Curtis Granderson is having a very impressive year. His 3.6 fWAR is already his highest single-season total since his monster 2010 season with the Yankees. His offensive production—.251/.342/.455, 124 wRC+—is, by wRC+, also at its highest level since 2010.
What’s flown somewhat under the radar is Granderson’s defense. The right fielder’s 10 defensive runs saved are far more than last year’s total of -3, and his highest single-season total since (again) 2010. His 8.6 UZR is also dramatically higher than last year’s -11.0 mark, and his best since 2007. By both metrics, he has been the second-best right fielder in the National League, behind only Jason Heyward.
Granderson’s defensive improvement is coming from three areas of his game. First, he is making more plays within his range or, as it’s referred to by several defensive metrics, his "zone." According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Granderson made 215 plays on 246 Balls In Zone (BIZ) in 2014, good for an above-average .874 Revised Zone Rating (RZR). This year, Granderson’s RZR has improved to .898 on the strength of 158 plays on 176 BIZ. Although we don’t know for sure whether BIS classified these as "in zone," here are two really nice—although perhaps not SportsCenter-Top-10-worthy—plays that Granderson made to run down well-struck balls to right field:
In addition to making more in-zone plays, Granderson has been making more out-of-zone plays as well. His 79 Out Of Zone Plays Made put him on pace for 106, assuming he plays roughly as many innings as he did last year. In 2014, he finished with just 91. Here are two highlight-reel catches that Granderson made that showcase his impressive range and athleticism:
Finally, the defensive metrics suggest that Granderson has been using his arm more effectively this year than last. His 2.3 Outfield Arm Runs (ARM) are a vast improvement over his -7.7 in 2014. Notably, Granderson has experienced a 10-point swing in the number of runs above average he’s prevented with his arm, both by throwing runners out and by preventing them from advancing extra bases. This is consistent with his higher rate of outfield assists, which went from eight last year to seven in about 350 fewer innings this year. Here are two examples from earlier in the season:
All in all, Granderson has contributed nearly two additional bWAR on defense alone in 2015 compared to 2014. There could be a couple of factors at play here. First, last year was Granderson’s first as an everyday right fielder. His only prior experience at the position was in 2013, when he played just 85.0 innings over 14 games in right for the Yankees. Perhaps 2014 was a learning year for Granderson at his new position, during and after which he made adjustments to become a better right fielder.
Second, Granderson’s throwing arm may finally be back to full strength. After a J.A. Happ fastball broke his right forearm during a 2013 spring training game, Graderson missed the first six weeks of the season, and then posted a poor -0.9 ARM in the 61 games he played that year. He then posted a major-league-worst -7.4 ARM last year, by far the lowest figure of his career. We can’t know for sure, but it’s fair to speculate that his throwing arm had not fully recovered from the injury it suffered the year before.
Another possibility is that the Mets are positioning Granderson more effectively based on hitter tendencies, thereby allowing him to reach more batted balls. This doesn’t seem like a good explanation, however, given that he is the only Mets outfielder whose numbers improved so dramatically from last year to this. If the Mets’ coaching staff became so much better at positioning its fielders, you would expect this improvement to manifest itself in other players. So far, it hasn’t.
The fact is that Granderson is getting to more balls and showing an advanced range in right field. He is also making better throws, which result in more outfield assists and a better ability to keep runners honest.
The second-year Met is making a big impact on both sides of the ball in 2015. It’s exciting to watch Granderson become the complete player the Mets hoped they were getting when they signed him last winter.