The Curtis Granderson Dilemma


It goes without saying that Curtis Granderson has been a welcome addition in the Bronx the last three seasons. Since altering his swing in late 2010, he has been a lefty-power hitter in a stadium with a short right-field porch. He has been a serviceable center fielder. He has been among the league leaders in home runs the last two years. He is also a strikeout machine with an increasingly low batting average. And, most relevant to the Yankees, Granderson has one year left on his contract. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has already alluded to extending Granderson at the conclusion of the 2012 season. But the better question is: should the Yankees extend Granderson?

While some members of the YGY staff delved into this briefly earlier in the week, let’s look a little deeper into whether or not it would be in the Yankees best interest to sign Granderson to an extension. (Note: the assessment below was done based on Granderson’s 2011 and 2012 regular-season numbers, to account for the offensive numbers following altering his swing in 2010 and his defense in the home park of Yankee Stadium.)

Offensively, Granderson fits in well for a team that hits “too many damn home runs.” The last two years, his power numbers have been fantastic. In the regular season in 2011, Granderson hit a career-high 41 home runs. With a slash-line of .262/.364./.552, and an OPS of .916, he also scored 136 runs, and had 119 RBI, both career highs, as well. Unfortunately, he also K’d 169 times. Through last night’s game, Granderson has a slash line of .233/.325/.480. Through 133 games, he has hit 34 home runs. By contrast, Granderson has scored only 83 runs, but this could also be attributed to the uncharacteristically down-year by Robinson Cano as well and the stagnant offense of Russell Martin and loss of Alex Rodriguez for several weeks. Granderson has also struck out 161 times, on pace to fly by 2011’s numbers, and has only walked 65 times.

Looking even deeper, Granderson is only worth .2 Wins Above Average (WAA) in 2012, while he was worth 3.2 in 2011. Moreover, Granderson’s lack of speed is also evident: he has generated only one run via base-running (Rbaser) in 2012, with three runs in 2011. Also, he is worth only 3 runs better than the average league player in 2012, as opposed to 2011, when he was worth 29. This season marks his lowest rating since 2004, his rookie season, when he was rated -2.

Defensively, Curtis has struggled. While charting a -5.1 UZR rating in 2011, he has ranked a ghastly -17.2 in 2012, which is not inspiring. However, this number can be mitigated by Granderson being aided in 2011 by Brett Gardner, a center fielder playing left field who has spectacular defense. Gardner has missed all but nine games in 2012 due to injury. This still doesn’t necessarily justify Granderson’s poor rating in 2011 (especially relative to pay scale). Additionally, the last two seasons, Granderson is worth -6 and -10 runs worse than the average player at his position (Rfield), and has actually cost his team a combined 16 runs (-16 rating) in defensive runs saved above average (Rdrs/yr).

While most of Granderson’s numbers give pause in the face of a potential raise and contract extension, there are some positive attributes that he brings to the table. In his career, he has no more than 5 errors per season (although that could be attributed to the lesser number of opportunities he may have to make plays given his low defensive ratings). He is also extremely durable, playing no less than 136 games since 2006; prior to his hamstring injury during the recent Tampa Bay series, Granderson only missed one entire game (note: excluding DH appearances).

Overall, Granderson’s offensive numbers (home runs aside), and his defensive metrics don’t warrant a raise, let alone one in the $12-15 million/per season range he likely to angle for at the negotiations table. Additionally, the strikeout rates are alarming– with all due respect to Derek Jeter and his recent hot streak at age 38– bat speeds slow down as a player ages. Players also get slower. And, given that he plays the outfield and generates a negligible amount on runs on the base paths, he won’t provide something that the Yankee lineup is sorely lacking overall. Additionally, given a slower speed, Granderson’s defensive metrics will continue to be unkind as he is already 32 years old.

For the $15 million dollars per year he is likely to receive, it is probably not in the best interests of the Yankees to re-sign Granderson. I would rather re-sign Nick Swisher for three or four years. Ultimately, I think the Yankees will let Swisher move on (some team is going to offer him a lot more than that), at which point they should re-sign Cano (again, at the right price and years). However, given all the data, including some advanced metrics, I’d think long and hard about an extension for Granderson. He is more than serviceable for the time being and is relatively affordable (roughly $10 million dollars), but I would let him walk when he becomes a free agent. The Yankees suddenly have a payroll cut to make; with Cano’s extension looming and the money tied up in other players (Jeter, Tex, A-Rod, CC), Granderson, despite those home runs, just doesn’t fit for this team in the long-term.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.