wRC+ indicates that a hitter is 15% above league average. One now might be asking the question “Why would you want to take a hitter who is 15% over league average out of the lineup?” The answer revolves around the depth that the Yankees have. For instance, Mike Tauchman, who was acquired before the season in a trade with the Rockies, was even better than Gardner last season. Tauchman slashed .277/.361/.504 with a 128 wRC+ and a 2.6 fWAR. The reason why Gardner’s WAR was 1 win higher was that he played a little over half the games that Gardner played in. Not only is Tauchman a better hitter than Gardner, but he is also arguably the best defensive left fielder in baseball. Last season, he led all left fielders with 9 OAA (outs above average), and a 19.1 UZR/150. To be fair, he does not have the best arm, but it is still better than Gardner’s. With Tauchman in the lineup, I would construct it as the following:

  1. Judge RF
  2. Stanton DH
  3. Hicks CF
  4. Voit 1B
  5. Lemahieu 2B
  6. Sanchez C
  7. Urshela 3B
  8. Torres SS
  9. Tauchman LF

The lowest wRC+ in this lineup would be Gary Sanchez’s coming in at 116, which is still 16% above league average.

Another option is replacing Gardner with Mike Ford. Ford was incredible in his small sample size last season, slashing .259/.350/.559 with a 134 wRC+ and a .367 xwOBA. I fully believe that Mike Ford can sustain his production to a degree going into 2020 and beyond, and could be a potential staple in the Yankees lineup. However, this does pose a challenge, as Mike Ford plays first base, and Brett Gardner plays left field. The solution here would be plugging in Giancarlo Stanton in left field, moving Voit to DH, and starting Ford at 1B. With Ford in the lineup, I would construct it as the following:

  1. Judge RF
  2. Stanton LF
  3. Hicks CF
  4. Voit DH
  5. Lemahieu 2B
  6. Ford 1B
  7. Sanchez C
  8. Urshela 3B
  9. Torres SS

The only concern here is not with Mike Ford, but with Giancarlo Stanton, who has proven to be rather injury-prone throughout his career. If he wasn’t, he would almost certainly be out in left field, where he had 1 OAA and 23.1 UZR/150 in 2018. I probably would prefer the Tauchman situation just to limit Stanton’s injury risk, because when healthy, he is a top 7 hitter in the game. 

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The final scenario here would be bringing back a familiar face in the organization who is currently in Scranton, Clint Frazier. I wouldn’t be completely opposed to this idea but it would certainly be my least favorite. Since 2017, Frazier has been up and down throughout the Yankees organization. Last year was by far his best season, wherein 69 games, he slashed .267/.317/.489 with a 108 wRC+ and a 0.1 fWAR. The Yankees lineup would look something like the following:

  1. Judge RF
  2. Stanton DH
  3. Hicks CF
  4. Voit 1B
  5. Lemahieu 2B
  6. Gary Sanchez C
  7. Gio Urshela 3B
  8. Gleyber Torres SS
  9. Clint Frazier LF

Ultimately, I think Brett Gardner would be a better option than Frazier here. 

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