What Went Right: Curtis Granderson

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Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Like Spring Training, a surge at the end of a season can be deceiving. September rosters feature a lot of players that wouldn’t be in the big leagues without expanded rosters, so a big time performance might just be an illusion. Curtis Granderson‘s late-season dominance in 2010 proved to be very real in 2011, and the best part is that we actually have some tangible evidence for his improvement. That mid-August 2010 pow-wow with hitting coach Kevin Long is world famous by now. Okay, maybe not, but you get my drift.

Granderson’s season started much like the same way last season ended, with him getting big hits and helping the Yankees win games. His Opening Day solo homer off former Yankee (and lefty) Phil Coke to leadoff the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie and helped the Yanks win their first game of the season. He homered again in the team’s only first half win over the Red Sox about a week later, and a few days after that he homered yet again. Following a five homers in seven days binge in mid-April, Curtis was hitting .292/.343/.708 with seven dingers in the team’s first 18 games.

A short-lived slump followed that (8-for-45 across eleven games), but Granderson got right back on the horse and started raking again. He went deep twice against the Rangers on May 6th, then hit another six homers in his next 15 games. By June 1st, the Yankees center fielder was hitting a .284/.355/.627 with 17 homers, more than anyone in the game not named Jose Bautista. From that two-homer game against Texas to another two-homer game against the Orioles on August 28th, a span of 100 games and 463 plate appearances, Granderson hit .282/.389/.601 with 30 homers and 103 runs scored. Opponents started to pitch him more carefully, and rather than chase stuff out of the zone, Curtis simply took his walks and beefed up his OBP…

That performance earned him a starting outfield spot on the AL All-Star Team and Player of the Month honors for August. Although the month of September was not kind to the Grandyman (.186/.301/.340 during the team’s final 32 games), Curtis was again one of the team’s very best hitters in the playoffs, reaching base nine times in the five games, including a double, a triple, and a homer. He finished the season with a .262/.364/.552 batting line, a .394 wOBA that was dragged down by September but still managed to be the 11th highest in all of baseball. At 7.0 fWAR and 5.2 bWAR, he was either the eighth or 20th most valuable position player in the game in 2011, respectively, and either of those is pretty awesome.

Granderson finished the season with some rather gaudy old school counting stats, including 136 runs scored (15 more than anyone else), 119 RBI (most in the AL, seven behind Matt Kemp for the MLB lead), and 41 homers (two behind Joey Bats for the MLB lead). He was five steals short of becoming just the third 30-30 player in Yankees history (joining Alfonso Soriano and Bobby Bonds), but he did manage to become the first 40-25 player in team history and just the 15th all-time. Curtis also became the tenth player in history with 25+ homers, 25+ doubles, 25+ steals, and 10+ triples in a single season. He’s the only member of that group to go deep 40+ times.

As much fun as the raw numbers are, perhaps the most impressive thing about Granderson’s season is the way he demolished left-handed pitching. He’d hit just .212/.271/.336 against southpaws from 2006-2010, but Curtis actually hit them better (.272/.347/.597) than he did right-handers (.258/.372/.531) in 2011. That’s a .400 wOBA against lefties and a .388 wOBA against righties. His 16 homers off left-handers were the most in the majors, and that includes right-handed hitters. Jay Bruce was second on the left vs. left list with 11 dingers. Granderson didn’t just feast on soft-tossers either, he took Gio Gonzalez, Matt Harrison (twice), David Price (twice), and Jon Lester deep, among others. Those three combined to give up just 18 homers to lefties all season, and Curtis accounted for a third of them.

From Opening Day through Game Five of the ALDS, Granderson was the Yankees best player in 2011. He’s been one of the very best players in all of baseball since revamping his swing with Kevin Long last August, but don’t ask them about, they insist it was just a minor tweak or two. They’re probably right, but there’s nothing minor about the results. Granderson was a legitimate MVP candidate this year thanks to one of the best performances by a Yankee in recent memory.

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  • Owen G

    I think it was on Fangraphs during the season where I read that his UZR may be dragged down by having Gardner playing next to him. So there’s an argument that those awesome WAR numbers are actually understated. Either way a great season and a fun player to watch.

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    What a great freakin’ season by Grandy…

  • Holy Ghost

    Grandy seems to have had a career year in 2011. Anyone think he’ll regress next season?

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Yes. I’d be satsified with ~.270/.360/.550 with 30-35 HRs next season. Not much of a regression, but I expect he won’t quite be able to match this year’s numbers. I’d also hope his defensive ratings improve, but I think he out-performs what he’s given credit for now anyway. Of course, that’s just what my eyes and memory tell me.

      • Kosmo

        IMO, I would say slightly less production . 25-30 HRs, 75-80 RBI, .350 OBP, .500 SLG, .850 OPS.

  • The Lazzeri Scooter

    But Ian Kennedy!!! 20 Wins!!! Another bad trade!!! Yanks are stupid!!!

    /baseball msm’d

    P.S. Seriously, it was amazing to experience this type of season from a Yankee outfielder. His season was better than any of Bernie’s best years and that just blows my mind a bit.

    Congrats to Curtis, here’s hoping for my Grandyman moments from one of the best players in the game.

    Best Yankee center-fielder since the Mick… and that is truely saying something!

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

      Bernie Williams’ 1998 season says hello.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Yeah, outside of the HRs, Bernie had quite a few seasons that stack up well against what Cutris did this season. He was a different type of hitter than Grandy, but he was outstanding. Not taking away anything Granderson did this season. It was awesome!

      • The Lazzeri Scooter

        Woah, calm down everyone…

        I never meant to infer that Curtis was a better player than Bernie in anyway. What Bernie did from 1995 to 2002 makes him a legit legend in Yankee centerfield history.

        Still, Granderson’s individual 2011 overall season was superior,based on fWAR, than any of Bernie’s individual seasons. Which says how incredibly effective and valuable Curtis was this year. Okay?

        P.S. I know BRef’s WAR rating puts Bernie’s 98,97 & 95 seasons ahead of Curtis 2011 season but, I personally feel their defensive metric system is so ineffective that a real sense of a player’s value is harder to calculate.

        Still, the plain way of judging individual season would be to view any of Bernie best seasons match Curtis 2011 output Offensively for sure. Nevertheless, defensively is where Curtis real value puts his just completed MVP type season ahead of Bernie’s best years, IMO.

        All in all, he’s got a long way to go in matching Bernie’s greatness on a near decade reign of dominance.

    • Kosmo

      better than Bernie Williams ?
      Williams had a stretch of 7 consecutive seasons with an OPS of .908 or better. 8 year stretch of hitting .300 or better, averaging around 100 RBI a season with an OBP of around .400 and a SLG. average of around .535.
      And he was a dynamic postseason performer.
      Granderson has one good season with NY under his belt and you´re comparing to Mantle?

      • Cris Pengiucci

        To be fair, Granderson’s fWAR of 7.0 is higher than anything Bernie ever posted (I was surprised), but Bernie did sustain a very high level of performance for many seasons. I’d love to see Granderson do that.

        • Lemmiwinks

          Bernie still had better offensive years than CGrand.

          • Beboppin’ and Scattin’ Nick Swisher

            I was going to write something sarcastic, like:

            Notes From The Land of Make Believe

            by Lemmiwinks

            but then I looked at the #s. Bernie was a machine. He averaged 182 hits/yr (over 200 twice), and most of those were stung. Streaky, at times? Yes, but certainly no more so than Curtis.

            He was always one of my favorite players, but still I find myself shortchanging him.

      • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

        I didn’t see any comparisons to Mantle in there…..

        Wait a sec, are YOU comparing Bernie to Mantle????

        Because let me assure you, YOUR comparison is way more insane than his if you are.

    • MannyGeee

      you beat me to it… but I’ll play along anyhow…

      butbutbutbut… the Rotation!!! Save the Big Threeeeee!

      I miss IPeeeeKaaaaaay!!!!!!!

    • Holy Ghost

      “But Ian Kennedy!!! 20 Wins!!! Another bad trade!!! Yanks are stupid!!!”

      Eh, I still think we gave up too much to get Grandy.

      Grandy is > Ajax but Ajax + Kennedy + Coke is > than Grandy(even before we knew IPK would turn into a legit #1 starter he still projected to be atleast a #3 type starter)

      At the end of the day, the trade seems to have worked out well for all three teams involved and that doesn’t happen very often…

  • CBean

    i swear my thoughtful analysis on Curtis Granderson is just to draw hearts all over his name. He’s just such an awesome guy and his season was so wonderful.

  • JohnC

    Also lets not forget that without Grandy’s 2 great catches in game 4 we probably don’t even get to game 5 and a chance to win the series

  • Monteroisdinero

    He played more shallow this year and since he seems to take a step back on balls off the bat, i think this was a good decision.

    Great player, great person. Not a great arm but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!

    And now for the batting order discussion….. He batted 2nd and 6th mostly. Any better slot?

    • LiterallyFigurative

      Gardner LF
      Jeter SS (0ccassional DH)
      Cano 2B
      Grandy CF
      ARod 3B (Occassional DH)
      Tex 1B
      Jesus DH/ Partime C
      Swisher RF
      Martin C/Nunez SS or 3B (depending on who DHs)

  • aslan

    It was a good year, but there were an awful lot of strikeouts.

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