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Curtis Granderson, NL home run champ?

3/7/2014

You want a sleeper prediction. I'll give you one: Curtis Granderson will lead the National League in home runs.

In baseball, we tend to have very short memories. A guy blows three saves in two weeks and the manager panics and installs a new closer. A guy has 40 good at-bats in spring training and suddenly he's given significant playing time even if his track record is lousy. A guy has one bad year and we forget about him.

The Curtis Granderson signing seemed to fly under the radar this offseason, which seems strange since it involved a player moving from one New York franchise to the other. I guess everyone was so caught up in Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka and complaining about the Mets not signing Stephen Drew that it was easy to ignore Granderson, who suffered through two injuries in 2013 and hit just seven home runs as the Yankees missed the playoffs.

Maybe it's because it was the Mets who signed Granderson. Nothing much the Mets have done in recent years has worked out, so we just saw this as a desperation move: The Mets signing another past-his-prime player on the decline. That could certainly happen. But I don't believe it will.

First off, Granderson's injuries in 2013 were both fluky incidents. He was hit by a pitch in spring training and broke his forearm. Then, just eight games after returning to the lineup, was hit by another pitch and broke a finger. He played just 61 games. Before those two pitches, however, Granderson had been a durable player, averaging 153 games per season since becoming a regular for the Tigers in 2006. There's no reason to anticipate him being prone to injuries in 2014.

Granderson hit 41 home runs in 2011 and 43 in 2012. No player in the majors hit more home runs than he did in those two seasons; in fact, nobody else was all that close -- Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera were tied for second with 74. Granderson's approach at the plate did become more one-dimensional in those two seasons with the Yankees. Or, I should say, three-dimensional: He hit home runs, struck out a ton and drew walks. He hit just .247; and the guy who had hit as many as 38 doubles and 23 triples with the Tigers averaged just 22 doubles and seven triples. You can debate the merits of his approach, but it certainly produced home runs.

Granderson did benefit a bit from the short porch at Yankee Stadium. He hit 47 home runs at home, 37 on the road in 2011-12. That was still the third-most home runs on the road over those two seasons, behind the 39 hit by Jose Bautista and Giancarlo Stanton. Citi Field has a reputation as a tough home run park, but that's not really the case after the Mets moved in the fences. It actually slightly favored home runs in 2013 for left-handed batters. Granderson's power should translate just fine.

I also don't see age being a huge factor. He turns 33 in a few days, so there's no reason to expect a dramatic downturn in his production. The strikeouts can get annoying, and you have to look beyond the low batting average and understand that Granderson compensates for that somewhat by waiting for his pitch and drawing 70-plus walks a season. He is a smart hitter with a good work ethic. He's in good shape, and I suspect he has something to prove after the Yankees let him walk. I expect a big season.

And, yes, he could lead the NL in home runs. Consider some of the top candidates. Paul Goldschmidt tied for the NL lead with 36 last year, a 16-homer improvement from 2012. Is that power spike for real or will it prove to be more of a one-year aberration, like Joey Votto in 2010? Pedro Alvarez is an all-or-nothing slugger prone to long slumps. Stanton is injury-prone and plays in a tough park for home runs. Braun has a lot to prove as he returns. Jay Bruce joined Goldschmidt and Alvarez as the only other National Leaguer to hit 30, but his career high is just 34. Mark Trumbo is another all-or-nothing slugger who hit 34 for the Angels.

Granderson is as good a bet as any of them. Don't be surprised if he hits 40 and beats them all.