February 03, 2010
We all have questions about the 2010 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address three questions per week as Opening Day approaches.
The Situation: Curtis Granderson(notes) picked the wrong year to quit hitting southpaws. Though he made the All-Star team for the first time in 2009, he actually had one of his worst years at the plate. He set a career high with 30 homers, but matched that with a career-low .249 batting average and .327 OBP — largely because he hit .183 against lefties, with just six extra-base hits in 199 PA. What's more, 28 of his homers were against righties. Granderson's defense can sparkle, he's a fan favorite and a genuinely exciting player, but last year he was almost an automatic out any time a lefty approached the mound. That could pose a problem in the Bronx.
The Question: Will Granderson's numbers against lefties improve as he moves into the new Yankee Stadium, which can favor lefties?
The Analysis: Truth be told, 2009 wasn't the first time that Granderson struggled against sinistral starters. For his career, he has an .894 OPS against righties and a .614 OPS against lefties. His .484 OPS against LHP last year was nearly indistinguishable from his .494 OPS against lefties in 2007, when he finished 10th in the MVP race. The Tigers may have figured that they'd rather run him out every day than tell him that he needed a caddy, but the Yankees may not have that luxury in the AL East. If Granderson can't hit lefties, he shouldn't play against them.
Rob Neyer is convinced that Granderson's increased homers are a reason for his decreased batting average:
"There's nothing exceptional about his strikeout or walk rates. But nearly 50 percent of his batted balls have been fly balls, after entering this season with a career rate slightly higher than 40 percent. More fly balls means more home runs, but they also mean (typically) a lower batting average."
Fortunately, the new Yankee Stadium seems to be a sliiiiighty better place for left-handed batters to hit. While right-handed hitters hit .264/.344/.431 in the Bronx, lefties managed to hit .268/.349/.460. The sample size is still small, of course, and the Yankees' switch-hitter-heavy lineup (Mark Teixeira(notes), Jorge Posada(notes), Nick Swisher(notes) and Melky Cabrera(notes), who's since been traded) helps shrink the team's platoon split. Still, lefties hit better at Yankee stadium and they hit more homers at Yankee Stadium. That could benefit Granderson, who is a pull-happy lefthanded hitter. Plus, as Dave Allen of Fangraphs notes, it's a significantly better park for a left-handed home run hitter than Comerica.
Granderson will be 29 in a month, and is in his physical prime. The odds are good that he'll have a field day with that short right field wall. He wasn't overly lucky last year, according to Hit Tracker Online, which means that he's not due for the kind of rude awakening Jimmy Rollins(notes) received after he hit 30 homers. He has legitimate 25-30 homer power in his bat and he's moving to a park that will make it easier for him to hit them.
The Forecast for 2010: Last year, Granderson showed two things: he could murder right-handers and hit a ton of homers off them, and he couldn't hit lefties if you gave him a bat the size of John Kruk. The new Yankee Stadium likely won't help him hit lefties — the short porch in right field will only help him if he can pull the ball, and he can't get around on lefties. What's more, the Yankees have a homegrown solution to the problem: Brett Gardner(notes) is defensively similar to Granderson, and has an OPS over .700 against southpaws in the majors and in the minors. Any time a lefty's on the mound, they can rest Granderson and let him lurk as a potent pinch-hitting weapon any time a right-handed reliever comes in. Granderson doesn't seem like a platoon player, but the more often the Yankees realize it, the better.