The Yankees’ offensive outage over the last few weeks has been perplexing and frustrating, given the number of talented hitters on the team. As discussed in my most recent post, injuries can explain a large portion of the Yankees’ struggles. Missed time by Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, and Mark Teixeira, among others, has led to extra playing time by bench and platoon players such as Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Ichiro Suzuki, Eric Chavez, and Jayson Nix. Not surprising, they have largely failed to replace the lost production due to the injured Yankee stars.
However, injuries don’t tell the whole story. As discussed in Tuesday’s post, the Yankees have also had to endure simultaneous underachieving of several important regulars. The most perplexing struggles have been those of Curtis Granderson, who has been having a disappointing 2012 anyway, but has been absolutely horrendous of late. His wRC+ has dropped 34 points between 2011 and 2012 (though to be fair, 2011 was a career year for Granderson), and recently, he has been even worse. Since August 1, Curtis is batting a measly .179/.256/.387. This is not a small sample size fluke, but over a month of absolutely awful performance.
I was curious to see what factors might be responsible for Granderson’s decreased production compared to 2011, and while I found no definitive solution, there are a few possibilities. Compared to 2011, Granderson has been much less effective against fastballs. While he is still above league average against the heater, according to Fangraphs, he is not crushing the pitch to the same extent that he was in 2011. Additionally, Granderon’s performance against the curveball has suffered, going from about league average in 2011 to below average in 2012. He is also swinging at slightly more pitches in 2012 (41.7% compared to 40.6% in 2011), but making less contact (72.3% of swings in 2012 compared to 78.2% in 2011). He is swinging more both at pitches in the zone (not necessarily a bad thing) and out of the zone (almost definitely a bad thing). However, the decrease in contact is not explained by fishing out of the zone, he is actually making less contact in the zone as well. The contact rate is also significantly lower than he has posted in previous years, indicating that this is not just regression to the mean after a career-best 2011.
What could all this signify? The fairly significant drop in contact is a red flag to me, possibly indicative of poor pitch recognition, bad swing mechanics, or decreasing bat speed. It is hard to pinpoint which of these three (or any other factors) may be the most likely culprit here. At 31, Granderson is not exactly over the hill, though his 2012 regression could be an indication that Granderson’s prime may be behind him. He is still hitting for power, as demonstrated by his 34 home runs this year, but his batting average, OBP, and slugging have all decreased dramatically.
The question is whether Granderson’s statistical decline from 2011 is a product of a season-long decline, or more the result of his recent slump. Looking at his monthly wOBA, there is a definite trend: .395 in March/April, .362 in May, .344 in June, .342 in July, .292 in August, and .072 in September. While August and September look like extreme outliers that may skew his overall line somewhat, the decreased production each month is a major cause for concern.
Ultimately, there is not much the Yankees can do about Granderson this year. He is their only everyday center fielder with Brett Gardner out, and one of the biggest sources of home-run power in the lineup. He will probably be hitting in the top half of the Yankee lineup for the rest of the season, so he will have ample opportunities to drive baserunners in and help create offense. They have to hope that he can turn things around (or at least get back to the solid, but not spectacular level of production seen in June and July), perhaps with some #curing help from Kevin Long.
Granderson’s decline probably puts his future with the Yankees in jeopardy, though it is hard to imagine them not picking up his option for 2013. That said, Granderson needs to pull his weight in the Yankee lineup for the rest of the season if the Yankees are going to hold on to their division lead, and prove that he is worthy of another big deal in New York. He will need to do more than that for the Yankees to make a deep playoff run. The talent is still there, but he needs to get things sorted out quickly, as his teammates have been pulling his dead weight for far too long.