When Brett Gardner established himself on the major league roster in 2009 (he did play forty-two games in 2008), it seemed that New York Yankee fans had a lot to cheer about. His quick feet and base stealing success in the minors made him a sure bet as the lead off hitter of the future.
Unfortunately, his promise hasn’t come to fruition. Putting injuries aside, what has held him back? What improvements does he need to make to get him back to the top of the lineup?
The primary area is on- base- percentage. His OBP this year is only .331 for the season and .353 for his MLB career. How could the Yankees offense thrive with such a low percentage? To put it into perspective, Robinson Cano’s batting average this season is .324. So Cano’s likelihood to reach base is almost as high as Gardener’s without even including Cano’s walks and times hit by a pitch.
Of course, the primary reason for this is Gardener’s dip in batting average. He currently is hitting .257. This is particularly disappointing because he showed signs of breaking through in 2012 when he batted .323. Unfortunately, that average came in only sixteen games. It was, in effect, a big tease, like a short bolt of lightning in a quick summer storm.
When Gardener does get on base he has not been particularly effective, either. Opposing catchers have gunned him down twice in six stealing attempts this season. His career numbers are not much better. He has gone down thirty- two times out of one hundred and seventy-three stealing attempts.
That is not going to catch the attention of Rickey Henderson or
Mickey Rivers, two former Yankee lead off hitters.
So the truth is, Gardner may never settle in at the top of the lineup. But, that is okay. He does provide the Yankees with excellent defense and a feisty, determined attitude. He is the kind of player you can win a championship with. He just is not the answer at the lead off spot.