Thursday, March 03, 2011

Curtis Granderson Positioned for Good Season

Let's be honest about this. Curtis Granderson has not been a very good player the last two years. And it was puzzling after his breakout season in 2007. While playing for the Tigers that season, Granderson shared the spotlight with Jimmy Rollins by hitting 38 doubles, 23 triples and 23 homers. He also stole 26 bases that season and batted .302. He had become the most exciting player in baseball at that point and each night was another highlight reel on ESPN's Baseball Tonight.

He was nearly as good in 2008 though his total bases dropped by 63 and his average dropped to .280, his on base percentage actually increased from the year before. It was another year of being one of the players that everyone wants to see. In two years he has amassed 10.5 bWAR  Fangraphs valued his play over those two seasons at $45.7 million. Not bad for a guy only earning a million dollars at the time.

But the last two years have seen him slip in every part of his game except power. His batting average has been in the .240's for the past two seasons. His on base percentage plummeted to the .320s. Worst of all, he became totally useless against lefty pitching. Well, that's not actually correct. He's always been useless against lefty pitching. Even in his phenomenal season in 2007, his OPS against lefties was .494! Ugh! Part of the problem was that his futility with lefties was covered up with his amazing success against pitchers that threw from the right side.

The last two years, the mask was off and since he was not hitting as well against the right-handers, his futility against the lefties was exacerbated. It got to the point where observers and Yankee fans alike were wondering why the Yankees would give up Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for Granderson. Austin Jackson basically became the kind of player for the Tigers that Granderson used to be. The Yankees got the original, but seemingly should have kept the copy.

But there is cause for hope with Granderson. It's become a familiar story that he started working hard with the Yankees' hitting coach, Kevin Long. The value of coaches has been debated long and hard in analytical circles and this Fan is wondering if we'll ever get a good picture of how to evaluate coaches. But in this case, it certainly seems that the combination of Long's teaching and Granderson's willingness as a student have turned the forgotten Yankee around.

Need proof? In 2009, Granderson was never a great player. His OPS in the first and second halves were very similar (.789 and 769 respectively). The decline continued in the first half of 2010 (he was also injured at the start of the season) and his OPS for the first half was .719. But then we started hearing of his work with Long and the work looked to be paying off. He wasn't an automatic out against lefties anymore. He had multiple hit games against them and his front shoulder hung in there better and he hit the ball up the middle. His second half OPS was .861 and his final average for the year of .234 against lefties with a .647 OPS against them was a total victory after three straight years of having an OPS under .500 against southpaws.

Another good sign was in an early Spring Training game earlier this week when he hit an opposite field homer.  Of Granderson's 125 major league homers, only 10 have been to the opposite field. And that number nearly matches his career batting specs. Of all the balls Curtis Granderson has put in play over the years, only 10 percent of them have gone to the opposite field. So, if Granderson's work with Long also includes hitting the ball where it's pitched, then that could be further indication that Granderson is poised and ready for a big season.

For those of you who play fantasy baseball, and for you Yankee fans, Curtis Granderson is going to be a major force in the Yankee line up in 2011. All the projections have him hitting in the .260s and yes, that will be a grand (pardon the pun) improvement. But don't be surprised if he hits .280 or higher and puts up 30 homers and sixty extra base hits. And after it is all said and done, Granderson just might make you forget all about Austin Jackson.

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