Granderson connects, and probably hits a line drive or home run. Or both. (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE)

Sabermetric Outlook: Curtis Granderson

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Oh boy, this is a fun one. There are a lot of things going on with Curtis Granderson this year, in almost all aspects of his game. After about 30 seconds of going through his FanGraphs player page, here’s what I noticed about the New York Yankees centerfielder:

  • Same home run pace as last year, but a worse ISO, which means less doubles and triples.
  • Stolen bases are way down from last year.
  • Strikeout rate has gone up every year since 2008, by significant margins.
  • Line drive rate is very high, easily the best of his career.
  • Fielding is just horrible, easily the worst of his career.
  • On pace for the lower WAR in a full season of his career.

Well, that’s a lot to cover, but let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on, and if there are any underlying trends in his game that may help to explain these changes.

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to first check out the primer that I wrote for this series, which outlines some of the most important statistics that I’ll employ in this post and others. If you’re unfamiliar with sabermetrics, or you’re not sure about a particular statistic I mention, check out that post (if you still don’t understand, please leave a comment below or email me and I’d be happy to help).

Previous players:

Mark Teixeira
Robinson Cano
Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Russell Martin
Nick Swisher

 

As I’ve done with others, let’s start by looking at Granderson’s batted ball profile, from which one the above facts originates.

That’s a remarkably high line drive rate for a guy with a .240 batting average. In fact, that’s the 9th highest line drive rate of all qualified batters this year. His ground ball rate hasn’t changed from last year, though, so that extra 7% of line drives came at the expense of line drives. This is strange, however, because not only is Granderson is hitting home runs at about the same pace as last year (just over 1 every 4 games), his BABIP is lower than last year. Since line drives tend to fall in for hits far more than other types of batted balls, one would expect Granderson’s BABIP to be higher, given his speed.

But what do you know? Granderson’s stolen base total is way down from last year. However, he’s had low stolen base totals in the past (in fact, he has followed a strangely consistent up-down pattern with his SBs), but presumably his true speed isn’t fluctuating as well. Sure enough, Granderson’s “Speed” score, which includes SB, CS, double plays, infield singles, and probably some other stuff, is 5.1 this year. Last year it was 7.9, and it has only fallen below 6.0 one other time, that being Grandy’s first full season in the bigs.

Long story short: Curtis is getting slower, which probably partly explains his relatively low BABIP.

It also probably sort of mostly explains his awful, awful, UZR and UZR/150 this year, which stand at -16.2 and -22.0 respectively. Granderson had a negative UZR last year as well, probably due to his bad instincts in center, but he made up for it with good speed. But this year, he seems to have lost a step for some reason. Maybe it’s his age, maybe it’s a minor injury – I don’t know – but his defensive game is suffering because of it. That’s a full win and half that Granderson has cost the Yankees this year, just because of his poor defense.

Ok, back to the offense. We still haven’t covered Granderson’s strikeouts, lack of doubles and triples, and why exactly he’s hitting so many line drives. To do so, why don’t we delve even deeper and take a look at Granderson’s plate discipline numbers?

Going across the board, everything looks pretty normal, until we get to Z-Contact%. Granderson is making contact with 7% fewer pitches inside the strike zone than last year. That’s a lot of pitches, a lot of strikes, and probably a lot more strikeouts. If you want to avoid striking out, you’ve got to make contact with pitches in the strike zone. Any little-leaguer could tell you that. But Grandy is whiffing on almost 20% of strikes that he swings that, which is 12th-worst in baseball.

I still never told you about the line drives and the doubles and triples. The triples are easy: fast players turn doubles into triples, and Granderson has lost speed. One problem, though. Granderson isn’t hitting doubles either. He only has 14 doubles this year, to go along with 3 triples, compared to 26 and 10 last year; this is strange considering how many line drives he is hitting.

I’m going to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea why Granderson is hitting so many line drives and so few doubles and triples, while still hitting tons of home runs. Maybe it’s just a weird luck thing. Maybe all he can hit are low line drives and high fly balls. I don’t know. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that Granderson is going to start hitting fewer home runs and more doubles and triples over the remainder of the season. I would guess that his batting average will go up, but that his strikeout rate and stolen bases will remain disappointing.

I’m not sure if the Yankees can do anything about it this year, but next year, they need to move Granderson out of center field. He is too much of a defensive liability there. Put Brett Gardner in center, where his speed and fantastic fielding will be most valuable, put Granderson in left, and platoon Andruw Jones and Ichiro in right (or find some other cheap player(s) to fill the spot).

Last year was definitely a career year for Curtis Granderson, and it probably won’t happen again. But in a different position, with better luck on balls in play and more doubles instead of singles, Granderson can remain a valuable asset for the Yankees.

*Editors Note: all stats prior to 8/24/12.

 

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