Thursday, May 10, 2012

Curtis Granderson's Continuing Power Surge

A while back, I wrote a piece that examined Curtis Granderson's statistical profile for the 2011 season and attempted to predict the likelihood of him maintaining that MVP-caliber level of production moving forward.  My expectation was that he would likely see a regression in his career-high HR numbers, but could still produce at a high level in 2012 with a more selective approach at the plate and a spike in his LD rate to supplement the dip in power.  We're a little over a month into the 2012 season and C-Grand's numbers so far are better across the board than they were last year.  He's currently hitting .274/.370/.581, with a .396 wOBA, 152 wRC+, and ISO and BABIP numbers both north of their 2011 values.  Of his 32 hits thus far, 15 of them have been for extra bases, including 10 home runs.  Granderson started to heat up towards the end of ST and hasn't cooled down since.  He's picked up right where he left off at the end of 2011 and has yet to show any signs of slowing down.

There haven't been drastic changes, but there are signs that C-Grand's selectivity and pitch recognition have improved this season.  His BB rate of 12.5% is slightly up from the previous career-best 12.3% he posted last season, while his K rate (24.2%) is slightly down.  According to PITCHf/x, he's also cut down on his swing rate on pitches out of the strike zone (24.0%) while increasing his swing rate on pitches in the strike zone (60.7%).  PITCHf/x also shows Granderson being thrown fewer pitches in strike zone than last season (45.5% compared to 47.8% in 2011), so the fact that he is maintaining his overall Swing Rate (40.7%) and improving the quality of pitches at which he swings while seeing fewer good pitches to hit speaks to Curtis following through on his attempts to be more selective.

Interestingly enough, the improvements in swing rates have not translated into better overall contact numbers.  Granderson's current Swinging Strike Rate of 11.3% is a big increase from where it was last season, and his PITCHf/x Contact % of 72.6% is down significantly from its 2011 level.  He's swinging at fewer bad pitches, more good pitches, and yet he's making far less contact than he did last season and is swinging and missing at more pitches than last season.  That doesn't quite seem to add up at first glance, but Curtis is making it work.

Where Granderson is making a killing this year is on his batted ball breakdowns.  His dip in LD rate in 2011 was covered by his insanely high HR/FB rate of 20.5%.  Having never achieved a HR rate that high, it only seemed right to expect Curtis to come back to earth a bit in that department and hopefully have the decrease in HR rate be covered by more line drives.  Not only has Curtis' HR/FB % not regressed this year, it's even higher than it was last season at 29.4%.  His overall FB Rate is down a bit at 40.5%, but for the most part, if the ball is being lifted up into the air off of C-Grand's bat, it's finding its way over the fence.  And on top of that, Granderson's LD rate is also through the roof at 29.8%.  Simply put, the guy is stinging the ball all over the yard.

It is worth noting that there's a bit of home cooking in these numbers.  Curtis' Home/Road wOBA splits are dramatically different (.489 at home vs. .308 on the road), and 9 of his 10 homers have come at Yankee Stadium.  But there's no denying that there's nothing fluky about what Granderson is doing at the plate.  He's become an even more deadly hitter to the pull side (.693 wOBA, 358 wRC+) while managing to improve going the opposite way (albeit in a very small sample size).  He's not a great hitter to all fields by any means, but with the results he's had there's no rush to change his approach.  And while he hasn't been as dangerous against left-handed pitching as he was in 2011, he is still more than holding his own with a .344 wOBA while continuing to absolutely murder righties (.439).

Whether or not Granderson's attempts to improve his selectivity at the plate are real is almost irrelevant because of what he's doing when he makes contact.  It's unlikely that both his HR and LD rates will remain at or around 30% for the remainder of the season, but even when they do regress they are likely going to end up settling into a range that will still result in Granderson producing at an elite level.  His swing is so compact and quick, and his pitch recognition seems so spot on right now that I would be shocked if he didn't continue to rake.  Whether pitchers try to work him inside or outside, if they miss out over the plate even a little bit, Granderson punishes them.  I'm sure opposing AL pitchers aren't going to like reading this, but all indications are that the new and improved Curtis Granderson that we started to see in late 2010 and all of 2011 is here to stay.

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