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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.

Granderson at-bat
Granderson at-bat
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Season BB% K% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStr% Pitches/PA
2014 12.4% 21.9% 26.5% 67.0% 42.8% 76.4% 9.9% 4.16
Career 10.4% 23.0% 24.3% 62.8% 42.2% 76.4% 9.7% 4.15

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.

Season BB% K% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStr% Pitches/PA
2012 11.0% 28.5% 29.5% 62.1% 42.7% 72.0% 11.8% 4.27
2013 11.0% 28.2% 31.3% 63.7% 45.3% 69.5% 13.6% 3.99
2014 12.4% 21.9% 26.5% 67.0% 42.8% 76.2% 9.9% 4.16

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:

Season LD% GB% FB%
2014 19.6% 32.8% 47.6%
Career 20.6% 34.9% 44.6%

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
2014 199.0 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
2014 259.8 10.5

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.
There are only two worrisome peripheral stats from Granderson: his career-low ISO (.147) and HR/FB rate (9.4%). I think the latter is depressed due to luck, since his batted ball distances are the same. The former appears due to the fact that he has only hit one triple this season—he hit as many as 23 in 2007—but has kept the same pace of doubles and home runs. It might be both a loss of speed and luck that has caused him hit so few triples this season. If you account for his low BABIP this year, Granderson would likely be hitting more doubles, resulting in more extra-base hits that would increase his ISO. Hopefully, some of those extra extra-base hits might turn into triples as well.

While Granderson has not changed much as a hitter, he won't necessarily continue to perform as the same hitter he's always been for the duration of his contract. He's already 33 years old, and we know that hitting—especially power hitting—is generally a skill that only declines with age. This means that, while Granderson may be underperforming this season, by next season, his current performance may become true to his talent level. This would be a scary proposition for someone due $47 million over the following three seasons. Let's just hope that Granderson's skills will minimally deteriorate during his remaining tenure with the Mets.