As the Mets' biggest signing this past offseason at four years, $60 million, Curtis Granderson was expected to add a strong boost to the team's outfield. Granderson's reputation as a dynamic and powerful player was a welcome addition, even when Yankee Stadium's effects on his performance were taken into account. Except for a strong May and June, in which he compiled a 153 wRC+, Granderson has mostly been seen as a disappointment. His .214 batting average and .147 isolated slugging (ISO) are at the lowest single-season marks of his career, leading to talks of his decline.
On August 20, our own Michael Avallone took a look at Granderson's performance. In his piece, he went into further detail regarding his struggles and attributed a portion of Granderson's struggles to poor opposite-field hitting. The rest of his struggles were chalked up to poor BABIP luck and age decline.
But there's evidence that Granderson is still the same hitter he was before and that, results aside, he should not be considered a poor signing because of this season's performance.
Note: statistics up-to-date through 9/1/2014
Granderson's plate discipline skills are still the same
Let's take a look at how Granderson's plate discipline statistics this season compare to his career numbers.
Granderson still has much the same plate discipline profile as he had in the past. Yes, he is swinging more often this year, but the uptick is not large enough to be very meaningful. In addition, his walk and strikeout rates have actually improved.
His overall plate discipline profile has also improved from his 2012 and 2013 marks. Simply put, he hasn't changed his approach at the plate much.
Granderson's batted ball profile is still the same
Granderson's batting average on balls in play sits this season at a strikingly low .250, far from his career mark of .299, and it seems due for improvement. Looking at his batted ball rates alone helps illustrate this point:
His line drive rate is lower than it has been for his career, but a 1% drop is hardly the cause of a .049 drop in BABIP. These rates suggest that a dramatic BABIP improvement is likely to come.
But looking at batted ball rates doesn't go in-depth enough. Here's a spray chart that should further alleviate concerns about Granderson. (click to embiggen)
On the left is Granderson's spray chart from 2010 through 2013, and on the right is his 2014 spray chart. Both look very similar once you account for the fact that the chart on the left has a sample roughly four times as large as the one on the right (1,357 vs. 355 batted balls). In fact, Granderson's average batted ball distances and average batted ball angles (which represents the angle of the ball relative to home plate) are almost identical in these two periods.
|Season||Avg. Distance (ft)||Avg. Angle|
|2010 to 2013||198.0||11.7|
This means that, on average, his batted balls are going as far and in the same direction as they have always gone. He hasn't lost his power, and he hasn't become more of a pull hitter by any stretch. Granderson's approach in terms of both plate discipline and directional hitting have remained steady. Yes, you can point out that he has no opposite field home runs this year, but I'm going to claim small sample size variation and citing the above data table.
We can further filter the data to capture data only for batted balls with a minimum distance of 150 feet, which generally is the cutoff for balls hit to the outfield. We can do this to perhaps gain more insight as to whether Granderson's fly balls are now being hit more weakly or more towards a certain direction.
|Season||Avg. Distance (ft)||Avg. Angle|
|2010 to 2013||265.8||10.2|
Yes, the fly balls are traveling a few feet shorter on average, and he is pulling them slightly more to the right; but this is again only a minor deviation from his recent averages. If the distance means anything and is actually caused by his aging and corresponding loss of power, it's not anywhere near dramatic enough to sound the horns of Granderson's demise.
Still skeptical? Let's take another step and segment his rocky season into three periods. The first period is his rocky April, the second period is his hot streak in May and June, and his third period is his rough season ever since. Below are batted ball distances and average angle by period (inclusive of batted balls of all distances); I'm not bothering to include the spray chart since it's not very meaningful in this case.
|Date Range||Average Distance (ft)||Avg. Angle|
|4/1/2014 - 4/31/2014||178.1||13.8|
|5/1/2014 - 6/30/2014||207.9||12.7|
|7/1/2014 - 8/31/2014||198.5||9.7|
I'm segmenting this season to point out that he's not actually struggling more since the start of July. You can see that his horrible April, which is now well in the past, is his worst stretch in terms of batted ball distance and pull tendencies. In his past two months, his third period, he's hitting balls the same distance as he always has; Granderson is actually hitting more towards the opposite field recently.
This data also leads me to disagree with Avallone's recent piece on Granderson, which I mentioned earlier. As a refresher, he suggests that part of Granderson's struggles are because his batting average on balls hit to the opposite field has fallen. However, based on what I've presented above, I would like to suggest that his poor batting average is also due to poor BABIP luck, further compounded by the fact that his 2014 opposite field hitting has such a small sample size.
Granderson is still the same good hitter he has been, but his age is a worrisome factor
Here's what we've established so far:
- Granderson's plate discipline skills are the same, ranging from BB/K ratio to contact rates.
- Granderson's batted ball rates are the same, further suggesting BABIP regression.
- Granderson's batted ball distances and directions are the same, showing that he has not lost power or changed his approach at the plate.