Defending Curtis Granderson

Having emerged unscathed from my first onslaught of grad school work, I’ve been trying to catch up on what’s been going on in the world of sports. For my Yankees updates, I checked with the wonderful LoHud Yankees Blog. This blog has always been a wonderful source of Yankees news and tidbits, but it’s really taken off since Chad Jennings and Sam Borden took the reins. It’s required reading for Yankees fans, so if you fall into that category, I strongly suggest you both check it out and bookmark it.

Anyway, I read Sam Borden’s post about Curtis Granderson’s performance so far. The conclusion:

To be fair, Granderson has had a few moments (he also battled an injury) yet ultimately it’s hard to call his first half with the Yankees much more than average. Most of the “grades” I’ve seen writers and bloggers do for the Yankees have Granderson in or around a “C” and I can’t really disagree. At the very least, Granderson has failed to show the improvement against lefties that he (and the team) was hoping for (.537 OPS).

Obviously the Yankees have been doing fine without Granderson’s typical impact but you know there will be some valleys during the course of the second half. Will Granderson step up and be the kind of star the Yankees imagined when they traded for him?

To be sure, I investigated Borden’s claim that most writers have been giving Granderson grades in the C-range. This turns out to be true. The Daily News gave him a C-, with this comment:

The biggest offensive acquisition last winter, Granderson has failed to live up to the hype with a .240 average – including a .207 mark against lefties. He missed a month with a groin injury.

ESPN New York gave him a C:

Granderson no doubt was slowed by the groin pull that cost him 23 games and most of May, but by just about any offensive yardstick has been a disappointment. His .240 average is 30 points below his career average, his OBP is down, his strikeouts are up and his struggles against left-handed pitching have been every bit as bad as advertised. Has played a good centerfield — covers a lot of ground and has a decent arm.

The New York Post gave him a D:

A few big hits are all that keep this grade from being an F. Brian Cashman’s big off-season splash has been a dud. You expected the .207 average against lefties, but he has not been that much better versus righties (.261). His defense is shaky, and could cost the Yankees at some point.

I’m not going to tiptoe around this: all of the criticism directed towards Granderson really bothers me. The criticism largely surrounds Granderson’s inability to hit left-handed pitching, which is a totally fair and accurate observation on its own terms. He is completely useless against lefties. But here’s the thing: he’s always been horrible against lefties. A refresher course:

  • 2006: .218/.277/.395
  • 2007: .160/.225/.269
  • 2008: .259/.310/.429
  • 2009: .183/.245/.239
  • 2010: .206/.250/.287

Given that Granderson’s career line against lefties (778 plate appearances) is .210/.267/.337, what exactly where the Yankees expecting him to do? Granderson has consistently demonstrated that he simply does not have the ability to produce against southpaws. This isn’t an indictment of his effort, work ethic, or character. In fact, by all accounts, he has worked extremely hard to improve this deficiency. And yet, he’s still hitting like a AAA middle infielder against them. He’s tried. He just can’t do it.

The onus falls on both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi for this one. I liked Cashman’s move at the time, and I still do, but the caveat remains unchanged: don’t put this guy in the lineup against left-handers. In this case, Cashman and Girardi are both guilty of wishful thinking. The former acquired Granderson with evidently no plans to platoon him, and the latter insists on sending Granderson out there as if he were an everyday player. Both believed that with some hard work and Kevin Long’s help, the Yankees could do what the Detroit Tigers couldn’t do in over five years, and that’s get Granderson to start hitting lefties at the age of 29. I guess we could toss in some hubris along with the wishful thinking.

Criticizing Granderson for not hitting lefties is unfair. If Stan Van Gundy asked Dwight Howard to bring the ball up the court 40% of the time (which is roughly how many of Granderson’s PAs have come against lefties), and Howard kept turning it over, would we slam Howard for it? If Sean Payton lined up Drew Brees as a left tackle 40% of the time, would we criticize Brees for all the sacks he allowed? No, we wouldn’t, because those are obvious instances of management asking a player to do something that he simply cannot do. That’s exactly what’s going on with the Yankees and Granderson, and not only is it unfair to the player, but it’s indicative of poor management.

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