Grading the Yankees: Mariano Rivera & Brett Gardner
For all the success the Yankees had during the 2012 season, it’s important to remember that much of that was accomplished without two key pieces of the team — outfielder Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera. Gardner played just nine games in April before being lost for most of the season with what was initially diagnosed as a bone bruise, but turned out to be a bone spur which required surgery. Meanwhile, the worst fear of Yankee fans everywhere was confirmed when, after collapsing on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium, tests confirmed an ACL tear on Rivera’s right knee. However brief the seasons of Mo and Gardner were, it’s important to look at them as we assess both players’ shortened seasons, as well.
Gardner’s sample size was admittedly very, very small to begin the season, and he only appeared in a handful of games to end the season in September. In merely 31 ABs, Gardner maintained a slash-line of .323/.417/.387, with a ridiculous OPS+ of 121. These numbers are clearly inflated by the small sample size that Gardner had. In reality, ZiPS projected Gardner to hit .260/.352/.370, with an OPS+ of 91. The most important element of Gardner’s game, and his contribution to the Yankees, is his ability to get on base. He is a patient hitter, seeing an MLB-leading 4.6 pitches/plate appearance in 2010. Gardner’s true strength is his prowess on the bases, so the higher the OBP, the better. His speed was sorely lacking from the rest of the Yankees lineup. Until Ichiro Suzuki came to the Yankees via a trade, Alex Rodriguez led the team in steals. Think about that. Gardner gives a different dimension to a lineup that tends to hit lots of home runs, but doesn’t necessary play small ball. To that end, Gardner’s OBP in limited action is fairly in line with ZiPS’s projections (which are pretty spot-on in terms of projections) had projected. To that end, had that continued, Gardner would have been a valuable element of the offense.
Had he been healthy, Brett Gardner could have provided the necessary speed element that was sorely missing from the Yankees 2012 lineup. (Image: John Munson, US Presswire)
Further, Gardner’s other contribution is his defense. A center fielder playing left field, his defensive ability was sorely missed, as he was replaced with Andruw Jones, who seemed to have fallen apart from his Gold Glove days, and Raul Ibanez, who, although a good player, wore down over the course of the season. The past two seasons, in 2010 and 2011, Gardner had an Rfield rating of 35 and 23, respectively. It’s fair to say that he was worth at least 20 runs better (realistically, probably a lot more that his replacements), than the average fielder. Likewise, his 67 and 36 RAR in those respective years is outstanding. There’s a big gap there, but it is also fair to say that Gardner would have been worth a significant amount of runs defensively for the Yanks.
Note: Gardner’s defensive metrics for his 2012 campaign are reversed from his offensive numbers; for the reason his offensive numbers led to bloated stats due to small sample size, his defensive numbers were way lower for the same reason. It’s not unreasonable to have expected these to balance out over the course of the season, with a lower offensive output and better defensive metrics.
- Positive contributor on the bases
- Sorely missed defensively
- Great ability to wear down opposing pitchers
FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE
Conclusion: Overall, these numbers are merely guesstimates, as the sample size was way too small to get an accurate accounting of what Gardner would have produced for the Yankees this year. However, it is fair to say that his contributions would have been more positive in the field than his replacements, and his offensive production would have assisted a long-ball offense. I’m not sure the outcome would have been all that different for the Yankees in 2012, but I do think that they would have been more defensively sound. Having Gardner makes the Yankees a better team, and they absolutely missed him this season.
There was a point in time (like, May 3, 2012), where the Yankees weren’t sure what life would be like without Rivera running in from the bullpen to close out games. However, the season didn’t collapse, as Rafael Soriano did a spectacular job in filling in for the injured icon. Again, we are working with an extremely small sample size when assessing Mo’s 2012, so it’s worth taking the numbers with a grain of salt. However, we are also talking about Rivera, so the relative consistency across the years makes this a bit easier than for other players.
Rafael Soriano filled in admirably, but there is no replacement for Mariano Rivera. (Image: William Perlman, US Presswire)
Mo had a bumpy intro to the season, blowing his first save of the season on Opening Day. However, in the rest of the 8.1 innings, Mo was pretty much Mo, pitching to a 2.16 ERA in nine games. With eight strikeouts, Rivera K’d a quarter of the total batters he faced during limited action (32 BF). His WHIP of 0.960 was slightly up, but not entirely off, his 2011 season. Additionally, it is worth reiterating that any deviation from the consistency of previous years due to the extremely small sample size; as a result, his numbers will be skewed. Interestingly, the ZiPS projections for 2012 for Mo were a bit higher than we are used to seeing, with a 3.12 ERA across 49 IP. I think that may be a bit high of a jump from the rest of Rivera’s career, but it is hard to tell what would have been, considering he is getting older, and he has to slow down at some point (I think).
For better or worse, Rivera was admirably replaced by Soriano, who put together a season akin to anything that Rivera has done, making the Yankees easily weather the storm of losing the player whom some thought was simply irreplaceable. However, there was one factoid that stood out in digging through the stats: since his rookie year in 1995, Mariano Rivera only had one season where he allowed more than five home runs all year (seven HR in 2009). Rafael Soriano, in his final 35 appearances alone, allowed six homers. Though Soriano did a great job as closer, the fact remains that Rivera has stayed on top of his game, even in limited action in 2012, and there’s reason to hope for similar results in 2013, though much of that is contingent on Rivera’s knee healing properly and holding up with no problems.
- Can be replaced, but only by facsimile
- Remarkable consistency
FINAL GRADE: INCOMPLETE
Conclusion: Mo’s appearances were limited in 2012, and it remains to be seen how the plant knee of a 43-year-old pitcher will rebound from ACL surgery. That said, there will be a time when Mo won’t be around, and Yankees fans have to get used to that. Even in limited action, however, it still remains remarkable the consistency and incredibly high level of play he has produced in some of the most pressure-filled situations. While it’s unlikely he’d have added much to his postseason saves total with the Yankees ALCS collapse, it isn’t unreasonable to think that Rivera would have had great success in 2012 but for his injury.
**If you’re curious about our grades for other Yankee players, you can find them all here.**