Why Curtis Granderson Might Be The Most Important Yankee
Last year, Hideki Matsui batted behind Alex Rodriguez. In Joe Girardi’s left-right-left-right batting order, it just made sense for his lefty DH to bat 5th and protect the clean-up batter, Rodriguez.
And he did that well. Matsui batted .274, slugged .509 and had an OPS+ of 131. As a result pitchers couldn’t pitch around Alex Rodriguez, knowing Matsui was not much better to face.
This year, with Matsui gone, the job of number 5 hitter will most likely fall to Curtis Granderson. According to Yankees.com, the Yankees had at first speculated that Granderson would hit 2nd, but with Nick Johnson signed and boasting a considerably higher on-base percentage, Granderson might be a better fit lower in the order. So, assuming Girardi keeps his preferred left-right batting order, the 2010 lineup would look like this:
What that means is Granderson has to protect Rodriguez—make sure pitchers can’t just pitch around one of the most feared hitters in the game to get to Granderson.
And sure Granderson hit 30 HRs last year. Problem is, he batted a sad .249—the second year in a row his average dropped a sizeable amount. He also only slugged only .453, or about 50 points less than Matsui, or 2 points behind the light-hitting Jeter. His OPS+ was 100 even.
He also batted .183 against lefties last season, down from his .210 lifetime average against lefty pitchers. He had a .484 OPS against lefties last season, lowest among American league players. Think Girardi may be benching Granderson in an important game against say, Jon Lester?
Granderson also struck out 141 times last season—by far the number one whiffer if he were on the Yankees last season. Not a good fit for the patient, OBP-based Yankees who worked the most walks in the majors last year.
Also, looking at his BABIP as well as his GB/FB/LD splits, it shows that Granderson’s GB percentage fell to an all-time last season low of just over 26%. And his fly ball percentage was a career-high 50%. What we can deduct from this is that Granderson has turned his swing into a long uppercut stroke, which misses a lot of pitches and often just produces a can-of-corn, easy fly ball. Further proof of his altered approach at the plate is his BABIP, which fell to a career low .276. Line drives and ground balls produce more hits rather than fly balls.
What this all means is, if Granderson continues these trends—swinging and missing, slugging far less than his HRs would indicate, not hitting lefties, lofting the ball instead of driving it, and having his BA drop—Rodriguez is going to facing a ton of out-of-the-strike-zone pitches.
The Yankees could try Cano in the 5-spot—he had 25 HRs as well as 85 RBI and a .520 slugging percentage, both higher than Granderson—or move Posada up to the 5-spot. Or they can abandon Girardi’s left-right-left-right lineup. But that would defeat the point of getting Granderson in the first place. Granderson was supposed to be the guy that replaced Matsui. Power hitter, lefty, plays the outfield. Protects Rodriguez.
Of course this not a huge, huge problem. Unless it is. Granderson probably will find himself more at home in Yankee Stadium with the short right field wall rather than in Titanic-sized Comerica Park. Working with Kevin Long and the rest of the Yankee lineup might straighten him out and revert him to 2007 form. Or he may feel pressured to produce and slump even harder aiming for the right field fence.
In the long run, if the last 2 years are not a blip, but rather the start of a trend—and Granderson continues to falter, then the Yankees, and Brian Cashman, will need to find somebody for the 5th spot in their lineup, because the guy they thought they had, couldn’t do it.