Recently, a friend of mine who’s a Detroit Tigers fan (first mistake there) rants and raves about how getting rid of Curtis Granderson has been one of the best things to happen to the team in quite a while. I guess not winning a championship since 1984 will set the bar pretty low, but it definitely got me thinking about former New York Yankees farmhand, Austin Jackson.
We’ve all seen what Granderson brings to the table. He uses that short right field porch in Yankees Stadium to his advantage, but doesn’t hit for much average or use his legs enough. Plus, according to his UZR/150 rating the past few years, he isn’t the best center fielder when it comes to defense, especially this season where he’s posted a -25 rating, after recording a -5.3 rating last season.
Taking a look at this plate discipline reveals some trends that explain much of his struggles at the plate this season. First, he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone (28.0% O-Swing in 2012 vs. 25.7% in 2011.) Furthermore, he’s also making less contact with pitches in (83.0% Z-Contact% in 2012 vs. 88.1% in 2012) and outside the strike zone (58.2% O-Contact% vs. 60.8% in 2011). On top of that, he’s swinging and missing more this year (11.2% SwStr%) than last year (8.5%).
My friend often references WAR in an attempt to justify every argument, and comparing Granderson and Jackson, it’s not even close. The Grandy Man currently sits at 2 WAR, while Jackson has almost currently holds a 4.6 rating, which is likely fueled in part by a sparkling 10.0 UZR/150 measure.
Speaking of Jackson, if we look at his numbers over the past two full seasons, we can deduce that his BABIP is abnormally high (.404 this season and .340 in 2011), but that is likely due somewhat to his excellent speed. When he begins losing his legs, he’ll likely see that beautiful .318 batting average drop a tad.
Jackson’s plate discipline shows that he swings at fewer pitches outside the zone than Granderson (22.4% vs. 28.0%) in 2012. He’s making contact on nearly 87% of pitches he swings at within the strike zone, which is almost four percentage points better than the Yankees center fielder.
So I guess it comes down to whom would you rather have, right? We are seeing two different hitting approaches in two different parts of the batting order. Jackson’s main job is to get on base, steal a bag to get into scoring position for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. As such, the skill set needed for that is terrific speed (check) and a great OBP (check). Austin Jackson is perfect for the Tigers.
As for Granderson, whose job is to drive in runs and use the right field wall to his advantage, is hitting for more power than average. I’m sure more of us would like to see him steal a few more bags and play a little better defense in center field, but he’s a perfect fit for the New York Yankees. The franchise over years values a player with power patrolling the eighth defensive spot, and Jackson will likely never turn into a power hitter, not without a dip in AVG and OBP.
While I don’t look forward to paying Granderson mega bucks after next season, the Yankees might not have a choice. He can hit the long ball, but we’ll continue to see him hit between .240-.260 and striking out 150+ times each year, while playing worse defense each season. Those numbers will likely to continue trending downward as he gets older, as it happens to most aging players.
So to answer the “who would I want?” question. If they were the same age, I’d take Granderson hands down, because he can stay healthy and hit me some home runs. But, if age is a deciding factor, I would much rather have Austin Jackson. To be fair, no one really foresaw him becoming the player he is today. Oh, if only we could live life in hindsight.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com