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Dec 092009

Granderson's Home Runs In '09, courtesy of Hit Tracker
By now, most of the relevant numbers on Curtis Granderson have come to light, and they suggest that some correctable issues plus bad luck contributed to his poor year. I want to run through some of the more interesting observations made by others, and then touch on some nuggets of information that have not gotten much attention at all, but are extremely vital to the analysis.

The first bit of data that I wanted to note is the excellent study done by The Detroit Tigers Webblog. As you might already know, Granderson’s BABIP was .276 last year, much lower than his career mark of .321 and his xBABIP of .301. xBABIP removes luck from the equation, and it was still lower than his career BABIP, suggesting that there is something more than luck at work. They took a look at Granderson’s spray charts and batted ball data to decipher what exactly happened. This what they found:

Dir. 2007 2008 2009
Oppo 16.53% 21.41% 16.53%
Middle 36.23% 34.22% 29.08%
Pull 46.40% 42.60% 50.60%

Although Granderson did become pull happy, his numbers when pulling the ball were excellent. If so, what might the problem be? They explain:

The biggest change in Granderson’s batted ball distribution was the exchange of ground balls for fly balls. Granderson’s line drive rate was right in line with his career mark (21.2 % in 2009 and 20.7% overall). But Granderson for his career is a 36% ground ball hitter and a 43% fly ball hitter. In 2009 those numbers were 29% and 49%. This shift helped Granderson’s home run production, but it hurt his batting average on balls in play driving down his overall batting average.

Not all fly balls are created equal. Some fly balls have a chance to become home runs or gappers. Pop-ups have a very small chance of becoming anything other than an easy out. Unfortunately Granderson hit a ton of pop-ups in 2009. Those pop-ups also accounted for a healthy percentage of the balls that Granderson hit to the opposite field.

From an amateur scouting point of view (and one that the Tigers fans agree with in the comments), it seems that Granderson has a similar problem to that of 2008 Robbie Cano: he has trouble laying off the pitch on the outer half, and instead of lining them to the opposite field, he is either pulling them to the right side or popping them up to the left. The Tigers Blog writer suggests that this increase in popups is the cause for his low BABIP, meaning that there is more than luck at play. This is an issue that Kevin Long fixed with Cano, and the hope is that he can correct it with Granderson as well.

Next, I would like to discuss Granderson’s platoon splits, with some help from Greg Fertel of Pending Pinstripes:

The no-doubt biggest concern with Granderson is his awful platoon split. Over the course of his career (619 AB), Granderson has put up a horrid line of .210/.270/.344 against lefties. Versus righties, he’s hit to a much more attractive .292/.367/.528 line. These numbers scream platoon player, and many have suggested signing someone who mashes lefties to compensate for Granderson’s weakness.

A quick look into The Book tells a different story about platoon splits, though:

For lefties, the number [of plate appearances before the measured platoon split is accurate] is about 1,000, which means that only veteran starters have reliable platoon splits.

Granderson only has 685 plate appearances against left handed pitchers, so while he’s close, it wouldn’t necessarily be right to make conclusions just yet. Going forward, it would be a good bet to say that he will hit better against lefties than he has in the past. How much better is definitely a question, but I’d bank on him putting an OPS against lefties above .614 over the next few seasons.

Basically, Greg suggests that a regression to the mean is in order, and that Granderson will experience some improvement in his numbers against LHP relative to his general career line. However, I think that a closer look at the data will yield some startling results as to Granderson’s issue against lefties, and suggest that a real turnaround rather than a natural regression might be on the horizon.

I thought it would be useful to look at Granderson’s home and road splits to see where he might be struggling most, and with the help of baseballmusings.com day by day database, I was able to do so. The first thing you notice when you look at Granderson’s splits is the following dichotomy:

Home: .261/.334/.451
Away: .284/.353/.516

Now, this is a stark difference, but drilling further down into the data reveals the particular area that has killed Granderson.

Home vs RHP: .285/.365/.510
Away vs RHP: .298/.369/.545

There is not a real significant difference here, although his power is better on the road due to Comerica’s suppression of home runs. Granderson is a pretty similar hitter against RHP at home and on the road. So what is the issue?

Home vs LHP: .179/.231/.259
Away vs LHP: .239/.306/.425

Wow. On the road, Granderson is a poor hitter against LHP, but not significantly poorer than a lot of hitters who struggle with a particular side of the platoon. His abysmal numbers against LHP stem from his work at Comerica Park, as he was far below replacement level against lefties at home. A split this stark is almost certainly not a fluke, but I cannot begin to fathom the source. I checked the ballpark data, and lefties slug as well as righties at Comerica, so it does not seem that the ballpark is inherently skewed against lefties.

Now, the question is, will this change in NY? Being that I do not know the reason for this strange split, I feel uncomfortable saying anything with full confidence, but I think the road splits suggest that Granderson is not as bad against lefties as his overall numbers show. If he can come close to approximating his career road numbers v. LHP in Yankee Stadium, he will revert back to his 2007 near superstar form. Even if he shows just mild improvement, he will likely be a 4+ win player. A look at the home run data in the photo above suggests Granderson has a swing fit for Yankee Stadium (EDIT: Fangraphs took a deeper look and confirmed this conclusion), and that he is a solid bet to return to the player he was prior to 2009.

5 Responses to “Will Granderson Bounce Back?”

  1. Good analysis. Personally, I’m not worried about his stick, I just want him to play tough D. On those occasions when he’s out there with Melky and Gardy, aint nuthin gettin down. In fact, I vote for them starting. Pitching and defense baby. Swish can DH.  (Quote)

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  2. Real good analysis. Have to read it again to absorb it all.

    Granderson is going to have some big, productive years for us–probably at a level of 2007, or better. I look forward to this very much.

    Cashman just said on MLBTV, “at least aginst RH pitching, he slots into the no. 2 hole very well”.  (Quote)

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  3. Wait a minute, I may be misreading this, but it sounds like are you trying to claim that granderson career splits againts lefties should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s not a big enough sample size, and then rest our hopes on the fact that granderson has a better LH road split on the road using an even smaller sample size?  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Not really. I was putting forth Greg’s suggestion, but pointing out that I think the overall sample may not be indicative of Granderson’s “true talent.” I know that the subset of data is a small sample, but even most sabermatricians will tell you that an incredibly stark and anomalous result can have meaning even in a relatively small sample. As I said, I would feel more comfortable if I had a reason for the split, but I do think it is fair to say that Comerica was a factor.  (Quote)

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  4. This analysis is very heartening to me that Granderson will be a Yankee success story.

    It is perplexing about his very poor stats against LH pitching in Comerica.

    Just to throw out a possibility, if the sample is a fairly low # of AB’s, might it be that he faced particular pitchers (perhaps divisional foes) that give him a extra rough time, a relatively higher amount of times? (just a shot in the dark)

    Also, was there any significant split in day vrs. night games, in that subgroup at Comerica?

    Also, what was the breakdown of his batting (against LH) in away games by ballpark? In other words, did he hit LH pitching good in any ballpark? (How about hitting LHers in Yankee Stadium?)

    I’m sure that the Yankees did their homework in these stats, and found it compelling to still go ahead with the deal.

    Sometimes players just have hard times in certain locations, or against certain opponents that just defy easy rational explanation.

    Interesting stuff.

    I think the change of scene will have a great effect on him.  (Quote)

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