For $153 million, the Yankees signed a player this past offseason that was very similar to one there already had, who just happened to be much cheaper. In a sense, the Yankees were hoping that Jacoby Ellsbury would be a lot like Brett Gardner, but a little bit better.
However, that hasn't really been the case this season as Gardner enters play Wednesday with a better batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, and more homeruns and RBIs than Ellsbury, who the Yankees signed for seven-years. Granite, most of those low numbers are contributed by the fact that Ellsbury is hitting just .091 in his past 10 games, or 3-for-33.
The Yankees brought in Ellsbury to be the play maker at the top of their lineup. The hope was that he would spray the ball around the field, get on base, then use his legs to get runs across the plate. The speed has been there -- he's 11-for-13 in stolen base attempts this season, and that's when he was hitting and getting on-base. The defense has also been there, leaving no concerns.
The bat, though, over the past three weeks or so, has not been there, but luckily Gardner has been there to pick the Yankees up at the tip of the lineup.
Bringing in Ellsbury meant that Gardner would move down in the lineup from the leadoff spot he had worked primarily in last season. When down in the lineup this season, he's seen most of his at-bats come as the No. 7 and 8 hitters. Down there, he's 12-for-40 (about .300).
But because of injuries to the Yankees' lineup, between Mark Teixeira injuring his hamstring early in April, and Carlos Beltran now on the DL because of bone spurs in his elbow, Joe Girardi has had to play around with his lineup card, and moving Ellsbury to the middle of the lineup and putting Gardner back at the top has been part of that.
Ellsbury has since struggled in the middle of the lineup, mainly as the No. 3 hitters, batting .231 with seven walks in 17 games. You would think that hitting in front of the streaking Teixeira would get Ellsbury some more pitches to hit, but for whatever reason, he's not taking advantage of that.
Gardner has as the leadoff hitter, though, has been good for both him and the Yankees. In his last nine games since taking over the leadoff spot, he's hitting 13-for-36 (.361) with six extra-base hits. More importantly, he's getting on base about half the time over the past two weeks, giving the hitters behind him a better chance to drive in runs.
His batting average on balls in play is rather high this season, too, floating in the upper .400s.
Gardner seems to becoming a more mature hitter at the plate. He's still striking out often, but he's walking more and putting more balls in play, which will, more often than not, result in base hits, and runners on base.
The Yankees gave Gardner a four-year, $54 million contract extension during spring training, and he's been playing well enough of earn that money. The Yankees gave him that contract because they really like what he gives them, being a dynamic player. And his improving performance at the plate is only helping the argument.