During the 2009-2010 offseason, when it became apparent that the Tigers will willing to trade Curtis Granderson, the Yankees reviewed their system and determined that Austin Jackson‘s best-case scenario would be turning into Granderson, and therefore decided to trade future potential for the already-established model.
Granderson had come off a down season in 2009, but the Yankees were optimistic that he could recapture some of the glory of his outstanding 2007 campaign. He launched a home run off Josh Beckett in his first game with the Bombers, and then began to struggle. Curtis posted a meager .314 wOBA in April. He played five games in May and began heating up to the tune of a .429 wOBA before coming up lame with a groin injury. A-Jax, meanwhile, launched out of the gate with a .530 BABIP, leading many in Yankeeland to criticize the trade for Granderson.
At season’s end, however, Granderson was the better player. A-Jax won the fWAR battle, accumulating 3.8 to Granderson’s 3.6, but that’s because he played more games. Granderson posted a .346 wOBA overall, beating out A-Jax’s .333. Furthermore, Granderson hit for far more power, belting 24 bombs to A-Jax’s 4. As rocky a start as his first season was, Granderson still represented a major upgrade in center over Melky Cabrera. He’s also on a team-friendly contract and on the right side of 30. If he performs for the Yankees he can solve the team’s problems in center field for the next several seasons. If he doesn’t, the team can cut him loose, making him someone else’s problem.
Beneath the surface, Granderson had an uneven 2010 to say the least. He struggled in nearly every month save September, and the fears many fans had of Granderson struggling against lefties mostly came to fruition, as he was a .269 wOBA hitter against southpaws. Granderson did manage to salvage his season to an extent with his out-of-his-mind September, in which he had a .411 wOBA and hit 9 home runs. That performance turned his year around, and gave the Yankees some life just when the team was sputtering. Curtis’ hot hitting continued through the playoffs, and he was one of the few Yankee starters who did anything in the ALCS against the Rangers.
Granderson came to the Yankees with an open, busy, helicopter swing. He would move his arms and legs in the box, and tighten up as the pitch was delivered (Mark Teixeira does something similar still). It is unclear if this swing caused his troubles last season, but Kevin Long went to work on it after Joe Girardi benched Granderson at the end August for his struggles. Curtis returned a changed man with a changed swing. He stopped all the extra motion. Like Nick Swisher, and then later Alex Rodriguez, Granderson would even place the bat on his shoulder, something Long recommends to all his disciples. The results were stellar, and outlined above.
2011 is a critical year for Granderson. After peaking in 2007 with a .395 wOBA, Granderson has seen his performance decline every season since, save for 2010. He posted a .374 wOBA in 2008 and then a .340 wOBA in 2009. His .346 wOBA last season did stop the decline technically, but really Curtis was treading water, and the performance was far from steady. If Granderson is to continue to be regarded as a better than average player then he will need to demonstrate it this season. If he doesn’t, he’ll have posted three consecutive average seasons and may not be long for the Bronx. To his credit, Granderson has one of the best reputations in baseball, and appears dedicated to his craft. The question is not if he will work at mastering the swing Kevin Long gave him. It is actually whether or not that swing was a long term solution to Curtis’ struggles. We’ll only know for sure once the season begins.
For my part, I believe Granderson is in a position to improve on his 2010 performance, but I also really like him as a person, which tends to influence my expectations. He falls into the same category as A.J. Burnett for me – something about his personality makes me believe he’ll always find a way to perform well, even when he doesn’t.
The fact of the matter regarding Curtis this coming season is that apart from Mark Teixeira, he has the largest range for his performance of anyone on the team. When he’s bad, he’s really bad. When he’s good he’s almost unbeatable. He has all the athletic ability in the world. Hopefully that and his new swing are enough to turn him into a consistent, .360 wOBA hitter. We’ll be in a position to find out soon enough.
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