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A closer look at Gardner's struggles (Part I)

The image on the left shows Brett Gardner's performance against right-handers from April through June last season. The image on the right illustrates it from July through October.

If you’re a Yankees fan, do you want Brett Gardner hitting leadoff?

For that to happen, Gardner will need to establish, among other things, that he can get on base at a rate significantly better than Derek Jeter. That means proving that the struggles that turned Gardner into a different hitter in the second half of last season are a thing of the past.

Gardner was hit on the hand by a pitch from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw against the Dodgers last June 27 and his numbers suffered the rest of the way.

He went from a .321/.403/.418 slashline (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) through that date to .232/.363/.340 the rest of the way.

What was the biggest difference in Gardner’s performance?

Let’s explain using the illustration at the top of this article. For those unfamiliar that picture is what’s known as a heat map.

A heat map uses color shading for data analysis, with blue, green, yellow and red marking increased levels of frequency or skill. Blue and green represent lower numbers or frequencies. Yellow and red establish higher levels.

The tool that generates this heat map comes from Trumedia and uses data gathered from Pitch F/X, a three-camera based video tracking system that calculates pitch location and type.

The square adjacent to the batter is an approximation of his strike zone, with the dashed lines indicating areas just off the edge of the plate, to account for pitches that are close calls.

In our case, we’ll use this heat map to look at something more specific -- Gardner’s decline against right-handed pitching. His on-base percentage dipped from .424 pre-hit-by-pitch to .353 afterwards.

The left half of the image at the top of our story shows how Gardner fared against right-handed pitching from April through June.

The red blotches indicate Gardner’s hot spots, those where he had a great chance of getting a hit. The blue shading indicates his cold spots, those where at-bats were most likely to end in outs.

You can see that a right-hander didn’t have much room for error within against Gardner early in the season.

There’s red shading in both the upper and lower parts of the strike zone, giving Gardner multiple areas in which he was very dangerous.

There’s only one blue patch in the upper-left corner, making that the one place in which he could be effectively jammed.

If a pitcher went out of the strike zone against Gardner, he had to work up and away and hope that Gardner, among the most patient hitters in baseball, didn’t punch the ball for a hit.

The image on the right shows a much different version of how right-handers could get Gardner out. That’s Gardner from July 1 to the end of the regular season.

The first thing you might notice is a lot more blue shading, in the areas within the strike zone, including the inside corner, and the upper-third.

The other thing you might notice is that most of the red-blotched hot zones are gone. In fact, on the outside part of the plate, they’ve been almost entirely obliterated, replaced by a combination of blue and turquoise. Those became his trouble spots.

So the conclusion from the heat map would be that we now have areas we can pinpoint in which Gardner needs to return to his early 2010 level of effectiveness.

Brett Gardner vs RHP
When AB Ends With Outside Pitch

The chart to the right lists Gardner’s overall performance when his turns against a right-hander ended with a pitch away.

Gardner’s batting average nosedived and even though his walk rate increased, his on-base percentage dropped significantly. It was still good. It just wasn't as good as it was early in the season. And that impacted his overall numbers.

But that’s a very broad overview of Gardner’s situation. We want to get more specific. On Tuesday we will, with a closer look at his performance both by pitch location and by the count in the at-bat.