We can all find the date on his Baseball Reference game log. On August 10 Curtis Granderson, then hitting .240/.307/.417, started working with hitting instructor Kevin Long in order to improve on what had been a disappointing season. Granderson didn’t start either game in Texas, though he made appearances in both. When he returned to the starting lineup on August 13 in Kansas City, he appeared to be a more confident hitter.
For the rest of the season Granderson hit .261/.356/.564 in 192 PA, which improved his season stats to .247/.324/.468. That was just about in line with his 2009 numbers, with a little added power. The Yanks hoped they were getting something closer to the .280/.365/.494 Granderson of 2008. In 2011 they’ll again hope he can show signs of improvement. There are some indicators that might be the case. Let’s take a look at a few improvements Granderson made, and whether they’re sustainable.
Walk rate. Before his work with Long, Granderson drew 29 walks in 335 PA, or 8.7 percent. This harkened back to his breakout 2007 season, except without the batting average and power. It made for a pretty miserable OBP.
After the work with Long, Granderson walked 24 times in 192 PA, or 12.5 percent. This is more like his previous two years, in which he walked more than 10 percent of the time. I’m not sure if he can sustain that exact rate, but it is noteworthy that none of these walks was intentional. He earned them fair and square. It was enough to bring his season average up to 10 percent, which is right in line with 2009, but a bit below 2008.
We have seen a few projection systems try to peg down Granderson, but few of them see him getting much above that 10 percent marker: Both PECOTA and Marcel have him at 9.9 percent. Yet I can certainly envision him finishing with a walk rate between 11 and 12 percent. If he’s hitting ahead of, say, Russell Martin, pitchers might be a bit more careful with him. This is one of his improvements I think he can sustain.
Power. One of Granderson’s saving graces in the first part of the season was his power. In those 335 PA he hit 10 homers, 11 doubles, and six triples, which amounted to a .417 SLG (.177 ISO). While that’s good for a center fielder, it’s not quite up to the standard Granderson had set in the previous three years, when his lowest ISO was .204. And so he and Long went to work.
In the season’s final month and a half Granderson hit 14 homers, or one every 13.7 PA. That was good for a .564 SLG and .303 ISO. Clearly he’s not going to sustain that over a full 600 PA. Only one hitter crossed the .300 ISO barrier in 2010, and that was the home run champ, Jose Bautista. Only one other player came within 10 points of it. Granderson will not slug .550 on the season in 2011.
Still, the improvement does give me confidence that he can return to a SLG around .500. It will depend on his batting average, for sure, but he’s displayed some pretty impressive power in the past. I’d probably peg him at a .220 to .230 ISO, which is around where he landed last year. Spread over an entire season that will be immensely valuable, especially for a center fielder.
Fact: Only four center fielders finished with a better ISO than Granderson in 2010. Two of them, Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez, primarily played the corner positions. One of the others, Colby Rasmus, finished one measly point ahead. Make no mistake: Granderson can rake.
Batting average. This has kind of been Granderson’s boon in the past two seasons. In 2007 he hit .302 and in 2008 he hit .280, but those were on the backs of some pretty high BABIP numbers. When his BABIP dropped in 2009 and 2010, so did his average. Yet he did recover a bit after his work with Long.
Before August 9 Granderson had a .240 BA on a .284 BABIP. After the work he had a .261 BA on a .264 BABIP. Obviously the change in approach had something to do with the fluctuating numbers. He walked more and hit more homers, hence fewer balls in play. But I still wonder if he has room to improve that BABIP. If so, he could see a slight increase in his average.
For a quick look, here’s how some of the popular projection engines see Granderson’s 2011.
Bill James: .264/.341/.471
The current projection engines don’t make much of Granderson’s in-season improvement. Nor should they. They’re not there to filter out the nuance of how a season progresses. They’re taking the long view. And in the long view, there’s not much that suggests an improvement from Granderson. But our exacting view just might hold merit. After all, he did change something, and he did notice improved results after that.
Given what we know about Granderson and what we saw from him in August and September, here’s my admittedly biased projection for his 2011 season:
Is that really so bold?