10:45 am Aug. 9, 20121
In Tuesday night's 12-8 win over the Detroit Tigers, Curtis Granderson became the third New York Yankees center fielder to post back-to-back 30-homer seasons. The other two you may have heard of: Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Granderson obviously isn't in their company as a player, but the results of the move to bring him over from the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2010 season have been pretty spectacular.
And yet, there appears to be some disappointment about the year Granderson is having. His numbers are absolutely down from his 2011, when he hit 41 home runs, tallied 119 R.B.I., and finished fourth in the American League M.V.P. voting.
So far in 2012, his O.P.S.+ has dropped from 140 to 119, while defensive metrics have him falling from a slightly below-average center fielder to a well below-average one.
Now 31, Granderson's defensive decline is to be expected. Players typically decline defensively earlier than they do offensively, and that is especially true in a position like center field, which is so dependent on quickness.
But his offense is right in line with what it has been throughout his career, if not better. His 119 O.P.S.+ would be his best mark, other than 2011, since 2008, when he put up a 124 for the Tigers.
His evolution as a hitter, however, has made a similar total offensive output far more valuable to the Yankees than it was to the Tigers. Simply put: he can hit lefties now.
From 2007-2009, Granderson's O.P.S. against left-handed pitchers was .494, .739 and .484. It remained an open question whether he would need to be platooned in New York. And he did little to assuage those questions in his first year with the Yankees, putting up a .647 O.P.S. against lefties in 2010.
But the key to his breakout 2011 wasn't a .902 O.P.S. against righties; it was his even better .944 mark against lefties. And he's been similarly consistent in 2012, with an .855 O.P.S. against righties, .796 against lefties.
Teams can no longer plan on utilizing lefty relievers to neutralize Granderson, or force the Yankees to pinch-hit for him in key spots late in games. He is a middle-of-the-order threat, no matter who is pitching now.
It's legitimate to ask whether Granderson will be a good long-term investment after 2013, when his team option completes. His defensive shortcomings could push him to a corner, where his offense, though more steady now, isn't particularly spectacular going forward. And he won't be cheap, given his production and center field reputation.
But for now, Granderson is a key player on the American League East's best team. That is plenty.