Lost among the offseason's biggest storylines—the surprise Michael Cuddyer signing, the quest for an everyday shortstop, and the warm, happy feeling you get in your stomach when you think of the Braves spending $44 million on Nick Markakis—has been Curtis Granderson, and what to expect in 2015 from a player who will likely comprise one-sixth of the team’s Opening Day payroll.
Granderson’s 2014 tale was as old as time itself, or at least as old as 2009: A formidable power hitter makes Citi Field his new home, only to see his power numbers dip significantly, bringing along most of the other offensive numbers. For the third consecutive season, Granderson’s numbers went down almost across the board. His .227 batting average and .717 OPS were the worst marks of his career and his 1.3 bWAR was his lowest in a full season since 2006. Across the board, Granderson failed to produce at a level befitting his $13 million salary. Despite still managing to hit 20 home runs, Granderson struggled mightily at Citi Field, hitting just .195/.290/.340 in 79 games.
He is entering the second season of his four-year, $61 million deal. With widely speculated reports that Mets payroll is expected to remain in the $85-95 million range, Granderson’s $16 million salary this season represents a significant portion (16-19%) of the team’s overall spending. By virtue of that number alone, Granderson is integral if the Mets are to break the 80-win plateau for the first time since 2008 and make real noise in the playoff race.
Entering his age-33 season, Granderson will likely never again be the dynamic, MVP-type player he was from 2007-2012, when he won a Silver Slugger, twice topped 40 home runs, and twice finished Top-10 in the AL MVP voting. During that run, he averaged 66 extra base hits, 18 stolen bases, a bWAR of 4.8, an .846 OPS, and a 121 OPS+.
Granderson’s prime numbers might be out of reach, but portions of last season, especially when he moved from the leadoff spot, suggest he can be a key contributor to an improved offense. When you include the right-field fences being brought in by five-to-ten feet, there is cause for optimism.
Reports of Curtis Granderson's demise have been greatly exaggerated
While Granderson has avoided becoming the next incarnation of Jason Bay, many Met fans feel that Granderson has been underperforming and is in his decline phase. Although his age can't be ignored, Granderson is still much the same hitter as he's been in the past.
First, Granderson’s disappointing overall season numbers mask just how effective he was for half the season. After a truly dismal April (one home run and a .468 OPS), Granderson was very good for 78 games from May-July, hitting 14 of his 20 home runs and posting an .843 OPS. In August, however, as the Mets went 12-17 and fell from six games back in the Wild Card race at the beginning of the month to 9.5 by month’s end, Granderson was particularly abysmal. In 27 games, he hit one home run and knocked in five runs, while batting .147/.231/.183.
When September rolled around, though, Granderson returned to his May-July form, hitting four home runs and batting a sensational .299/.378/.540 in 24 games. It might take some blind, naive faith to believe that April and August were an aberration, but for two-thirds of the season he proved he can still hit with power.
Next, and perhaps most crucially, as the Mets learned last season, Granderson is no longer an effective leadoff hitter. In 235 Plate Appearances over 52 games from the top of the order, Granderson posted a Ruben Tejada-esque line of .210/.289/.348, with three stolen bases and twice as many strikeouts (45) as walks (23). There is setting the table, and then there is what Granderson did last season from the leadoff spot.
Speed, once such a vital part of Granderson’s game, was virtually nonexistent. After stealing 25 bases in 2011, he has stolen 26 the past three seasons combined. His eight total triples since 2012 are fewer than his 10 from 2011 alone. A failure to get on base and reduced speed numbers are not the ideal combination for your leadoff hitter (see: Rollins, Jimmy).
While leading off was a disaster, Granderson found his groove when moved down in the order. When penciled in to the fifth and sixth spots he became a big bat in the middle of the lineup. In 36 games and 141 plate appearances from those two spots, Granderson clubbed seven home runs and hit .350/.426/.610. The seven home runs matched his season total from the leadoff spot, in about 100 fewer plate appearances. Moving permanently from the top of the order and hitting behind Lucas Duda, David Wright, and Cuddyer—as opposed to in front of them—could be part of the answer to turning things around.
Granderson’s signing in December 2013 represented a major investment by the budget-conscious Mets. He was brought in to be a big bat on a team getting ready to contend again. With a change in the batting order, bringing in the right field fences, and a little luck, of course, it can still come to fruition in 2015.