Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Curtis Granderson Crushes Pitcher's Souls

There are certain players whose abilities you truly don't appreciate until you get to see them on a regular basis. Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson is one such player. And that's not to say that he wasn't already a good/great player before he got to New York. He had a 30 home run season; he had become one of just a handful of players to have a season that included at least 20 home runs, stolen, bases, doubles, and triples, and he had been an All-Star. But there were still holes in his game.

Granderson couldn't hit left-handed pitching. It wasn't that he didn't try, he just didn't have success. (As opposed to say the way Wilt Chamberlain shot free throws.) His first year in New York in 2010 wasn't a very good one. There were signs of success- he would finish the year with 24 home runs and 67 RBI - but until he worked with Kevin Long during the dog days of Summer, Granderson was having a very pedestrian season. But boy have things changed since then.

The Yankees would be nowhere without him this season. On a team that has not hit consistently this season, Granderson has been the rock (though Freddy Garcia actually looks like "The Rock"). Last night, for example, he jump-started a laugher against the Oakland A's with a 2-run home run off of left-hander Brett Anderson. That's right, a left-hander, the hurler whose delivery baffled Granderson for several seasons.

Granderson used to release the bat with his bottom hand as he swung through. Long changed that so that Granderson continues to drive the bat through the ball as contact is made. He had him stay back on the ball longer. As Long has said, "This wasn't just about hitting left-handers."

The results have been remarkable. From August 31 until the end of last season, Granderson hit nearly half (10) of his 24 home runs. In his last 82 games, from that final day in August through Tuesday night, "the Grandyman" has hit 26 home runs and driven in 67 RBI in 83 games. Those are basically the same numbers he produced in 136 games last year. And today is only June 1. One more statistic to note- Granderson is hitting .323 against left-handers and .268 versus righties.

Once seemingly clueless against southpaws, you couldn't blame Granderson if he laughed in the face of those anti-righties today. Entering Tuesday night's play, Granderson was hitting .298/.355/ the quick math...that's a 1.144 OPS! (His overall OPS is 190-200 points higher than each of the prior two seasons.) He now has more than half his home runs (9) against left-handed pitching. In addition to Anderson, he has homered off the likes of David Price, and Jon Lester.

Granderson can also thank manager Joe Girardi's lineup for a boost in production. His numbers were good when he batted lower in the order, but since he was moved to the number two spot in front of Mark Teixeira, Granderson has been on a tear. In 34 games he has amassed 12 home runs, 29 RBI, six doubles, three triples, and 40 hits overall.

On a team that has treated runners in scoring position like a disease, Granderson has hit .280 and with a man on third and less than two outs, he's hit an un-Godly .750. The centerfielder's game hasn't just been good in hitter's parks too, he's destroyed pitcher friendly Safeco in Seattle and in Oakland.

To further demonstrate just how good Granderson has been, consider Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays right fielder. Major League baseball media and fans have marveled at the home run display that has been put on north of the border in the last year plus. From August 14 to now, Bautista has hit 38 home runs...Curtis Granderson has hit 31. It's unusual for a player in a small market to get more attention than a player in baseball's biggest market, but that's what happens when you (Bautista) crack the 50 home run mark in a single season.

Granderson has yet to embrace his power stroke - "I've never been that kind of a guy" is his answer when queried about being tagged as a home run hitter. Bautista told the Washington Post he feels otherwise. “He’s a power hitter,” said Bautista, during a Blue Jays-Yankees series in the Bronx. “He might as well embrace it.”

While Granderson may not embrace his Ruthian status, the Yankees fans have certainly embraced him, though it took some time. Acquired in a three way deal that sent Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit, and Ian Kennedy to Arizona (the Tigers also received Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks), Granderson slumped, was injured, and wasn't feeling the love from his new hometown fans. The attitude in the Bronx has done a complete 180 degree turn and it's not surprising.

Besides being a great athlete/baseball player, Granderson is one of the most thoughtful, well spoken players on the team. I had the chance to ask him a few questions in the Yankees' clubhouse prior to the September 1st game last year. He treated me as though I could have been from one of the major New York papers or national media outlets instead of the relative neophyte I am. His Grand Kids Foundation has done tremendous work with youth in both the Detroit and New York areas. He's the type of player that relishes being a role model and it shows.

Opposing pitchers just wish he were kinder to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment