By OPS+, Curtis Granderson had the seventh-worst 40+ homer season in baseball history last year. That’s kind of a silly thing to say because a 116 OPS+ is still really good, but it was well-below the 142 OPS+ he managed one season ago. The performance drop was most notable in the second half, when Granderson hit .212/.278/.480 (98 wRC+) with a 31.8% strikeout after managing a 130 wRC+ (25.9 K%) in the first half. His postseason performance, as you know, was abysmal (-9 wRC+ and 48.5 K%).
Granderson will turn 32 in March and he’s right on the prime years bubble — you would expect his performance to start to slip naturally due to age, but you wouldn’t expect it to completely crater yet either. I know he’s done it two years in row now, but I have a hard time expecting Granderson to hit 40+ homers against this coming season. He certainly has the ballpark going for him and it’s not like his power (.260 ISO) was a concern last year, but hitting 40+ homers in a season is a very tough thing to do. Doing it three times in a row, regardless of age, is damn near impossible. He seems like a lock for 30+ if he stays healthy, however.
Despite his age and the unlikelihood of another 40+ dinger season, there are some reasons to expect Granderson’s overall performance to rebound a bit next season. The big one is his .260 BABIP, which was a career-worst and well-below his career .305 mark despite a career-high line drive rate and his lowest fly ball rate in five years. Batted ball data is fickle and one man’s line drive is another’s fly ball, but the important thing is that he was not hitting the ball in the air more than he had previously in 2012. Balls hit in the air turn into outs relatively easily, yet Granderson had no significant change in his batted ball profile.
Now, it’s worth nothing that the career .305 BABIP number probably isn’t a great frame of reference. Granderson, as you know, overhauled his swing mechanics with Kevin Long in August 2010 and from that point through the end of the 2011 season, he managed a .292 BABIP. It’s not a huge difference but it’s a difference nonetheless. I’m more comfortable using the .292 as his baseline BABIP rather than the .305. Either way, there will hopefully be a little correction coming in 2013. It won’t be a ton, but getting the BABIP back up to .290 or so should be enough to get his average out of the .230s and back into the .250s and .260s. Add in his typically high walk rate (11.0% in 2012) and that should get his OBP back into the .350-ish range.
Another thing worth noting is that Granderson was behind in the count more than usual last season as pitchers threw him a first pitch strike 55.7% of the time, his highest mark as a Yankee. The difference in expected outcomes between falling behind 0-1 and jumping ahead 1-0 is enormous for all players, Curtis included. Granderson always works deep counts — his 4.27 pitches per plate appearance rate was the fifth highest in baseball last year — and he tends to take the first pitch, so it might be worth it to get a little aggressive this year and jump on a few first pitch fastballs in 2013. That obviously isn’t something that will just happen on its own like BABIP magic, Granderson (with some help from Long) will have to work on it.
Since he’s due to become a free agent next offseason, it would behoove Curtis to have a really strong season in 2013. His power will get him paid regardless, but getting those batting average and on-base numbers back to their pre-2012 levels could be the difference between a Cody Ross contract (three years, $26M) and a Nick Swisher contract (four years, $56M), for example. I do think that if Granderson had been with another club last year or the last two years or whatever, we’d be talking about him as a bounceback candidate the Yankees should look to acquire in a trade. The Yankees are going to need the power production this summer after losing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, but if I could get greedy for a moment, it would be really awesome if Curtis put together a huge walk year overall as well.