Is Brett Gardner Better Than Jacoby Ellsbury?

Jeremy KaufmanSenior Analyst IJuly 11, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 06:  Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees bats against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 6, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Jacoby Ellsbury, the young center fielder for the Boston Red Sox, is regarded around the league as one of the great young players in Major League Baseball today.

While Jacoby is still developing as a baseball player, his offensive repertoire currently consists of a swing that is prone towards contact, a batting average that generally hovers around .300, and the potential to develop legitimate power as he grows older.

Also, it should be noted that Jacoby is considered to be among the fastest players in the league, and his stolen base total is consistent with that notion.

Brett Gardner, the center fielder for the New York Yankees, does not quite possess the same accolades as Jacoby Ellsbury.

He is a 25-year-old rookie, only a part-time starter in the Yankee outfield, and he generally hasn’t been regarded as a top-tier prospect throughout his ascent to the big leagues.

So, that means Jacoby Ellsbury must be a better baseball player than Brett Gardner, right? Actually, I do not believe that to be the case.

In fact, upon a careful analysis of each player’s respective stats along with the potential that is displayed through their game tapes, I hypothesize that it will be shown that Brett Gardner is indeed the better baseball player.

So, let’s begin our analysis by examining the statistics of each respective player. As of this date, Brett Gardner has a .286 batting average, three home runs, and 18 stolen bases in 182 at bats.

Jacoby Ellsbury, on the other hand, has a .301 batting average, five home runs, and 38 stolen bases in 326 at bats.

After taking a quick glance at the numbers, it may appear that Ellsbury is the statistically superior athlete.

However, it should be noted that Ellsbury has accumulated his statistics through nearly twice as many at bats, thereby alluding to the possibility that Gardner could put together just as good if not better statistics if given equal playing time.

So, how would Brett Gardner’s statistics look if they were projected across the same number of at bats as Ellsbury? Well, we can calculate this by multiplying Gardner’s totals by 1.79, a number reached by dividing Ellsbury’s 326 at bats by Gardner’s 182.

After projecting Gardner’s home run totals in accordance with this calculation, Gardner is left with five home runs, the exact same amount as Jacoby himself. When projecting Gardner’s stolen base totals through the same calculation, he is left with 32 stolen bases; only a mere six behind Boston’s Ellsbury.

After assessing the two players’ statistics post projection, they appear much more equal than previously thought. Given the same number of at bats, Gardner would likely have just as many home runs as Ellsbury, and only about 6 fewer stolen bases.

While Ellsbury would still have a slightly higher batting average than Gardner, Brett’s on base percentage of .358 is slightly better than Jacoby’s current on base percentage of .350.

For leadoff hitters, on-base percentage is generally a more important statistical barometer, as the primary goal for a player in this role is to get on base by any means possible.

Therefore, it would not be out of line for someone to suggest that Brett Gardner is just as good if not better than Jacoby Ellsbury in respect to their offensive capabilities.

Now that a statistical assessment of each player’s offensive achievements have been established, it is now time to look at each player’s defensive repertoire.

While a player’s defense is very difficult to assess via statistics, there may be no more important statistic for a center fielder than range factor.

Range factor is a statistic that is essentially meant to rate a player’s approximate range in comparison to other player’s of that same position. As of this date, Ellsbury’s official range factor is a 2.32.

While this number certainly isn’t bad, it is significantly trumped by Gardner’s 2.60 range factor, thereby suggesting that Gardner covers more ground in the outfield than Ellsbury.

Furthermore, extraneous fielding statistics such as fielding percentage and outfield assists are essentially equivalent for the two players, thereby indicating that Jacoby does not exhibit any defensive skills that Brett doesn’t possess.

While it may be somewhat unfair to assess a player solely on their statistical achievements, I believe that the game tape is consistent with the aforementioned assessments.

At the plate, both players are light but effective hitters who can wreak havoc if given the chance on the base paths.

Furthermore, each player is an above-average center fielder with an average but suitable arm for the position.

Although Jacoby Ellsbury has the reputation as being an up-and-coming star in the Major Leagues, it may be time for the baseball community to realize that Brett Gardner isn’t so far behind after all.