Brett Gardner epitomizes patience. No player in either league saw more pitches per plate appearance [4.62] than the Yankees speedster last season, while his 14.1 walk rate and .383 OBP were tops on the team. Ditto his 47 steals, the most by a Bomber in over two decades. A third-round draft pick in 2005, Gardner is now manning left field and sharing the leadoff position with Derek Jeter.
Gardner talked about his disciplined nature and base-stealing prowess when the Yankees visited Boston last week.
David Laurila: Where are you as a hitter right now?
Brett Gardner: I’m still trying to make the changes I need to make, including maintaining the consistency that so many of the good players I’m fortunate enough to play with every day seem to have mastered. I’m learning. I remember a guy telling me a long time ago, when I was in the minor leagues, that the most difficult thing isn’t to make it to the big leagues, it’s to stay in the big leagues. Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve learned that there is never an easy day, because you’re facing top-of-the-line pitching every game. I’m fortunate to have a very good hitting coach in Kevin Long.
DL: Was there a specific point in the minor leagues where things began to come together for you?
BG: No, I wouldn’t point to any certain point. I made it up to the big leagues rather quickly. Basically, my first full season I was in high A and Double A, and the next season I was in Double A and Triple A, and then I made it up in 2008. I wouldn’t point to one time exactly that I actually began to figure things out, and sometimes I still feel like I’m trying to figure things out. You never want to be complacent or feel too comfortable. I need to continue to work hard, not only to stay here and maintain what I’ve done, but to try to improve.
DL; How are you able to see as many pitches as you do?
BG: I guess it mostly comes from being comfortable hitting behind in the count and having a good eye. I feel that I have a pretty good idea of the strike zone. I think that sometimes it’s beneficial to me, and other times it makes it tough because I hit from behind in the count, 0-2, 1-2 a lot of times in my at bats. There is definitely some good to it and definitely some bad to it. For me it’s just trying to figure out the happy median of when to pick my spots to be a little more aggressive, and when to pick my spots to be patient and selective. It all comes with getting at bats and learning, both about game situations and the guys hitting around me in the lineup. It’s something I’m going to continue to work on — being more aggressive in certain situations.
A lot of my plate discipline and seeing so many pitches is because I’m patient. I’m too passive at times, but I feel like I have a pretty good idea of the strike zone. I feel that when I’m swinging the bat well, I’m able to keep my swing short and see the ball deeper into the hitting zone. When you’re able to see the ball longer, and deeper, you’re able to make decisions later with less time to spare.
DL: Were you this patient in the minor leagues?
BG: I wouldn’t say totally. I don’t have the numbers, and I don’t know if anybody has the minor-league numbers, to be able to say whether or not I was. So I’d say that I was maybe not quite as patient, but I have always viewed myself as a pretty patient hitter.
DL: Are you the same hitter in the leadoff position that you are in the two-hole?
BG: I try to be. Obviously, if you’re in the two-hole, some different situations come up in the game, especially in the first inning, that wouldn’t come if you were leading off. But whether I’m hitting first or second, or eighth or ninth, I try not to change my approach. Whether you hit near the top of the lineup or the bottom impacts whether you hit in the first inning or not until the second or third, but for me, I try to keep the same exact approach day in and day out. That’s my game.
DL: Are you the same hitter as a left fielder as you are a center fielder?
BG: Mentally, I don’t try to change anything if I‘m left or in center. I don’t know what my numbers are when I’m at each position, nor do I even think about that. Like I said earlier, I just play my game.
DL: What is your game?
BG: To get on base. We have a very, very good lineup with some really special players in it. I know that if I do my job and get on base, they’re going to do their job and get me in most of the time. That’s the ultimate goal of the game, to get on base and score runs. Any way that I can do that is a plus.
DL: Can you talk about the art of stealing bases?
BG: There’s a lot that goes into it, a lot of video work, looking at guys’ moves. There is writing things down when you face guys and get on base against them — things they do that you pick up on. It all kind of comes together, you know. It’s just a matter of knowing the right situations to run. You have to know who is on the mound, who is behind the plate and how he’s been throwing, and the most important thing is obviously the situation of the game. The score helps dictate whether it might be a good time to run. Sometimes everybody in the stands thinks you need to steal, but the guy throwing might be really quick to the plate with a slide step, and he’s keeping you close. He might have a good move that people might not know about. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just going out there and running, and taking a chance.
I take a lot of pride in not only stealing bases, but also not getting thrown out. I want to be as successful as possible at it, and at the same time I want to work at being aggressive and taking advantage when the situation is right. It’s the same as with my hitting, really. I want to be more aggressive when the situation calls for it, and patient when the situation calls for being patient.