When the New York Yankees lost Brett Gardner to a broken thumb, it wasn't that significant of an injury. As it turns out, that was accurate. Since Gardner has been out, the Yankees have went 16-7, good for a .696 winning percentage. That is very good and would put a team on pace for around 112 wins over the course of the season.
While the Yankees didn't suffer from losing him, I think it is important to realize how valuable an asset Gardner has turned out to be. The biggest surprise is how well Gardner has hit this year. He has compiled 3 weighted runs above average (wRAA) with .275/.354/.400 line. So before factoring in his speed or defense, he has already been above average.
When you have an average player making the league minimum, that is a great value. This is before even factoring in his defense, speed, and positional value. Now, I'm not convinced that Gardner will continue to be an above-average hitter, but he has shown some real signs of improvement.
Prior to this season, Brett Gardner's best K% in a year was 19.6 percent in 2007, which he split between AA and AAA. This season, he has cut his K% down to a well above average 15.5 percent. This is mainly due to the fact that he is only swinging at 16.6 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (league average is 25.1 percent).
Now, while Gardner has surprised many with his bat, he has been excellent in other facets of the game as well. His four component speed score ranks in the top five in all of baseball. He has stolen 20 bases and been caught five times. This 80% success rate isn't great, but it is above the break-even point. I definitely have faith in him stealing a base when the Yankees need him to.
Another surprise to me has been how good Gardner's defense has been since he has hit the major leagues. When Gardner was a prospect, I heard that his defense was average at best. While it seems that Gardner doesn't always take the best routes to balls, his speed more than makes up for it. His UZR is 8.1 on the season and his career UZR/150 is an absurd and completely unsustainable 27.1.
While there is no way that Gardner is a +25 defender per season, I think it is evident that he is a well above average fielder. In his last two seasons in the minors, he averaged +8 runs saved according to TotalZone. At this point, I'm ready to assume that Gardner is a +10 run center fielder.
Put all this together, and you get quite a player. On the season, Brett Gardner has been worth 2 WAR. Melky has had nearly double the plate appearances has been worth only 1.1 WAR. With Gardner out, Melky has been terrible. It looks like Gardner will head to AAA for a short rehab assignment in about a week. Personally, I miss watching Brett Gardner play and can't wait to see him back in the Yankee lineup. I have a feeling the Yankees feel the same way.
The statistics I used are from FanGraphs.com and Minorleaguesplits.com. You can follow me on Twitter @GregFertel, e-mail me at Greg.Fertel@gmail.com, and see some of my other work at Pending Pinstripes.