Breaking down Curtis Granderson’s defense

Game 137: A-Rod's back, again
Jake Cave named top prospect in Coastal Plains League

Everyone knows what Curtis Granderson is doing with the bat this year, but no one really seems to know what to think of his defense. The defensive metrics say he’s one of the worst center fielders in baseball but that doesn’t really jive with the eye test. I don’t think he’s a Gold Glover, but I really have a hard time seeing him as any worse than average.

ESPN’s Mark Simon broke down Granderson’s defense and those advanced metrics a day or two ago, looking at how the systems work and also how they can pick up things we just can’t see by watching everyday. He also recapped Grandy’s six worst defensive plays of the season, and spoke to long-time scout to get some old school opinion. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so make sure you check it out. Great read and well worth your time.

Game 137: A-Rod's back, again
Jake Cave named top prospect in Coastal Plains League
  • Esteban

    It showed why the theory that Gardner’s incredible range hurts Granderson’s ratings is likely wrong:

    “Granderson frequently plays alongside Gold Glove candidate Brett Gardner in left field, which means he doesn’t have to go into left-center too often to make plays. But Gardner’s making catches in left-center, on balls Granderson may not get to, prevents Granderson’s rating from going down as well.:

    And just don’t read the comments on the story. Lots of stupid there.

    • Jesse

      I’m going to read the comments just to see how stupid they are. People who comment on ESPN are so ridiculous.

    • Ana



    • Guns of the Navarone

      That statement is highly speculative and I personally don’t agree with it. From what I gathered in the article, Granderson’s main problem is the jump/reads he gets on balls hit in front of him and over his head, not to his left or right (which I personally agree with).

    • Guns of the Navarone

      On a side note from that paragraph, I hope Gardner does get that Gold Glove he deserves this year. With Crawford playing the way he has I think it’s almost a lock. Gardner’s not flying under the radar as a defender anymore.

    • thezack

      How exactly does it do that? It purely speculates that grandson wouldnt be able to get to balls hit to left-center, but does In fact say that Gardner is hurting his rating as is…

      • Esteban

        “But Gardner’s making catches in left-center, on balls Granderson may not get to, prevents Granderson’s rating from going down as well.”

        Am I misinterpreting this?

        • TheZack

          the key is MAY not get to. Pure speculation. He MAY also get to those balls. We don’t know. What we do know is that Gardner gets to a lot of balls that are traditionally in the CF zone.

        • sangreal

          If Gardner gets the ball, it does not lower Granderson’s rating. If Gardner makes a play for a ball in what would be the average CF zone but fails to make the out, it will lower Granderson’s rating.

    • MikeD

      I don’t think it shows that at all. It’s just another look at data. Another view may come to a different conclusion.

      For the most past, I’m in the camp that Granderson is an average to slightly better than average CFer. Up until this year, the plus/minus system has shown him overall to be a postive defender the prior five seasons, including as recently as last year. It’s possible that he’s simply lost it this year, or more likely he’s suffering from a similar situation as a player who has a bad BABIP season. Bad luck on where some balls have been hit, bad luck on balls in the sun, bad luck on a trip, bad luck on a higher percentage of harder-hit line drives one year to the next, etc. It could also be that the Yankees positioning has hurt his ratings by having him play more shallow, figuring Gardner and Swisher will cover more of the gaps, while Granderson can cut off more balls that are in short.

      As Simons seems to note, just missing a ball in the gap is more damaging to his ratings than the positives he’d get by making a great catch in short right field. Yet the Yankees may have reached a conclusion that collectively their OF is stronger with Granderson playing shallow and Gardner and Swisher covering more of the gaps.

      Simons explanation leaves me with more questions than answers.

      As for ESPN comment, I rarely look at them. There are always some intelligent comments mixed in, but the majority are from fan boys and anti-Yankee-ites (and anti Red Sox) or just anti something. A waste of space.

    • sangreal

      Granderson’s rating does go down if Gardner fails to make a catch in left-center though. A catch that Granderson would make if he were not playing to the right. I don’t think this is an explanation for all of Granderson’s UZR woes (the scout blames it on depth perception), but it is incorrect to say that it does not hurt Granderson.

  • Sarah

    Simon also gave RAB a shoutout in the Baseball Today podcast yesterday (and Keith Law gave one the day before when talking about Jesus Montero).

    • Esteban

      Making the Big Time!

      • rbizzler

        Already been there.

  • JU

    Granderson isn’t the best CF on the team…consider that my comprehensive breakdown.

  • wilcymoore27

    More of these subjective so-called “defensive metrics.” Ho-hum.

    The eye test is also subjective, and not much less reliable than the new metrics. I think the metricians are still a long way from being able to measure field proficiency.

    • wilcymoore27

      “field” = “fielding”

    • Brandon W

      While certainly not perfect, fielding metrics at least have a way of quantifying large samples without bias and comparing those samples to league average. The eye test does not have that; you cannot watch every play by every fielder and accurately compare them over a season (or, more accurately, over 3+ seasons) without any bias.

      A human will rate a diving catch in right-center against the Red Sox at Fenway to save a two-run double as being a bigger play than allowing a double to some scrub team because you lost a ball in the sun, especially in hindsight. Unfortunately, the difference is only circumstance (both would be doubles); over time those mistakes and great catches tend to even out, hence why large-sample defensive metrics aren’t useless. It’s true they are very skewed by small samples, but so is the eye test.

      Also, to ramble a bit, a below-average fielder can make routine plays look spectacular (an argument frequently used by Yankee fans against Dustin Pedroia for example, regardless of its truthfulness). This creates bias by making the play seem better than it actually was; only by comparison to an average fielder can you truly measure whether it was a great play or simply a great play for that player.

      In this case, the article is even backed up by specific examples of plays that Granderson did not make that hurts his rating along with descriptions of why he didn’t make the play. If you re-watch those plays, the eye test will tell you the same thing.

      • MikeD

        They also have a way of attempting to quantify fielding metrics in a way that might be entirely wrong.

        To be clear, I’ve followed, read and studied defensive metrics for two decades, so I obviously believe in them on some level. They’ve gotten better, and I have more faith in the Dewan, plus/minus Fielding Bible system than I do in UZR, which flaws are substantial enough that I think they should be removed from any WAR-rating sytem.

        Just as fans rely too heavily on visually rating players, there are fans of sabermetrics who rely too heavily on UZR and WAR when making final conclusions about a player. It’s lazy.

        Most teams don’t use any of the free defensive metrics available to fans. It’s not because they’re all the equivalents of sabermetric Luddites. It’s because a number of them have developed their own proprietary metrics that we never get to see and are more detailed and advanced that what we get. The Red Sox (sadly) may be the leaders in this area as they have a fleet of people studying advanced metrics, including Bill James who is under contract to the true evil team of the east. (Any team that retricts Bill James from publishing much of his interesting work to be read by the masses should be banished from baseball!)

        I’ve mentioned this before, but I thought it was interesting that James voted for Mark Teixeira as the best-defensive 1B’man in the league last year for the Fielding Bible awards, even though none of the advanced metrics proved he was the best. First base is still a substantial problem from all the freely available rating schemes, so the fact that James voted for Tex means he may have helped develop his own system for firstbase that he thinks is more accurate than anything we can see, and it may show what we believe about Teixeira. He is the best. Or maybe it just means he has no faith in any of the rating systems for first, including his own, and voted for Teixeira because of his reputation, figuring reputation in this case is probably more accurate than the faulty data that’s available for first.

  • Mickey Scheister

    One day there will be a reliable rating system that grades fielding correctly, unfortunately that doesn’t exist yet. For Grandy to be graded as low as he has and Teixeria to constantly under valued, it’s clearly a flawed metric.

  • Reg

    How did they rate his arm?

  • AJSux

    Grandy is at best an average defensive centerfielder and they have an elite defensive CFer playing left. Logical move is to make the switch next spring.

    • JU

      That was logical switch last yr too. The Yankees will never do it. It’s another example of politics over baseball.

  • tommydee2000

    I reviewed the 15 plays that they highlighted, and there is a piece of the analysis “conveniently” overlooked, but mentioned: Granderson plays too shallow. (and he tripped and fell on Damon’s triple in the DJ3K game? Please.)

    Why do they suppose he does that? He doesn’t position himself, the coaching staff does. They have determined that the hits that fall in front of him are more detrimental to the Yankee pitchers than the balls that go to the track.

    A very ridiculous excuse to downgrade his MVP candidacy, but it’s what I expect from ESPN, who are determined to see it awarded in Boston.

  • ItsATarp

    There’s a contradiction in the scout’s analysis and Grandy’s career line. The Scout says Grandy is at best below par but for his career he has shown to be a plus defender with the exception of 2 years. And even in the article’s own data it shows that Grandy has been a plus defender in 4 of his last 6 years. This year is more of an outlier/ anomaly than the norm for the grandy since he he had no trouble patrolling Comerico where the OF is huge.

  • noseeum

    One issue I have with the advanced defensive stats is that they are are all relative. Granderson is being compared only to other active CFs. There are a lot of really good CFs right now.

    While it’s helpful to know whether you are getting an above or below average contribution from your player, it’s also helpful to have some statistics that just show pure performance.

    On the offensive side, no matter what the league average is and no matter what year it is, a .300 average is good, 30 homers is good, etc.

    It may be difficult to create similar stats fir defense, but at minimum you could compare a player to all CFs in history instead of just his peers. My guess is the average CF now is way better defensively than he was 30 years ago.

  • Farel

    So wouldn’t it better to move Gardy to Center in the future?

  • Urban

    My own impression of Granderson this year is he has missed a few more balls this season than last, but that doesn’t mean he’s suddenly a poor defender any more than it means that a player who hits .320 one month hits than hits .290 the next month is a lesser hitter.

    The real question is what impact a few plays has on the overall value the player delivers to a team. WAR attempts to come up with a nice tidy number, but it’s a math equation. It gives us some perspective, but it doesn’t tell us everything, and sometimes what it tells us is entirely wrong.

    Bautista is still the MVP to me, with Granderson second. If Grandy’s defensive numbers were higher, it wouldn’t make any differnce.