Six Yankees do what they must in order find greatness
The Last of the Old Young Yankees
There is no question that the 2017 version of Brett Gardner is the best we have seen in a while. He has his highest average (.269) since 2013 (.273) and his highest slugging ever (.509). And he has hit more home runs already–13–than in seven of his nine seasons; his career high is 17.
The question is why. To figure it out, I am going to engage in the worst kind of disreputable, pseudo-psychology imaginable. It’s unreliable and amounts to no more than charlatainian guesswork.
But you’re the one who has chosen to read this claptrap, so, isn’t that more on you?
I did use some methodology, however: a process of elimination. It seems unlikely that Brett needed to change his swing or work harder. He has always played the game hard, so no more effort required, and I doubt he just started watching film. Clearly, he is a different player, not just from last year, but from the last few years.
There has to be a reason why he is suddenly better at 33 than he was at 30, and even he is probably guessing at it. And my guess is that his career year is nothing more than being energized by the new, young Yankees. I think their energy has restored some of his. And I think it is natural and subconscious as opposed to planned and on purpose.
Gardy has always been a high energy overperformer—remember he was a walk-on at College of Charleston—and he is riding the youthful, winning vibe to one of his best years. I don’t think he is trying to do better; I think he is just doing better.
The Eye Test
But if you think I am wrong about what I think about Gardy, then you will have another think coming when you read what I think about Starlin Castro. The consensus is that Starlin is more successful due to better plate discipline; that, and his two-handed, G.I. Joe baseball bat power grip. And I agree that he is more selective on the high pitches out of the zone.
There is different change, though, that he made to his low-pitch approach. Instead of being more selective on the low pitches, it seems the biggest difference between last year and this is plate coverage.
When I watch his at-bats, I see a player more able to get to pitches out of the zone low. This might account for part of his reduction in strikeouts, that he spoils low pitches this year that he flailed at last year.
It might also account for his increased home runs. When you can get to the low pitches, you create a huge advantage in loft. This can lead to more homers if the player gets there with power. Starlin is getting there with plenty of power. I mean, just look at the picture.
Yankees Fans are the Kindest Critics of All, Right?
I could be wrong, and I look forward to readers’ feedback; that was not an ironic statement. But what I like about this perceived adjustment is that he is taking his greatest weakness and turning it into his biggest strength. Starlin might have recognized it would be too against his instincts to stop offering at those low pitches; he is convinced he can reach them.
So instead of trying to change his mental approach, he changed his physical one. He has done whatever necessary in stance or timing or swing to provide for more plate coverage. He doesn’t have to drive all of those pitches; he just needs to make sure he is not struck out on one he does not offer at.
The reason is a guess, but the results are what matters. Time to get back on solid ground with Aaron Judge and Michael Pineda.