Many Yankee fans are a funny bunch in the unintentional sense, quite often. As I’ve written here before, their ability to overrate their own players sometimes is either humorous or confusing, depending on my mood. (I will never forget some of the evaluations of Didi Gregorius this past April, for example.) And yet, they have an equally confounding ability to underrate other Yankee players that they also watch play on a regular basis.
That’s what we’ve gathered ‘round to discuss today folks. Because with regards to Brett Gardner, the overwhelming majority of Yankee fans listen to the noise, not the signal.
Gardner often gets these trite, back handed compliments such as “heart and soul” of the team. That came from C.C. Sabathia via the Simpleton Summer Camp’s Meredith Marakovits. Last night the ESPN crew told us that Yankee manager Aaron Boone calls Gardner the teams “heartbeat”. [Rolls eyes. Audibly sighs. Sips beer.]
In full disclosure, I don’t really know what either of those things mean. I think they mean that he has some intangibles that help the team (…?) even though he isn’t one of the team’s best players (…?) I don’t know, I’ve never been a fan of intangibles as I’ve always found them to be inferior to, you know, actual production.
I’m weird that way.
He also gets the other back handed compliments that athletes who are classified, wrongly in many cases, as not being overly physically gifted but they play hard receive: Scrappy, hard-nosed, and gritty.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
The problem is that these condescensions do nothing but undermine Gardner from receiving the descriptions, evaluations and reputation that he should receive.
That is, he is a great – not good, great – baseball player. He’s been one of the best corner outfielders in baseball for awhile and he’s one of the best Yankees of all time. Those are realities, and we should speak about him as such and ditch the condescending “heart and soul” crap.
- Among corner OF in MLB since the start of 2017, Gardner is 4th in WAR. Mookie Betts is the only non-Yankee that’s been better than Gardner over that stretch. (His teammates, Aaron Jude and Giancarlo Stanton are numbers 1 and 3, respectively.) Even when you include center fielders, Mike Trout and Lorenzo Cain are the only other outfielders with more WAR over that stretch.
- Are you thinking his career high home run total last season was an aberration and is inflating that number? OK…In 2018, he trails only Betts, Judge and Eddie Rosario in WAR among corner outfielders.
- Do you think he contributes more to Yankee wins than any position player besides Judge? If your answer is “no”, you’d be wrong, and it isn’t even close. Since the start of last season, Gardner is 2nd to Judge in WAR among Yankees with 7.8. Didi and Gary Sanchez are next with 5.1 and 4.8 respectively.
Did you think I was exaggerating when I said he’s one of the best Yankees of all time? Think again.
Among corner outfielders in Yankee history, Gardner trails only Charlie Keller, Roy White and some guy named Ruth in WAR.
Let’s see how little, scrappy, Mr. heart and soul compares to two all-time great Yankee corner outfielders with tenures similar in length to Gardner’s:
With similar playing time, Gardner has contributed more to Yankee wins – far more – than Dave Winfield and Paul O’Neill did.
Winfield is in the Hall of Fame and O’Neill has a plaque in Monument Park, for shit’s sake.
You want to keep thinking of Gardner as scrappy and the “heart and soul”, go ahead. But you aren’t being complimentary, you’re being condescending. He is a great baseball player. If you don’t think so you’re listening to the noise, not the signal.
And you had better start thinking and speaking in that manner, quickly. Gardner’s contract expires at the end of this season and the Yankees have a team option: Another year at $12.5 million or a $2 million dollar buyout. “Do we want to keep Brett Gardner?” is not the question to ask, because the answer is obvious: Even at age 35, $12.5 million would be a bargain.
The question that needs to be answered by Yankee GM Brian Cashman, is “What is Clint Frazier’s role, ongoing?”
To be continued.