Monday, March 29, 2010

Long: Gardner can be another Lofton

I was going to post this yesterday afternoon, but with my previous post being about who the Yankees should sign next year to play left, it's only fitting that my next one be about Brett Gardner. I mention in the Crawford/Werth post that "Barring a breakout season by Brett Gardner, the Yankees will likely be in the market for an outfielder next off-season."

If Gardner can play everyday, I think that Gardner could surprise a lot of people, and as we find out from Mark Hale, so does Kevin Long.
“If I seem overly excited about him, I am,” said Long, who compared Gardner to Lofton, who was a star speedster for nearly two decades.

“Kenny was a bigger, more physical player, or [physical] looking player. But Gardy could do what Kenny Lofton did. I wouldn’t see why he couldn’t,” Long told The Post. “That would be a good comparison.”
“I think he’s a great player,” Long said. “I’m a big, big Brett Gardner fan. I think he’s going to do terrific. I’m excited for the fact that he’s going to get to start a ton of games. I don’t feel like there’s pressure, like he has to go out and perform in the first two weeks, otherwise he’s out.

“I think this is a kid you just throw in there every day, pencil him in the lineup, hit him down ninth and see at the end of the year if he’s at .270, .280, if he doesn’t steal 65-70 bases, if he doesn’t score 100 runs hitting in the nine-hole.”

And does Long think Gardner can do all that?

“Yes. I do,” said the hitting coach. “I think if you put Brett Gardner on the free market right now and said, ‘Anybody want him?’ I think every team in baseball would want him and probably have him leading off for you. That’s how good he is.”
“What he gets lost in is all the talent we have in this room. So you go, ‘Oh, he’s Brett Gardner,’ “ Long said. “I just think that he’s a really, really good player and someone who can really help us. And if you give him the at-bats day in and day out, he’ll have numbers to prove it.”
Those are some high expectations.

I was interested to see what the experts were expecting to see from Gardner, so I went over to Fangraphs and checked out their projections page. Before looking at the numbers, you should know that none of these systems believe Gardner will play everyday.
  • Bill James: In 370 plate appearances: .277/.368/.375, 36 stolen bases, 63 runs.
  • CHONE: In 404 PA: .266/.351/.375, 29 SB, 60 R.
  • Marcel: In 356 PA: .265/.337/.383, 23 SB, 52 R.
  • ZiPS: In 431 PA: .253/.328/.344, 32 SB, 66 R.
If you extrapolate the numbers to a full season's worth of PA he falls short of Long's predictions in the last three, but with Bill James' numbers the totals are pretty close. Assuming a full season from the bottom of the order will get him around 540 plate appearances--Melky's total from last year--that would bring his stolen base total to 53, and run to 92 (if my math is correct). Had Gardner played everyday last year, those numbers wouldn't have been too far behind Long's either. In 284 PA, Gardner hit .270/.345/.379 with 26 stolen bases and 48 runs scored. That turns into 50 stolen bases and 91 runs for 540 PA. I think most Yankees fans would be dancing in the streets if we got a season like that from Gardner this year.

You also have to wonder what all the work on his bunting will add to his game. I've mentioned before on this blog how important I feel improving his bunting is to his game. So that's another thing to pay attention to.

The toughest thing for him will be to stay in the lineup. Because with guys like Randy Winn and Marcus Thames waiting on the bench, the Yankees aren't going to be too patient with Gardner if he starts the season hitting .150. But if he can get off to a hot start and stay in the lineup, I wouldn't be surprised if his numbers do come close to those predicted by Long and James. Would you?

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