What Went Wrong: Curtis Granderson

Fan Confidence Poll: November 8th, 2010
What Went Right: Curtis Granderson

Over the next few weeks we’re going to explore what went right and what went wrong for the Yankees in 2010.

We saw the Granderson strikeout pose often in the first half (Brandon Wade/AP)

The Yankees needed an outfielder. They had won the 2009 World Series with a unit of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, but that was going to change during the off-season. For starters, Damon was a free agent and didn’t appear willing to accept a cut from his $13 million salary. That created a potential opening in left field. In center field the Yankees could have improved, too. Their center fielders, Cabrera and Brett Gardner, combined to produce league average numbers, a 101 wRC+. While there’s nothing wrong with a league-average center field unit, the Yankees needed to improve if Damon were to depart. The solution became apparent early during the 2009 Winter Meetings.

After a day or so of heavy rumors, the Yankees finally completed a trade that went Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke to Detroit for Curtis Granderson. But the move was not met with universal praise. Granderson has produced poor numbers in 2009, which left many wondering why the Yankees would trade one of their best prospects, also a center fielder, for a player whose numbers — to paraphrase a common thought last winter — had declined in each of the last two years. That, of course, didn’t tell the whole story of Granderson’s development as a player.

Looking at Granderson’s minor league numbers it’s easy to see the makings of a star. His lowest OPS in those four seasons was .823, and he followed it up with a .922 season, after which he was named Baseball America’s 57th best prospect. He followed that up with a very good season in AAA, which he followed up with a decent, though powerful, stint in the bigs. While his 2006 season didn’t go so well, Granderson absolutely broke out in 2007, hitting .302/.361/.552 (.395 wOBA). The next season he again hit well, a .374 wOBA. That’s what the Yankees sought to acquire. It would have been unrealistic to expect a center fielder to perpetually produce a nearly .400 wOBA. But .375? If he could do that while continuing to play an excellent center field, he could be the next in the line of stupendous Yankees center fielders.

At the start it appeared as though Granderson might fulfill that promise. On the seventh pitch of his first at-bat as a Yankee, Granderson homered off Josh Beckett, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Three nights later he broke a 1-1 tie in the 10th inning with a home run off Jonathan Papelbon. If nothing else he endeared himself to the fan base. He furthered that effort in the next week and a half, going 10 for 28 (.357) with three walks (.419 OBP) and three extra base hits (.607 SLG). Might the Yankees have found the star center fielder that had eluded them since the days of Bernie Williams?

The hot streak, as we know, did not last. In his next 60 PA Granderson hit .154/.254/.250. While going first-to-third in a game against the White Sox on May 1, Granderson came up limping. The groin strain put him on the 15-day DL, with a three to four week estimated return time. Considering his slumping ways, he wasn’t much missed. In his first seven games back he went 10 for 24 with five extra base hits, but that again was a short-lived hot streak. From June 4 through August 9, Granderson hit .224/.284/.398 in 217 PA, striking out 24.4 percent of his PA (27 percent of his AB). That was enough for him. He went to hitting instructor Kevin Long for some work on his swing. He sat out two games while trying to iron out the kinks.

We said a lot about Granderson during those first few months. First we tried to see the positive during his April slump. A disappointing month after his return from the DL we saw the value in exercising patience, noting specifically the curing powers of Kevin Long. He did land in our list of seven players whose first halves fell short of expectations, but again we maintained hope. Then, of course, just as Long is working with Granderson, I opened my fat mouth and called for a Granderson platoon. It made sense, at least at the time. But as Mike will discuss, it wasn’t at all necessary.

No matter what excuses we make, no matter what light we view it in, Curtis Granderson hit very poorly through July. He showed flashes of excellence, especially when he went on a power streak, but the overall package just didn’t seem to be there. The Yankees, though, had a different plan. Instead of platooning Granderson with new acquisition Austin Kearns, they instead placed him on the bench for two games against Texas so that he and Long could work on his swing. Mike will discuss the results of those sessions in the next article.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 8th, 2010
What Went Right: Curtis Granderson
  • Jimmy McNulty

    Good defender, and realistically about the best they could hope for out of Ian Kennedy and Austin Jackson. He got hurt, and had Kevin Long retool his swing. He was LOOGYed to death, and from a purely anecdotal basis it seemed as if he hit a lot of hard hit balls right at people. Bear in mind a full season is still a small sample size (Robinson Cano’s 2008 says hi), even though he was disappointing this year over all I still like the trade.

    • pete

      Absolutely. Quality >>>> Quantity, and Granderson is quite a bit better than either of those two, imho.

      • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

        I think he meant that Granderson was the best return you could have received for IPK + Jackson.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          That and I think he’d contribute more than those two anyways.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    I also love that Curtis Granderson plays for my favorite team, so as long as he’s more productive than Francisco Cervelli I won’t hate the deal.

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      I was nervous when they made the trade because of his LHP issues, but I think I’m most excited about watching him next year.

  • Ross

    I see what you’re doing here… I predict a “what went wrong” and a “what went right” both with Curtis Granderson. Oh you RAB guys are tricky…

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Wait for it….

  • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

    If we kept AJax, this article would be about him and how he hit 4 HRs to match his 170Ks and his near .400 BABIP.

    Curtis you’re the man, I don’t care if the looneys want to include you in ridiculous trade proposals.

    • Ted Nelson

      And possibly about how IPK stepped in when the Yankees needed a starter (and Dustin Moseley and co. didn’t have to) and how Phil Coke gave them a 2nd LOOGY.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on the trade. I’m glad they made it, in fact. However, at this moment in time acting like it was obviously a HR for the Yankees is as ridiculous as acting as if it was obviously a failure. Time will tell more about how it goes down in history.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        I agree. the trade was good but we don’t know if it’s really a success or not yet. No the Yankees clearly haven’t won nor did the Tigers or Diamondbacks. Not yet.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          If AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez were replacement level, I’m pretty sure IPK would have been Kei Igawa. Fuck Austin Jackson, I wanted to trade him for something good since his AA campaign.

          • JobaWockeeZ

            4.33 FIP compared to like 5 or 6 FIP’s for Vazquez and Burnett?

            Nothing could be worse than Vazquez or Burnett in 2010. And AJax outperformed Granderson at a young age and for cheaper dollars. This isn’t a clear cut victory for the Yanks.

            • Rob

              IPK’s 26 HRs in the NL West park could have approached 40 HRs in the AL East. And still, he didn’t hit 200 innings.

              • Ed

                45 pitchers threw 200 IP last year – about 1.5 per team. Of those 45, only 10 did it in less than 33 starts. Kennedy’s 194 IP in 32 starts is nothing to complain about. Back of the rotation guys just don’t reach 200 IP.

              • king of fruitless hypotheticals

                or he could have thrown a no-hitter.


            • steve (different one)

              Ajax did not outperform granderson.

          • Ted Nelson

            Not like Dan Haren moved from the D-Backs to the AL and actually got a lot better. That never happened. It is 100% written in stone that you will pitch much worse in the AL.

            Anyway, the comparison is not only to Javy and AJ, but also to Moseley, Nova, Mitre and their 19 starts.

            • Jimmy McNulty

              Dan Haren pitched well in the AL prior to moving to the NL, and his AL success was regression to the mean, he was due for a correction at the time of the trade. Ian Kennedy just sucks.

              • Ted Nelson

                Thanks for your well articulated opinion! I’ll keep it in mind.

                MilB WHIP: 0.985. ML WHIP: 1.313… Clearly a guy who “sucks.”

      • Mike HC

        Yea. So far, the trade was pretty even value I would say for all three teams. The tigers are thrilled with AJax and Scherzer. Even Coke did well. The Diamondbacks are happy with Kennedy and flipped Edwin Jackson for Daniel Hudson, who pitched even better than Kennedy. And the Yanks got Granderson. There were a ton of good, productive players in that deal. Value wise, the Yanks probably got the worst value, in a bubble. But based on the specific circumstances, the Yanks should be generally happy with the deal even in hindsight.

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, this is the level headed way to look at it… instead of “fuck AJax” or “Granderson sucks.”

          At this point I think they should be generally happy. However, we’ll have a lot more hindsight in a few years. This wasn’t a one-year deal for any team involved. In 3, 4, 5 years we might be able to say this was a HR or costly mistake (we might not). I just don’t think it’s at all clearly either after one season.

  • Mondoas

    Granderson’s year can be entitled “It started off wrong and then came Long”! Ha Ha! I’m not a poet and I know it!! Seriously, like Zack said, I am excited to see him become a better hitter next season. I think he is very liked and you can’t help for rooting for him.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of Long, it was the age of Eiland”

      h/t to my main man, Chuck Dickens

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    I wonder what value there is in having a batter that is so strong or so susceptible that bullpens are focused on them…think about pulling a pitcher in the 6th so a loogy can face Granderson? There goes that starting pitcher, ostensibly one of the top six arms on the team. Downhill from there. Would it be better if all your batters were switch-hitting demons from 1.105 world? Yes. Barring that, this isn’t a bad thing.

  • Rockdog

    While there are legitimate concerns Granderson’s season, I still find it amusing that one of our “What went wrongs” is about a 3.6 WAR CF who is a strong defender and hits for power.

  • Rob

    Speaking of a right-handed OF – what about Magglio on a one-year deal?

  • Mike HC

    This sounds like more of a “What Went Wrong: Curtis Granderson’s first half.” The way he hit in the playoffs and down the stretch, his season was excellent. He OPS’d 1.121 in the playoffs and .861 post all star break. He also hit well against lefties in that same time period. I will sign up for that season again to be honest.

  • It’sATarp

    3.7 War in an off year and a 1.000+ OPS in the postseason. yep looks like a complete failure to me.

    • All Star Carl

      Him and Cano were all we had this postseason.

      • Mike HC

        Yup. It sure seemed like those were the only two who came to play.

  • OldYanksFan

    It weren’t a HR because we did give away talent. But not every trade can be Betemit for Swisher. The question is, which way are we better off?

    I liked Coke, but we have some serious arms on the farm, and you don’t stop a trade based on a somewhat-better-then-average BP guy.
    But Coke did have value.

    IPK was a lot of fun, and may succeed in the NL. But I’m not sure it he would be at most a #5 guy on the Yankees.
    But IPK did have value.

    AJax looks like he will be a solid player. If he addresses his K issues, he may be better then solid.
    AJax definitely had value.

    I guess the issue is: Has Long really fixed Curtis? If Post ASB Curtis is the guy we have going foward, then I think we are a better team for the trade.

    I must admit, I didn’t appreciate Bernie enough. Looking back, he had a six year period where he averaged over a 145 OPS+. That’s ARod territory.

    • Ted Nelson

      “The question is, which way are we better off?”

      Hard to answer that for a few years. The guys traded away are pretty young, so they might improve. They also seemed to have fluke seasons, so they might “get worse” (which would really just be a regression to the mean). Same for Curtis. Is he a 109 OPS+ guy every season, or is he the guy he was in the post-season? Somewhere in between?

      “Has Long really fixed Curtis?”

      And has Curtis fixed Curtis? Seemed to be the case down the stretch and in the playoffs. Long can help him, but he can’t take his PAs for him…

    • Mike HC

      It took you this long to figure out how good Bernie Williams was? Just some advice, you shouldn’t feel so compelled to admit that.