Archive for Curtis Granderson
Every team deals with injuries, but it feels like the Yankees have dealt with a full season’s worth of injuries just during Spring Training. They lost three of their best four hitters to new injuries or setbacks in the last few weeks on top of some carry-over injuries from last year and the offseason. All of the injuries have led to a whole bunch of scrap heaping, forcing the Yankees to grab guys like Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Lyle Overbay, and Vernon Wells these last few weeks.
Some of the team’s injured players will be back sooner than others, and some injuries figure to have more long-term impact that others. As always, expected return dates should be taken a grain of salt. Setbacks and lingering effects have a way of changing plans in a hurry. Let’s run down the team’s walking wounded heading into the 2013 campaign.
LHP Manny Banuelos
New York’s top prospect at this time last year, the 22-year-old Banuelos made just six starts for Triple-A Scranton last year due to a minor back issue and a major elbow issue. He was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise in that left elbow, but at some point during his rehab he wound up blowing out the ligament and requiring Tommy John surgery. Banuelos had the procedure in October and is expected to miss the entire season, meaning he’ll lose basically two full years to injury at a crucial age in his development. For shame.
LHP Cesar Cabral
It’s easy to forget that Cabral, 24, had all but won a job out of Spring Training last year before suffering a fractured elbow near the end of camp. He has been rehabbing for the last 12 months and in fact he faced hitters for the first time since the injury earlier this week, throwing a round of live batting practice. The Yankees have indicated he is expected to return sometime in May or June.
Because he’s a Rule 5 Draft pick who missed all of last season due to injury, the Yankees have to keep Cabral on their active 25-man roster for at least 90 days this year. That’s basically half the season. Once they satisfy that requirement, he’ll is theirs to keep (and option to Triple-A). I’m sure the team will take their time with his rehab and everything, but at some point it will be decision time.
RHP Phil Hughes
Joe Girardi announced yesterday that Hughes will indeed start the season on the DL after missing a few weeks with a bulging disk in his back. He’s been starting minor league games and has a few more outings to go before rejoining the rotation, possibly as soon as the second time through. The 26-year-old Hughes has a lengthy injury history, but the back issue appears to be in the rear-view mirror.
SS Derek Jeter
The Cap’n played on a bone bruise in his left ankle last September and it wasn’t until Game One of the ALCS that the joint finally gave out and fractured. He had surgery in October and spent the winter rehabbing, but he was recently setback by some inflammation and soreness. He received a cortisone shot and will start the season on the DL, yet the targeted April 6th return date sure seem optimistic since he won’t resume baseball activity until at least Monday.
Given his age, position, and the nature of the injury, there’s a pretty good chance Jeter and the Yankees will have to deal with nagging soreness and tightness and all that all throughout the season. Players who suffered similar injuries (Stephen Drew, Jason Kendall, even Ravel Santana) needed months to get back to where they were before the injury, and time is a luxury the Yankees don’t have. They need Jeter in the lineup soon and if this thing lingers, it will be a huge problem. Eduardo Nunez has the chance of a lifetime in front of him and is suddenly an extremely important player for the 2013 Yankees. That is not ideal.
CF Curtis Granderson
The fifth pitch Granderson saw this spring broke his forearm. The 32-year-old is expected to be out until early-May, but anytime you have an arm or hand or wrist injury, there is the potential for it to linger. Granderson is the team’s top power hitter and he really doesn’t offer much else (besides walks), so anything that compromises his pop will severely impact his game. Everything is going well as far as the healing process, but I’m anxious to see how he returns and whether that forearm gives him trouble going forward.
RHP Michael Pineda
Even though he has yet to throw a single meaningful pitch in his 14 months as a Yankee, the 24-year-old Pineda is one of the most important players in the organization. The Yankees are in desperate need of a young impact player to build on going forward, and Pineda has the type of arm and power stuff to anchor a rotation. Or at least he had that type of stuff before blowing out his labrum last spring.
The long road back from shoulder surgery has Pineda to throw live batting practice in two weeks. It’ll be his first time facing hitters since having the procedure. So far he’s rehab has gone well — he’s throwing 45-pitch bullpens, including changeups and sliders — and everyone says he looks great, but what he looks like in the bullpen and how he performs against hitters are different matters entirely.
As encouraging as it is to know his rehab is going well, we have absolutely no idea what Pineda will be capable of when he gets back on a mound in a competitive game. It was a major injury and although there are some notable success stories — Curt Schilling, Rogers Clemens, Anibal Sanchez — there are countless guys who never got back to their previous form. The Yankees need Pineda and need him to be very good going forward. He’s expected to return sometime in late-May or June, and I bet they option him to Triple-A Scranton for a few weeks just to delay his free agency a year (after losing an entire pre-arbitration year to injury in 2012).
LHP Clay Rapada
A bout of shoulder bursitis has landed the 32-year-old Rapada on the DL to start the season and there is no timetable for him return. He’s been sidelined for about three weeks now and has yet to resume throwing in the bullpen, so it’s safe to say his return is not imminent. Rapada is the team’s most effective left-on-left reliever, but as a true specialist, he isn’t the most critical or irreplaceable part in the world. The Yankees are a worse team without him, but not much worse.
3B Alex Rodriguez
The second hip surgery — this one the left after hurting the right in 2009 — of A-Rod‘s career will have him out of action until at least the All-Star break. He has a cyst removed, a bone impingement corrected, and a torn labrum repaired in January and has yet to resume baseball activities. He’s not even close to resuming baseball activities.
The Yankees knew A-Rod, now 37, would miss a big chunk of the season back in December, which is why they dropped $12M on Kevin Youkilis. Alex was both the healthier (529 vs. 509 plate appearances) and more productive (114 vs. 102 wRC+) player last season, so the Yankees downgraded this winter. No one has any idea what A-Rod will be able to do after the surgery, so there’s really no point in speculating. He could be an all-arms hitter incapable of using his lower half, he could be healthier than ever and see his performance rebound, he could be something else entirely. Either way, the lineup will miss his bat from the right side.
1B Mark Teixeira
Teixeira, 32, hurt the tendon sheath in his right wrist while taking batting practice with Team USA in advance of the World Baseball Classic, so if nothing else the Yankees won’t have to pay his salary while he’s on the DL — the WBC’s insurance covers that. The wrist injury is expected to keep him out until late-May/early-June, but wrist injuries have a knack for lingering. In fact, Brian Cashman acknowledged there’s a 30% chance he will need season-ending surgery at some point.
Even if he comes back healthy, Teixeira has become increasingly injury prone in recent years after being an iron man earlier in his career. He suffered a major hamstring strain during the 2010 postseason, and last year he battled a cough, a minor wrist issue, and a calf strain (plus a setback). The right wrist is his power wrist as a left-handed batter, which could be a problem because power is his primary source of value. Teixeira has declined as a hitter these last few years because he’s become increasingly pull happy, so anything that hurts his ability to hit the ball out of park could be a production killer.
Had things gone according to plan, Brett Gardner would have been manning center field all year rather than during the first four of five weeks of the season. Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm put an end to the position switch experiment before it really even had a chance to start, as Joe Girardi confirmed Granderson will return to his usual center field spot when healthy. Given how much offense the Yankees have lost to free agent defections and injury, getting their top homer hitter back in the lineup as soon as possible will be the priority, not the position switch.
It will be Gardner for the first few weeks of the season, but he’ll slide back to use usual spot in left as soon as Granderson is healthy. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is coming off a .232/.319/.492 (116 wRC+) line with a team-best 43 homers in 2012, though his season can be split into two halves: .248/.352/.502 (130 wRC+) with 23 homers and a 25.9% strikeout rate in the first half, then .212/.278/.480 (98 wRC+) with 20 homers and a 31.8% strikeout rate in the second half. His miserable postseason showing — 3-for-30 with 16 strikeouts — was the icing on the cake.
The root cause of Granderson’s second half slide is so unclear the Yankees sent him to an eye doctor after the season. Tests came back showing unusual. His first/second half BABIP split (.282/.233) was propped up by an increase in fly balls (38.3%/51.1%), though pitchers did throw him fewer fastballs (57.2%/53.7%). Not a ridiculous amount though. Whatever happened in the second half, I can’t really explain it. Could be something obvious I’m not seeing or it could be something completely under-the-radar. I’m guessing the latter. Whether it’s correctable is something we won’t know until he actually gets back on the field.
Regardless of why the second half slump happened, the Yankees need Granderson’s power and that’s something he provided even when struggling. He hits homers at home (56 since revamping his swing in August 2010), on the road (41), against righties (64), against lefties (33), with men on-base (42), with the bases empty (55) … pretty much all the time. Granderson is one of the few batters who bats with a man in scoring position all the time — even when the bases are empty — because his ability to go deep at any moment is a game-changer. The Yankees have been known for that kind of offense basically forever, but this season will be different and that makes the Grandyman that much more important.
In addition to all of that, this is Granderson’s walk year. He’ll become a free agent after the season for the first the in his career, and his power production will get him paid regardless. Whether he has a big year like 2011 (145 wRC+) or just a merely above-average year like 2012 (116 wRC+) will determine if he gets Michael Cuddyer money (three years, $31M) or Nick Swisher money (four years, $56M). The Bombers could sure use a nice big contract push from their center fielder, but more importantly, they just need to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible.
Technically it is Gardner even though he’ll open the year playing center everyday. The Yankees showed last season they’re willing to play Ichiro Suzuki in center on occasion, so he’s a backup option as well. There’s also Melky Mesa, who could open the season with the big league club and is another legitimate center field candidate. Despite losing Granderson, the Bombers have no shortage of capable center fielders at the Major League level.
Knocking on the Door
Before Granderson’s injury, it was likely Mesa was going to open the season as the everyday center fielder with Triple-A Scranton. He is third on the center field depth chart — I do the Yankees would play Melky2.0 out there everyday before Ichiro Suzuki if both Granderson and Gardner got hurt — and is sorta like a poor man’s version of a right-handed Granderson offensively. Mesa has power and speed and contact issues, but he’s a much better defender with a very strong arm. If he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training as Granderson’s replacement, Melky will wait in Triple-A and assuredly resurface in the Bronx at some point this simmer.
The Top Prospect
You can make a very strong case that New York’s two best prospects are both center fielders. Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott ranked second and fourth on my preseason top 30 prospects list, respectively, but not many would argue if I had them one-two in either order. Williams, 21, hit .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) in 397 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last season before needing season-ending left shoulder surgery — he hurt himself while diving for a ball in the outfield — in late-July. He’s a ballhawk in center with big-time speed and range, though his arm is just okay and his routines need to be refined. Williams signed for $1.45M as the Yankees’ fourth rounder in 2010, but he needs to work on a number of things. The raw tools are as impressive as they come though. He’ll open the season back at High-A Tampa and will hopefully stay healthy and get a ton of at-bats as the leadoff man.
Heathcott, meanwhile, returned from his second left shoulder surgery at midseason to hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) in 265 plate appearances with High-A Tampa in 2012 before catching some extra at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. The 22-year-old has the best all-around package of tools in the organization, with power and patience from the left side of the plate to go with high-end speed and defense in center. Heathcott can over-swing at times and struggle to make contact, but that should work itself out with more experience. Health is an issue though, in part because he plays all-out all the time and hurts himself by diving for balls and running into walls. Slade has yet to play in more than 76 regular season games since signing for $2.2M as the team’s first round pick in 2009, so staying on the field all year will be priority number one this season. He’ll open the year at Double-A Trenton and since he’s due to be added to the 40-man roster following the season (to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft), there’s a chance we’ll see him as a September call-up.
The Deep Sleeper
Could it be Ravel Santana at this point? The 20-year-old had a miserable season with Short Season Staten Island last summer — .216/.304/.289 (84 wRC+) with three homers and 27.5% strikeouts in 247 plate appearances — after coming back from the devastating ankle injury that ended his 2011 campaign prematurely. Two years ago he was a budding star after dominating the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, but the injury sapped some athleticism and cost him balance at the plate. If he regains his previous form as he matures and gets further away from surgery, Santana is likely to join the ranks of Williams and Heathcott. If not, he’ll be a non-prospect. I ranked him 28th on my preseason top 30 list and he’ll join Low-A Charleston this year. It’s a weird situation, but there is some breakout potential here.
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Even though Granderson is going to miss the start of the season, the Yankees are in good shape regarding the center field position. Gardner is a more than capable replacement — both short- and long-term — and Ichiro can fill-in no problem if needed. New York will also have legitimate prospects playing center in Triple-A (Mesa), Double-A (Heathcott), High-A (Williams), and Low-A (Santana). That’s exciting. Once Curtis is healthy, center field will join second base as the deepest positions in the organization.
The dust has settled a little bit following the news of Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm on Sunday. The Yankees will be without their 40-homer
center left fielder for the next ten weeks, meaning he will miss the first month of the season. It’s a big loss, no doubt about it, but they are lucky it happened so early in Spring Training. Things would have been a lot worse had he gotten hurt on March 24th instead of February 24th.
As expected, the Yankees insist they will plug their new outfield hole from within. The Johnny Damon talk has already fizzled out while the Alfonso Soriano talk never really got going. The only unsigned free agent outfielder who is both healthy and actually capable of playing the outfield everyday is Scott Podsednik. Thanks, but no thanks. The Yankees will stick with their internal options and see if (hope?) a better alternative pops up next month as camp winds down and roster spots are finalized. Here is a quick look at those internal options, listed alphabetically.
Almonte, 23, is a switch-hitter who managed a power-heavy 120 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton last year. He hit a career-high 21 homers and also stole 15 bases, though his miniscule walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout concerns (22.7%) seem to make skipping over Triple-A a risky proposition. Zoilo’s pop is legit, but the rest of the package is lacking.
Diaz was in the running for the right-handed outfield platoon bat role before Granderson’s injury, so it seems natural that he would be among the favorites for the job now. The soon-to-be 35-year-old hasn’t hit in three years (80 wRC+), due to in part to various injuries — getting stabbed in the hand by a palm tree and dealing with the subsequent infections chief among them. Diaz is on a minor league contract and was a total shot in the dark by the front office, who hopes he can recapture his 2006-2009 form (117 wRC+).
Here’s the darkhorse. The 27-year-old Garcia signed for $400k last summer and has impressed with his bat ever since, especially in winter ball (.292/.319/.481 with six homers in 39 games). As Baseball America wrote earlier this month, the right-handed hitter “is a better fit on a corner outfield spot and doesn’t have an impact bat, but he’s shown a knack for hitting and surprising pop for his 5-foot-9 stature.” Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, which could hurt his chances.
Mesa, 26, is the best all-around player of the bunch. He can swing-and-miss from the right side with the best of ‘em (career-low 23.5 K% in 2012), but he’s hit at a better than average rate at each rung of the minor league ladder, including a ~125 wRC+ split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Mesa has power and speed — at least 19 homers and 19 steals in three of the last four years — to go along with standout defense and a strong arm. Among players in the organization who could legitimately see big league time this summer, Melky2.0 is probably the second best defender behind Brett Gardner. He got his first taste of the show last September.
Everyone loves the right-handed hitting Mustelier, the 28-year-old Cuban defector who has managed a ~144 wRC+ since signing for a measly $50k two years ago. His strikeout rate (13.0%) is strong, his walk rate (6.7%) slightly less so. The concern with Mustelier is his defense, which is poor and has gotten him moved down the defensive spectrum form second base to third to left over the last 20 months or so. He can hit a fastball though.
Neal, 25, seems to be the afterthought in all this. The righty swinger managed a 144 wRC+ with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases in Double-A last year, making his big league debut with the Indians in September. He has some Triple-A time under his belt (277 plate appearances) and is solid defensively. Neal is a long shot, but he shouldn’t be written off completely. Like Garcia and Mustelier, he is not on the 40-man roster.
Like Diaz, the Yankees inked the 34-year-old Rivera to a minor league deal so he could complete for the right-handed bench bat role. The former Yankee is, by far, the most experienced and accomplished player in this post. He’s hit to the tune of a 92 wRC+ over the last three seasons and despite being a strong defensive player once upon a time, he’s now comfortably below-average. Rivera’s best attribute is his ability to put the ball in play (12.9 K% since 2010).
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Ramon Flores is on the 40-man roster, but I have no reason to think the Yankees will jump him from High-A to MLB just to plug a one-month hole. Same goes with top prospects/non-40-man players Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Tyler Austin. If you want some projections for the players mentioned in this post, SG has you covered. Otherwise, time to vote…
It took all of ten Spring Training innings for the Yankees to suffer the inevitable injury that exposed their … well … vulnerability to injury. Because the baseball gods have a twisted sense of humor, it wasn’t one of the team’s older or injury prone players who got hurt. It was the young-ish and generally durable Curtis Granderson, who will miss the next ten weeks thanks to an errant J.A. Happ pitch and a fractured right forearm. Assuming everything heals well, he’ll return to the team in early-May.
The injury takes a huge bite out of New York’s lineup, obviously. Granderson is one of the game’s premier power hitters and that just can’t be replaced. Joe Girardi will have to get a little more creative in an effort to generate runs, which is something I’m sure he’ll enjoy. The speed of Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner will be that much more important, ditto the continued health of Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis. Those two have combined for nine (!) DL trips in the last three seasons, but the Yankees have no choice but to keep their fingers crossed and hope they stay on the field through April.
Despite the initial shock of Granderson’s injury, the Yankees do have time on their side. Opening Day is still more than a month away and the club does have some internal options to audition in camp. None of them are particularly appealing to me outside of multi-threat/contact-challenged Melky Mesa, but they might as well give the Zoilo Almontes and Ronnie Musteliers and the like a chance. It’s not like other clubs are going to start offering up their spare outfielders out of the kindness of their heart, quite the opposite will happen. Trade prices have suddenly skyrocketed and now isn’t the time for desperation.
Brian Cashman has been on the job a long time, so he’s been here before. The Yankees lost Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield to significant injuries in the span of about two weeks back in May 2006, but it wasn’t until the trade deadline that Cashman acquired Bobby Abreu. Melky Cabrera got his chance and took advantage (.360 OBP and 98 wRC+), which is what the Yankees could use now. Outside of Mesa or Almonte running into some fastballs and having a Shane Spencer-esque month, they’re not going to be able to replace Granderson with a power hitter. Someone who can get on-base at a decent clip and not embarrass himself defensively is typical stopgap stuff. Cashman has always been patient in these situations and wouldn’t expect anything different now.
The Yankees have a pretty small margin of error this season, so the impact of Granderson’s injury is more dramatic than it would have been a year or two ago. The Bombers got worse this offseason while other clubs in the division improved, meaning the AL East might be a four-team race instead of the usual two or three. If Jeter’s ankle takes longer to heal than expected, or Ichiro turns back in to the pumpkin he was from 2011 through the 2012 trade deadline, or one of Hafner or Youkilis gets hurt, the Yankees are going to have a very serious problem on their hands. Then again, so would most teams who lost multiple regulars. New York is more vulnerable because of their age and division though, a problem that has been exposed before the calendar even flipped to March.
The Yankees lost quite a bit of offense this winter, so the last thing they needed was one of their top hitters to get hurt in his first Spring Training at-bat. Curtis Granderson will miss ten weeks with a fractured right forearm, the team announced. He was hit with the fifth pitch he saw from Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ in today’s Grapefruit League game.
“I was excited,” said Granderson to Mark Feinsand after suffering the injury. “My body was feeling good, mind was feeling good and I was ready to go. Five pitches in we have a little setback. They said it could be worse. Now we rest, recover, get it back and get ready to play whenever that day comes … Mentally, you understand it’s part of it. At the same time, there’s not much I can do about it except for doing the best things I can to not make it worse but yet keep myself ready to go.”
Granderson, 31, hit .232/.319/.492 (116 wRC+) with 43 homers last summer, by far the most on the team and the second most in all of baseball. As Buster Olney noted, players responsible for 162 of the club’s 245 homers from last year are either hurt or playing for other teams. Obviously Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis will mitigate some of that, but not nearly enough. Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz are in camp competing for the right-handed outfield bench bat job, though both could wind up making the team now. Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte,
Chris Dickerson, Ronnie Mustelier, Alfonso Soriano … you name it and he’s a big league option at the moment.
I guess the good news is that the injury happened so early in camp. Ten weeks means Granderson should return in early-May, but remember, he’ll miss all of Spring Training and will need some time to get himself ready to face big league pitchers. I’ll be happy if he makes it back in mid-May, nevermind early-May. Brian Cashman is never one to panic, but the Yankees can’t afford to sleepwalk through this injury like they did the offseason. They should be scouring the various markets hard for a replacement. They simply don’t have enough offense right now.
12:00pm: Via Jack Curry: Curtis Granderson is taking fly balls in left field during today’s workout in Tampa. This is obviously a precursor to the long-rumored position switch with Brett Gardner, which would put the better defender in the more premium position. Just to be clear, this isn’t a guarantee the switch will happen, but it does show the Yankees are seriously considering it. Expect them to try out the new alignment in numerous Grapefruit League games before making anything final.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and Joe Girardi held his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning. The biggest news concerned (who else?) Alex Rodriguez, who will not join the team in camp and will instead rehab his hip in New York. Other than that, the press conference was pretty standard stuff. Here’s a recap of the session, which was partially streamed on ESPN and covered by the usual suspects: Mark Feinsand, Chad Jennings, Dan Barbarisi, Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry, and others.
On position players and the offense
- If the season started today, Brett Gardner would be in left field and Curtis Granderson would be in center. The team will discuss flipping the two, but Girardi said “right now there’s no plans to do anything.” If they do decide to make the switch, they’ll try it out early in camp first.
- Girardi said one of his biggest concerns in camp is finding a right-handed bat to complement their all-lefty outfield as well as the DH spot. Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz appear to be the two leading candidates for the job and will compete in camp.
- It sounds like Austin Romine is on the outside looking in as far as the catching competition goes, at least right now. “He still has an opportunity here,” said Girardi.
- “Our offense is going to be different, but I believe we’re going to score runs … We’re going to have to find different ways to score runs,” said the skipper when asked how the team would replace the power lost when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and others signed elsewhere.
- Girardi doesn’t have a set lineup in mind at the moment. I think we all have a general idea of who will bat towards the top of the order, who will bat in the middle, and who will fill out the bottom anyway.
On players coming off injury
- Girardi said there is some concern about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as they come off ankle and knee surgery, respectively. He expects both to be ready for Opening Day, however. The Cap’n ran for the first time yesterday.
- As for Michael Pineda — who did throw off a full mound today — Girardi said he’s “still in the early stages (of rehab) … we’re happy with the way he’s progressing.” Don’t expect to see the right-hander in a Spring Training game.
- “I don’t worry about where I’m going to be next year,” said Girardi about his contract, which expires after the season. “I’m worried about the next 162 games and getting to the playoffs and getting to the World Series. That’s my concern. That’s what I worry about.”
- Girardi, always the optimist, said “this team could win 95 games and get to the World Series (because) there’s a lot of talent in this room … If we play up to our capabilities, I believe we’re a very good team.” He is right, you know.
Via Erik Boland & Anthony McCarron: Curtis Granderson told reporters today that he hopes to remain with the Yankees beyond next season and is open to a contract extension. “I’d be a fool not to … I’m so excited about this fourth season (with the team) and hopefully this isn’t the last one,” he said. Granderson, 32 next month, is due to become a free agent next offseason, but team policy says no contract talks until the current deal is up.
In other news, Curtis told Bryan Hoch that he is open to playing left field in deference to Brett Gardner. The team has yet to approach him about such a move, however. Granderson also said he changed up his offseason routine after talking to Ichiro Suzuki, specifically by starting to hit earlier than usual. If that gets him back to 2011/first half 2012 form, it’ll probably be Ichiro‘s biggest contribution to the Yankees.
Via Bryan Hoch: The Yankees are still considering moving Brett Gardner to center field with Curtis Granderson sliding over into left. “We haven’t made any changes,” said Joe Girardi. “When you start talking about moving one guy, you’re really moving two guys … Gardy has become pretty good at playing left field, so those are the things that you have to look at.”
We first heard the team was considering a switch back in November, so it’s good to see they’re still considering it. Granderson is a below-average defender in center — I don’t believe he’s a -18 (!) defender as UZR suggests, his -10 DRS seems much more reasonable to me — while Gardner is elite in left and presumably above-average in center. The net gain is probably along the lines of a win or so, maybe less, but the Yankees are right smack in the part of the win curve where every additional win greatly improves their chances of making the playoffs.
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.