August 24 – Happy Birthday Brett Gardner
A salesman who used to call on me had a thirty-something-year-old son who had never left home. We’d go out to lunch and this guy would unload on me, telling me how this “kid” would drink his beer, drive his car, wear his clothes and spend his money. Evidently, his wife didn’t mind having the son around and whenever he tried to discuss his unhappiness over the situation with the “boy,” a heated argument would ensue and the “kid” would scream “You’ll miss me when I’m gone!” and than storm out of the house, get in his father’s car and drive off.
Today’s question is; Do the Yankees miss Brett Gardner? Even though their AL East lead has shrunk to just three games as I update this post, you’d have to conclude that the answer to this question has to be; “Not too much.”
This current Yankee team was built around its $90 million infield, CC Sabathia and its bullpen. But it has been the play of its less heralded outfield that has helped the ball club continue to achieve regular season success in recent years. Despite his too-frequent strikeouts, center fielder Curtis Granderson has been a force. Nick Swisher has over-achieved since he donned the pinstripes. And up until this season, Brett Gardner was evolving into a better than average big league outfielder.
On April 17th, in a game against the Twins, Gardner dove to make a play on a ball in left field and injured his right elbow. At the time of the injury, no one thought it was serious, but the pain has lingered all season long. In July, the Yankees decided to shut him down for the rest of the season.
At first, the Yankees used the triumvirate of Raul Ibanez, Andrew Jones and Dewayne Wise in left and had good success. But the team’s front office was concerned that the ages of Ibanez and Jones would catch up with them by the end of the season and they evidently didn’t think Wise was the answer either, because they went out and acquired Ichiro Suzuki from Seattle in late July. My personal conclusion is that all this maneuvering has helped the team move forward minus Gardner without missing a beat. But I am concerned that by missing all this time, Gardner’s evolution as a Yankee may have been permanently stalled.
There are things about Gardner’s play that continue to bug me. For example, he still waits too long in the count to attempt most of his stolen bases. He strikes out way too much for a small-ball specialist. I’ve seen him swing at some horrible full count pitches and he doesn’t seem as willing to accept base-on-balls as he used to be. But he has proven to be a much better hitter than I thought he was and he has become an excellent big league outfielder. Gardner’s great speed can change the dynamic of a game at any point and forces Yankee opponents to throw lots of hit-able fast balls when he is on the base paths. He led the AL in stolen bases with 49 thefts in 2011. He has also proven he is a good leadoff hitter and when he hits ninth, he remains one of the best bottom of the lineup guys in all of baseball.