Brett Gardner Should Play Game 3

Free Brett Gardner!

Enough is enough. In 21 innings in the ALCS, the Yankees have scored runs in only one inning and against one pitcher: the 9th in game one against Jose Valverde. What I’m about to lay out here is why Brett Gardner deserves a go in game three vs. Justin Verlander. This isn’t a cure all by any means, but it’s time for a change given this unacceptable offensive performance.

Playing Gardner isn’t going to snap Robinson Cano’s 0/26 streak and Alex Rodriguez’ struggles. What it does do is get either Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher out of the lineup, who have been brutal as well. It provides a little bit of a different dimension in the lineup – it almost seems as if guys are swinging for the fences every at bat. Plus, his speed and defense would be an upgrade over the current setup.

Let’s take a look at the two guys who Gardner would potentially replace.

First, Swisher: he’s 4/26 this postseason with 8 strikeouts (and two abysmal defensive plays in game 1). He’s walked three times, so he’s been on base a total of 7 out of 29 plate appearances. One of his four hits was for extra bases – a double. With runners in scoring position, Swisher is 0/3, and only has one hit in his entire postseason career with the Yanks with RISP.

Granderson has been even worse than Swisher: 3/26 with 14 strikeouts, plus three walks. He’s almost striking out half of his plate appearances! Brutal, to say the least. He hit one home run and has swiped two bags in the postseason. Despite his speed, Granderson isn’t a great fielder by any stretch. He takes poor routes to balls and has a weak arm, as reflected by his negative UZRs in the past two seasons. His redeeming quality is the chance for him to “run into one”, as he did 43 times this season. Granderson has had 5 at bats with RISP, and delivered 1 hit.

I’m not someone who usually likes to look at batter vs. pitcher history given the usual small sample sizes, but let’s just take a look for argument’s sake. Obviously, there aren’t going to be a lot of hitters who “own” Verlander given his magnitude.

Swisher has the most history against Verlander: 62 plate appearances resulting in 11 hits, 7 walks, and 3 home runs. Most alarming is the 20 strikeouts. Granderson, a former teammate, has only faced Verlander 18 times (3 hits, 2 walks, 1 home run, 7 strikeouts). As you can see, neither have really fared well against Verlander, with Grandy having a much smaller sample size.

In an even smaller sample, Gardner has 11 plate appearances against the Tigers’ ace. He’s had pretty good success: 3 hits, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts. Again, this is a very small sample size, so it’s essentially impossible to say that this is indicative of any future matchup results.We know Joe Girardi likes to play matchups, so maybe this is enough to convince him. While it’s not enough to convince me, it is nice to know that Gardner has had success against Verlander, even if just a little. Plus, it’s not like Swish or Grandy have lit the world on fire vs. Verlander. If Gardner was along the lines of 0/11 against last year’s Cy Young and MVP, I’d be much less inclined to play him over the other two.

Now, let’s take a look at a comparison of the three players since 2010. Because of Gardner missing a lot of 2012, he has less games and PAs.

Gardner’s WAR is also lower because of missing time, but he did accumulate 6.2 and 5.2 in 2010 and 2011, while posting .4 in limited time this season. Very conservatively, Gardner probably would have gotten up to 14 WAR with a full 2012, better than the other two. Don’t like or don’t understand WAR? Fine, let’s compare the players in some other ways.

The distinct disadvantage of playing Gardner over one of the two is obvious: he’s not a power threat whatsoever. It’s easy to see whether looking at home runs, ISO, SLG, or wOBA.

While taking a little bit of thump out of the lineup is undesirable, there are a lot of other areas to gain.First, and possibly most importantly, Gardner strikes out significantly less than the other two. It’s been incredibly frustrating to see this entire lineup strike out at the rate they have, so Gardner’s better propensity to make contact is inviting.Second, as I already alluded to, Gardner is an elite defender, possibly the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. Defensive metrics indicate Granderson as an awful fielder, and surprisingly like Swisher. Based on the eye test, both are pretty poor to me, but I’d rather have Granderson playing the field than Swisher any day.Lastly, Gardner is a speed threat when he gets on base, and Gardy has proven to be a very good on-base guy. Maybe a distraction like him on the base paths could allow the whoever’s up to see some better pitches.

So, who would I take out? Swisher, for a few reasons.

For one, I’ll take my chances with Granderson striking out 3 times in a game, only because he’s more likely to hit a home run that Swisher is. Also, for what it’s worth, Granderson has actually performed pretty well in the postseason spotlight with the Yankees prior to this season. Swisher, on the other hand? Not so much.

Two, keeping Granderson in the outfield creates a pretty speedy outfield with Gardner in left, Curtis in center, and Ichiro in right. Part of me believes that the defense may actually be better with Ichiro in left, Gardner in center, and Swisher in right, but that’s strictly going by UZR and not the eye test. I’ve already had enough of Swisher after his two botched plays in game one. Additionally, taking into account the vast ground to be covered in Comerica Park, it’s probably smarter to have three fast outfielders.

Lastly, I think Swisher is actually letting the spotlight of the postseason effect his performance. His quotes about the fans getting on him are pretty telling. He’s been here since 2009, and has seen plenty of other players (A-Rod, duh) get jeered. And he didn’t think this came with the territory? Come on, he needs to tune it out and focus on what he can control: his game. A-Rod has been booed and jeered forever, and he understands. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but I think that Swisher is thinking too hard at the plate and trying to do too much, rather than letting his talent take over.Even if you think that Gardner is too rusty with the bat to get a chance, what do the Yankees really have to lose? Again, one player isn’t going to change the entire dynamic and performance of the offense. At this point though, how much worse can it get? Gardner can only help, and being down 2-0 going up against the opponent’s ace on the road, it’s time to try something new.

Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Stats via Fangraphs.com
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