Making sense of Granderson's slump
- At his feet was a sack full of fan mail, so many letters that some spilled onto the carpet in front of Curtis Granderson's locker.
"Someone said maybe I should get my eyes checked," Granderson said Monday, explaining how advice comes freely when you are supposedly a .300 hitter who is batting .248, and .169 against left-handers, after Monday night's wild, 6-5 Tigers victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park.
So, what has happened to a 28-year-old center fielder of such grandeur (he might as well have been called Curtis Grandeurson) that he was viewed coming into this season as the indispensable Tigers player?
Life for Granderson is so bad that manager Jim Leyland has all but platooned him against left-handers, moving him deep into the batting order and even pinch-hitting for him.
His numbers in 2009 are thoroughly baffling. He has 27 home runs, four more than he hit during his magical 2007 season. He has 20 stolen bases, four more than he had a year ago. But everything else is a mess. His 19 doubles are half as many as he hit a year ago. His on-base percentage is a modest .331. He has 16 fewer triples than he hit in 2007.
And after making dramatic progress in 2008 against left-handers (.259 from .160 in 2007), he is all but lost at the plate against lefties.
Granderson's hitting .248/.331/.457 this season, which isn't bad at all for a pretty good center fielder (which he is).
His career line: .273/.346/.485.
Those two lines are not terribly dissimilar. But of course the "problem" is that Granderson's abilities seemed to take a Great Leap Forward two years ago, when he was 26. His numbers fell off some last year, but he still was one of the better players in the American League. This year: not so much.
It's fairly obvious what's happened: Granderson is hitting more fly balls. 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.
Anyway, that's part of the problem. Even with all those fly balls, Granderson's .276 batting average on balls in play is absurdly low, as we would expect that figure to hover somewhere between .300 and .320. That's the other, probably bigger, part of the problem.
So the batting average will come back, next year if not sooner. Granderson's problems with left-handed pitchers probably aren't going to change, though. Yes, he's particularly struggling this season. But in his career he's got just a .270 on-base percentage against the southpaws.
With the Tigers likely to face both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in a Division Series next month, I wonder if Jim Leyland will have the guts to bench Granderson in two of the first three games. Because lately against lefties, Leyland has simply moved Granderson from the No. 1 to the No. 7 slot in the lineup.