(D'oh! Courtesy of The AP)
I like Curtis Granderson. I've written a lot of positive things about him since the great Kevin Long Swing Rebuild Project of 2010, and since then he's been arguably the Yankees' best position player not named Robinson Cano. I think he was a great pickup for the Yankees given their needs at the time, and even as the value scales have started to tip away from his and the Yankees' favors as it relates to that trade this season, I still think it was the right move to make. Granderson has been a very valuable and productive piece of the Yankee lineup over the last 2+ seasons, and barring serious injury he will likely continue to be valuable and productive through the remainder of his current contract. That being said, I don't think it would be a wise move for the Yankees to re-sign C-Grand after the 2013 season, and I think the trends in his performance this season should be starting to open people's eyes as to why.
The idea behind Kevin Long's re-working of Curtis' swing in 2010 was to eliminate all the excess pre-swing movement to shorten up Curtis' swing and allow him to be more settled and consistent in his load. That shortening and consistency would allow him to make better contact, which in turn would improve his BABIP numbers, make him more effective against LHP, and maximize the value of his speed on the basepaths, something that had been dwindling from his offensive output since 2007. For a guy with the natural athleticism and bat speed that Curtis possesses, it was a great plan.
That plan worked to perfection last season, as Granderson had his best offensive season since '07 and racked up double digits in every XBH category. A funny side effect of the adjustments, however, was the development of C-Grand's compact swing into a deadly power swing, something tailor-made for the short porch in right field of Yankee Stadium. Whether or not he admits to doing it consciously, due to his continued insistence that he is NOT, repeat NOT a HR hitter, Curtis combining his bat speed with the new mechanics translated into no-doubt HR power. Granderson used this new found pull power to punish all pitchers, lefty or righty, who dared challenge him inside and miss on his way to a near-MVP season.
The problem, if it's fair to call it that, that has crept up this season as a result of Curtis mastering his new swing is his transformation into a "Three True Outcomes" hitter. I commented on this back in June when he was still producing at an above-average clip, and his TTO rate at the time was 44.84%. Since then, that rate has increased to 46.49% while C-Grand's overall production has dipped, and the disturbing trend in strikeouts is likely the major contributing factor to that. Curtis' K rate has increased every month this season from April (24.8%) to July (34.0%), and not surprisingly his HR/FB rate, OBP, and wOBA have all steadily decreased in that timeframe. This puts his K rate at 27.9% for the season, a number that is up from 2011 and not in line with his post-2011 declarations that he wanted to focus on cutting down on his strikeouts. It's also worth noting that his 2011 K rate of 24.5% was up from 22.0% in 2010, his worst statistical season as a Yankee.
Another area of frightening trend concern is Curtis' defensive metrics. I know I've been exposed before for forgetting the "3 year rule" for examining UZR/150 numbers, but I've got almost 3 years of data to look at now for Curtis' Yankee tenure and they don't paint a pretty portrait. 7.9 in 2010, -5.3 last season, and -25.0 this season. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that looks like some serious regression to me, regression during a time when Granderson is still in his physical prime and still in possession of his above-average foot speed. Even the eye test doesn't show much to be thrilled about. For a guy with great speed, Curtis has never been great at getting jumps or reading balls hit right at him, and in the time he's spent patrolling center field in The Stadium he doesn't seem to have gotten any better at it. I'd go so far as to say he's gotten worse. That misplay of Pedro Ciriarco's "triple" was honestly one of the worst defensive plays I've ever seen, and that kind of defensive ineptitude is not ideal in that park with guys like Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and their FB/LD tendencies on the mound.
The point I'm trying to make here is that the player Curtis has become is a player who no longer seems to be playing to his 2 biggest strengths as a baseball player: his bat speed and his foot speed. Not only that, C-Grand's numbers this season suggest that those strengths aren't as strong as they were just a season or 2 ago. And he's 31. And he's going to be 33 when 2014 rolls around and it's decision time for the Yankee front office. He's getting close to the age of decline, he'll be closer to that age in 2014, his 2 biggest strengths are almost always among the first skills to go when a player starts to decline, and his statistical trends this season are already starting to show signs of decline in areas directly affected by those skills. It's all well and good for Curtis to have a high K rate when he's still drawing tons of walks and still has that plus bat speed to pound out 30-40 HR a season. But what about when he starts to lose that bat speed? It's all well and good for him to take his first step in on a ball hit to him, get a bad read and still make a great catch a la the one on Mike Trout a few weeks ago thanks to his foot speed. But what about when he starts to lose a step?
I know I'm not exactly splitting the atom here with talk of why the Yankees shouldn't re-sign Curtis. But with the team very likely to go all-in on the homegrown and Scott Boras-repped Robbie Cano, and Curtis trending in the wrong direction in some key departments already, that talk could and probably should end up being very one-sided and very short. With what he's done over the past couple years, Curtis is going to command some serious coin, possibly in the $15-17 million range. Is it worth that kind of money to risk paying for more strikeouts and worse outfield defense when he's in his mid-30s?
P.S.- I had this entire post written yesterday afternoon before Curtis went nuts last night with a 3-5, 2 R, 4 RBI night at the plate. You're welcome for the reverse jinx.