‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Yankees couldn’t have picked a worse time for the injury bug to strike Brett Gardner.
After the Yankees finish the final game of their three-game series against the Twins, next on the horizon are the Red Sox, Rangers and Tigers.
Right now, the Yankees are a .500 ballclub and I can’t see them keep this pace without Gardner during this stretch.
Gardner was put on the 15-day disabled list with an ailing right elbow and Yankee fans are about to find out just how valuable he is to their success. Without him, they’re an entirely different team on the base-paths and in the outfield.
Gardner was off to a fine start in the young season, logging an average of .324 with an exceptional on-base percentage of .424. It was looking like 2012 could be the year that Gardner finally ‘puts it all together.’
His numbers took a significant dip toward toward the end of the 2011 regular season but during the playoffs, Gardner was on-fire with an OBP of .444.
Derek Jeter isn’t going to steal you 20 bases these days, forget about him coming anywhere near the 49 bags Gardner swiped in 2011. Eventually, the Yankees need to groom Gardner for the lead-off role and Jeter prefers batting in the number two spot.
It’s been argued whether Gardner can handle hitting lead-off against left-handed pitchers but Gardner’s career OBP of .357 against lefty starters is actually three points higher than his career OBP of .354 against right-handed starters.
By batting Gardner first, he gives the Yankees greater opportunities to score runs as opposed to when he’s losing at bats when hitting ninth. Once Gardner is on first base, he can swipe second base on his own or allow Jeter to use his trademark ‘inside-out’ swing to advance him into scoring position.
Power hitters like Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez are able to drive balls into the outfield gaps that allow Gardner to use his ‘jackrabbit speed’ to score from second base.
With three tough series upcoming, the Yankees will need to rely on their power bats to score runs as they’ll be without the one player who can manufacture runs on his own.
Defensively is actually where the Yankees take the biggest drop-off without Gardner. Even though he played left field, he tied Tigers’ centerfielder Austin Jackson last season for the major league lead in ‘defensive runs saved’ at 22. Gardner also has a very underrated throwing arm and collected 7 outfield assists in 2011.
Out of those who can play left field in his place, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are better-suited to DH roles at this stage of their careers. Eduardo Nunez is also an extremely raw left field option for the Yankees.
Expect a lot of balls dropping in front of Yankee left fielders and frequent misplays while Gardner is stuck on the disabled list.
Time will tell, but I have a hunch the Yankees will be a sub-.500 ballclub once Gardner finally returns.
Can the Yankees stay afloat without Gardner? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.