With Brett Gardner playing in his first spring training game on Wednesday night, it’s time to think about his use for the regular season. Gardner is a workhorse and does not miss games, unless he is truly injured. He crashes into walls, dives for balls and plays the game at an extremely hard pace. Unfortunately he is 32 years old, and may need to take a little off his intensity, if he wants to play at a productive level for a whole season.
Gardner is one of the toughest, grittiest players in the game, but needs to stay healthy if the New York Yankees have any shot at the playoffs this season. As the leadoff hitter, Gardner needs to get one base and ignite the offense, something he does so well when he’s healthy.
He batted .302 before the All Star break last season, but dropped to .206 in the second half. During the first half, Gardner had 96 hits, 22 of which were doubles, 36 walks, 15 stolen bases and 63 runs scored. In comparison, he only had 52 hits, four doubles, 32 walks, five stolen bases and 31 runs scored in the second half. His OBP also dropped from .861 to .592 after the All Star Game.
Injuries definitely took a toll on him last season, which showed as his and the Yankees’ production dropped drastically. The Yankees claim it wasn’t injuries, but you knew something wasn’t right with him. A player can only take so many hits before his play diminishes because of it.
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His 66 RBIs and 148 hits were career-highs for him, but imagine if his second half was almost as good as the first. Gardner would have been in MVP conversations, as the force behind the dangerous Yankee lineup. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and probably cost the team some wins. Not saying it would’ve been a huge difference, but imagine the team actually won the division and hosted Texas instead of a one-game playoff. No way to actually tell, but a fully healthy Gardner could steal some games, especially towards the end of the season.
Injuries are part of the game, but the amount he seems to have are higher than most players. He played in 151 games last season, despite dealing with a wrist injury early in the season and a shoulder injury towards the end. Gardner also injured his other wrist in the playoff loss to the Houston Astros while robbing Evan Gattis of a hit. A justified injury during the playoffs, but had the Yankees advanced, he may not have been able to compete at a high level.
The Yankees don’t have a good fallback option if Gardner was to miss significant time. Sure, Jacoby Ellsbury could hit in the leadoff spot during that time, but that leaves either Aaron Hicks or Dustin Ackley getting more time. Not really the explosiveness the Yankees need. It could mean the early arrival of prospect Aaron Judge, but not at his current rate of play.
That leaves the Yankees extremely dependent on Gardner and Ellsbury to be healthy for an entire season. It isn’t unrealistic, but neither is getting younger. Both have had their share of injuries, but 2016 is a new season. They can leave the doubt behind with a season just like the beginning of 2015. It all starts now with Gardner finally appearing in spring training games and proving he’s fully healthy.