From time to time we find it appropriate to comes to the windows of our ivory towers and proclaim to the people what should be done. This doesn’t happen often, at least in this space. We might complain about this trend or that, but rarely do we recommend a wholesale roster or lineup change. Without all the relevant information we often folly when suggesting these changes. We also fall victim to recent trends, which can lead us to specious conclusions. I covered this on FanGraphs yesterday as it related to Raul Ibanez. Even among the Yankees we had voices clamoring for Derek Jeter‘s removal from the leadoff spot. I assure you, though, that this proclamation is neither premature nor does it lack relevant data.
When the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson in December there were plenty of concerned voices. He had just come off a season in which he managed a .249 BA and .327 OBP, marks that fell below even his mediocre 2006 campaign. Those problems, in large part, came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit .183/.245/.239, a .223 wOBA. Why, asked the myriad voices, would the Yankees trade a rising center field prospect in Austin Jackson for a player whose skills appear in decline? The answer from the patient counterparty: he just had a bad year. Kevin Long can surely work with him.
At the beginning of the season it was easier to deal with Granderson’s struggles. The pithing staff, along with a number of non-stars, carried the team through April. Granderson struggled after a promising start, ending the month with a mere .314 wOBA. He had hit a few homers, including one in his first at-bat and then another off Jonathan Papelbon to give the Yanks a victory, so it was a bit easier to gloss over his lack of production. Yet Granderson still appeared uncomfortable at the plate. He’d get a chance to reflect on his rough first month in the Bronx, as he left a game in early May with a groin injury, not to return for a little over three weeks.
In June and July Granderson again struggled, though he produced a bit better than he had in April. His OBP for those two months sat around .305, a downright horrible mark for a starter, though he did hit for some power, with an ISO of around .195. Still, that amounted to a wOBA below .330, hardly the stuff the Yankees had hoped to receive from Detroit. August has gone even worse to this point, with Granderson striking out in 40.9 percent of his at-bats. His .220 wOBA has nowhere to go but up, though there can’t be much confidence that it will.
Most of this poor production has come against lefties. His .233 wOBA means he’s not helping the team at all offensively. He hardly walks against lefties, and he strikes out quite a bit more. His BABIP, .274, isn’t an abomination, but it’s more reflective of his low contact rate than any streak of poor luck. There’s a chance he might be underperforming a bit, as his career wOBA against lefties is .265. But even that is a poor mark that will be of little help to the Yankees as they battle with the Rays down the stretch.
The time for learning is over. The Yankees and Granderson had the opportunity earlier in the year to see if he could make adjustments to better approach lefties, but it hasn’t worked out. That’s fine. Granderson is still under contract for a couple of years, and as we saw with Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher, adjustments at the plate can take a few years. Granderson, along with Kevin Long, will get another chance this winter and next spring to help increase his production against lefties. But as far as 2010 is concerned, it’s time to shoot for the best results rather than a pipe dream of improvement.
A platoon not only helps in that it gets Granderson’s bat out of the lineup against lefties, but it also allows him to focus on a relative strength. Against righties this season he’s actually been pretty good. He has walked in 10.7 percent of his PA and has struck out in 23.2 percent of AB. His line, .258/.338/.490, amounts to a .353 wOBA, which is very good for a center fielder. Perhaps he’ll even increase that production if he’s able to face righties almost exclusively. Meanwhile, the Yankees can get Austin Kearns more appearances against lefties, against whom he has a .353 career wOBA.
I’m sure there are plenty of fans who will say duh, they should have done this months ago. With this I disagree. With the way the team has been playing they can afford to let a player work through his struggles, especially if it comes against pitchers whom he faces in about a third of his overall plate appearances. But now, in August, with no sign of improvement and a tight pennant race on the horizon, the Yankees need to abandon the sliver of hope that Granderson can produce against lefties and go with what most directly benefits the team. They can restart the Granderson experiment next year.