Brett Gardner may Hit for Less Power

Sep 18, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner (11) douses third baseman Chase Headley (12) with Gatorade after the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. New York Yankees won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

For years, I had predicted Brett Gardner to hit at least 15 home runs in a season.  As a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium, I had always assumed that Gardner would luck into a few home runs at some point.  After missing nearly all of 2012 with an elbow injury and a decreased steal total in 2013, I penciled in Brett Gardner to be a solid value pick for 2014.

My predictions on Brett Gardner came true as he sent a career-high 17 over the fence in 2014.  His stolen base total slid down to 21, but his power-steal combo and 87 runs scored made Gardner a very viable fantasy option in 2014.

If Brett Gardner is able to maintain his home run production in 2015, then it would be fairly dependent on two factors.  The first factor is his fly ball rate and the second is his percentage of fly balls that go for home runs.

From 2010 to 2012, Brett Gardner posted a fly ball rate between 25.0% and 28.3%.  In 2013, his fly ball rate ballooned up to 35.3% and it rose again to 36.7% in 2014.  While those rising numbers are generally not ideal for a player’s BABIP, the higher fly ball rates give Brett Gardner the chance to hit more homers.  Gardner’s 2013 home run total of 8 was a previous career high until he more than doubled that output with 17 homers this season.

Even though Brett Gardner started hitting more balls in the air in 2013, the rate at which his fly balls leave the ballpark makes a huge difference in his home run total.  Up through 2013, Gardner never had a HR/FB% above 6.3%.  In 2014, that number jumped to 11.0%.  Since Brett Gardner’s HR/FB% rate nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014, his home run numbers accordingly increased.

If Brett Gardner continues to be a player who hits about 35% of his batted balls into the sky, then he has the chance to repeat his 17 home run performance from 2014.  Gardner will have to replicate his HR/FB% for that to happen again.  However, HR/FB% rates are often very difficult to predict, so it is tough to make an accurate guess, but I would guess that we see Brett Gardner hit around 10-12 homers.

It is important to remember that players with more power will have a higher HR/FB% rate than a player with less power.  Since Gardner is far from a power hitter, I would be surprised if he ever rose much above the 11.0% mark he posted for his 2014 home run to fly ball ratio.  I personally think that Brett Gardner’s 17 homers in 2014 will be his single-season high for the remainder of his career, especially since his power will likely begin to decline at 31 years old next season.