Robinson Cano isn’t the only Yankee the team should worry about locking up to a long term extension. Brett Gardner might be the best value in the Major Leagues.
Gardner, a .266 lifetime hitter with just 15 career home runs, has sneaky – but enormous – worth. From an offensive perspective, his .355 career on-base percentage and 81 percent success rate when stealing bases (127-for-167) make him an ideal leadoff hitter. But Gardner’s true appeal is his defense.
Gardner’s 30.8 UZR/150 among outfielders with at least 3,000 innings since 2008 ranks first, leading Andres Torres’ 17.8. UZR/150 is an advanced stat measuring a player’s ability to get to balls hit in his zone.
He’s also first with 78 defensive runs saved during that span, leading second-place Michael Bourn’s 63. DRS, another advanced metric, is calculated by The Fielding Bible and determines a player’s success or failure relative to a league average fielder at that position. DRS is so important because it’s the primary defensive component in Wins Above Replacement, which calculates a player’s offensive and defensive contributions over what a replacement-level player would bring.
And Gardner is a big contributor.
He’s tied with Martin Prado as the 42rd best player in the majors over the last four seasons with a 13.6 WAR. For some perspective: Miguel Cabrera leads the way with a 25 WAR during that period. Alex Rodriguez has been worth 13.8 WAR.
Yet Gardner’s $2.85 million salary ranks 310th this season while the 42 players with an equal or better WAR than him since 2009 are averaging more than $13.3 million.
And if you think only power hitters earn the money, you haven’t been paying attention. Chicks may still dig the long ball, but defense is becoming sexy in front offices.
Much was made of Carl Crawford in 2011 and Jose Reyes in 2012 becoming the first position players to never hit 20 home runs and still sign contracts in excess of $100 million. Of course, while their defense was sterling, their offense wasn’t exactly a dud. Though neither ever hit 20 home runs, they both had hit 19 and stolen at least 60 bases in a season.
So it was even more shocking that Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus agreed to an eight-year extension for a reported $120 million last week. Not only has Andrus never hit 20 home runs in a season, he’s hit 14 his ENTIRE CAREER.
Andrus’ career-high is six home runs and he had zero in 2010. He’s speedy, but no record-setter, swiping a high of 37 bags in 2011. His .694 OPS ranks 233rd among qualified batters since 2009.
But his defense is spectacular. Andrus ranks fifth with a 7.8 UZR/150 among all shortstops who’ve played at least 3,000 innings since 2009, when he debuted. He’s seventh with 23 defensive runs saved.
So consider the numbers rate Gardner as the BEST defender at his position.
Gardner, 29, won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season, and the market for paying top dollar to top fielders is only beginning to emerge.
Some enterprising team is bound to take an aggressive stab at signing Gardner. If they’re not careful, the Yankees could be stuck playing defense.
Elvis Andrus is the newest $100 million player. Here's a comparison of Andrus and Gardner from 2009-2012* - Andrus came into the league in 2009.
Since he debuted in 2008, Gardner has the best UZR/150 of any outfielder in baseball with at least 3,000 innings. UZR/150 is an advanced stat that measures a player's ability to get to balls hit in his zone:
1. Brett Gardner (3,482 innings) - 30.8
2. Andres Torres (3,167.2 innings) - 17.8
3. Franklin Gutierrez (4,655 innings) - 17.3
4. Nyjer Morgan (3,850.1 innings) - 15.8
5. Jason Heyward (3,542.1 innings) - 14.8
Since his debut in 2008, Gardner has the most defensive runs (DRS) saved of any outfielder in baseball with at least 3,000 innings:
1. Brett Gardner (3,482 innings) - 78
2. Michael Bourn (6,223.2) - 63
3. Franklin Gutierrez (4,655) - 61
4. Jason Heyward (3,542.1) - 50
5. Austin Jackson (3,704.1) - 47