Things finally seem to be clicking for Curtis Granderson. After over a year of inconsistent performance as a Met, the right fielder is hitting an impressive .255/.353/.439 (126 wRC+), with 13 home runs, 12 doubles, 27 RBI, and 42 runs scored as the 2015 season nears its halfway point.
Granderson’s turnaround began on June 7, when he homered twice in a game against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Since then, he has been scorching to the tune of a .310/.376/.619 batting line, with seven homers and five doubles in 20 games.
Granderson’s recent success has coincided with a noticeable change in approach at the dish. Namely, he is pulling the ball less and using the entire field more, he is hitting more line drives, and he is being more aggressive. In many ways, Granderson is becoming more like the hitter he was before joining the Yankees.
In his four years in the Bronx, Granderson became more of a fly ball hitter, and much more of a pull hitter than he was as a Tiger. That approached worked for him when playing 81 home games at Yankee Stadium. In part by taking advantage of the Stadium’s short right field porch, Granderson’s home-run-to-fly-ball ratio spiked from his previous average of 12.2% to 19.0%.
Last year, Granderson struggled in his debut season with the Mets, posting a nearly league-average batting line of .227/.326/.388 (108 wRC+), with 20 home runs, 66 RBI, and 73 runs scored. It appeared that, for whatever reason, Granderson was no longer the hitter he was with the Yankees.
In fact, the opposite was true. As Wesley Jia pointed out on Amazin’ Avenue last year, Granderson’s offensive profile in 2014 was very similar to what it was with the Yankees. This includes the average distance, direction, and angle at which the ball left his bat, the rate at which he put the ball in play, and his plate discipline skills.
If anything, he was even more pull-happy with the Mets last year than he was with the Yankees, as evidenced by a career-high 54.9% pull rate in 2014. The problem was that, between Citi Field’s cavernous dimensions, opposing teams’ more aggressive use of the shift, and perhaps some bad luck, Granderson was simply hitting into more outs. These factors took the biggest toll on his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, which fell to a career-low 10.1%.
The change in Granderson’s approach from last year to this has been stark. First, he is hitting the ball to the opposite field at the highest rate (22.3%) that he has since 2008, when he was a member of the Tigers. His up-the-middle rate (29.6%) is way up from last year’s rate (26.4%), and closer to his career norm (29.4%). Finally, his pull percentage (48.1%) is back down to where it was in his pre-40-home-run days with the Yankees.
Second, his fly ball rate (42.0%) is the lowest it’s been since 2008, while his line drive rate is at a career-high 27.8%. In addition to hitting the ball to all fields and hitting more line drives, Granderson is also making better, more consistent contact: He has a career-high contact rate of 81.2% and a career-high hard-hit ball rate of 39.3%.
Granderson’s new approach became evident not just from 2014 to 2015, but also as this season has progressed. The right fielder’s pull rate has decreased sharply in each of the last three months, as his up-the-middle rate has increased, along with his hard-hit-ball rate. Moreover, a larger portion of the balls he’s hitting have left the yard, as his increasing home-run-to-fly-ball ratio illustrates.
While working the count has always been Granderon’s M.O., he is also becoming a more aggressive hitter. Since April, Granderon’s swing rate—both in and out of the zone—has increased, even as he’s seen fewer strikes. As a result, his walk and contact rates have gone down, while his strikeout and swinging strike rates have gone up.
Keep in mind that, even in June, Granderson has been a less aggressive hitter than he was last year. Still, his increased aggressiveness from earlier this season, combined with his new approach of hitting line drives to all parts of the field, has corresponded with better results.
In short, being patient and working the count is important, especially if it leads to hitters’ counts and bases on balls. But if you swing so rarely that you don’t get many base hits or hit for much power, you become the kind of hitter that Granderson was earlier this year: Namely, one that gets on base at a decent clip, but whose overall numbers aren’t stellar. In other words, you become Cameron Maybin (.281/.354/.391, 110 wRC+), Carlos Santana (.213/.350/.369, 109 wRC+), Jace Peterson (.266/.346/.375, 101 wRC+), or DJ LeMahieu (.301/.355/.395, 92 wRC+).
The Mets aren’t paying Granderson $15 million a year to be a guy who grinds out walks. After all, the highest on-base percentage he ever posted was a good-but-not-great .365, and that was in the prime of his career, during his age-27 season. The Mets signed Granderson to be a power threat who gets extra-base hits, and his new approach is allowing him to do that.
One adjustment from which Granderson could benefit is to be more aggressive earlier in the count. This year, he has seen 103 first-pitch strikes on fastballs or sinkers, and has swung at just 24 of them, which is by far the lowest rate of his career. As his zone profile indicates, many of these pitches have been down the middle or low in the zone, where Granderson enjoys most of his success against fastballs and sinkers.
Working the count is fine, but taking so many hittable pitches could be counterproductive. In fact, Granderson has historically done well when swinging early in the count: He has a career .338 batting average and a .684 slugging percentage when swinging at first-pitch fastballs, and a .374 batting average and .506 slugging percentage on first-pitch sinkers. This year, because he has swung at them so infrequently, he has only put eight such pitches in play, with two of them going for hits.
Lucas Duda, another hitter known for his patient approach and good eye, has already hit four home runs and a double this year when swinging at the first-pitch fastballs and sinkers. Perhaps if Granderson incorporated some early-count aggression into his new approach, he could elevate his already impressive turnaround season even further.