The Curious Case of Curtis Granderson

For the 2nd consecutive season, New York Yankee centerfielder Curtis Granderson ranks 2nd in the American League in home runs. Over the same amount of time only Jose Bautista has hit more long balls than Granderson’s 69, knocking 70 out of the park from the start of the 2011 season until now. Granderson had shown big power potential earlier in his career, hitting 30 homers for the Tigers in 2008 despite playing his home games in cavernous Comerica Park, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him blasting the ball out of the much, much friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. But Granderson’s change in stance, timing, and his new-found ability to hit left-handed pitching is a much larger reason for his power spike, and today I want to analyze why. Let’s take a look after the jump:

In 2010, Granderson’s first in pinstripes, he struggled mightily against lefties hitting .234/.292/.354 with 4 homers and 12 RBI in just 174 plate appearances. That’s compared to his righty slash of .253/.340/.526 with 20 homers and 55 RBI in 354 plate appearances. His 2009 season was even more brutal, as Granderson hit just .183/.245/.239 with just 2 homers and 9 RBI against lefties compared to .275/.358/.539 with 28 homers and 62 RBI against righties. His poor performance against left handed pitchers directly dragged down an otherwise extremely powerful line against righties, and much of his issue was mechanical. Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long made a couple of changes, beginning with his swing in 2010.

The picture on the left is from a start against Jon Lester on August 9th, 2010, the last game before Granderson rebuilt his swing. The picture on the right is from August 12th, 2010, the first game in which the centerfielder unleashed his new stance. Long had Granderson close his stance more and he began keeping his hands lower, while cutting down on extracurricular movement before the pitch. By keeping his hands lower, Granderson’s elbow slot also drops on his swing. He’s able to keep his bat in the hitting zone longer, while still maintaining his powerful swing, thus allowing for more home runs. If you can keep your bat in the hitting zone longer, you have a greater chance of success.

Another result of the change in stance, is that Granderson has eliminated a lot of the wiggling he did before the pitch was thrown. Granderson has instead gone to a “trigger” approach as demonstrated below.

Granderson loads his hands before the pitch, pulling them up into the hitting position, which gets him ready to trigger his swing. If he sees a pitch to hit, like the fastball thrown by Bartolo Colon above, he pulls the trigger, unleashing a powerful swing that can go deep in even the largest of ballparks.

Granderson has also developed into a dead pull hitter, taking aim at the bleachers in right field. As the spray charts shows, Granderson pulls roughly over 2/3rds of his balls put in play. This approach allows Granderson to hit with more power, but it probably costs him batting average points, although it’s impossible to know if he would still have any success if he didn’t try to pull the ball. This allows opposing defenses to play an overshift on the Yankee centerfielder, but it leads to plenty of RBIs and wins.

But this approach has led to a lot of success for Granderson. In 2011 he finished 4th in the MVP vote by hitting .262/.364/.552 (140 OPS+) with 41 homers, 119 RBI, and 136 runs scored. He led baseball in both RBIs and runs scored, a difficult feat. More importantly, Granderson finally was able to hit lefties, batting .272/.347/.597 with 16 homers and 44 RBI. The success against lefties hasn’t transferred as well in 2012 (.229/.329/.443 with 8 homers and 19 RBI), but is still a far cry better than his miserable 2009-2010 stretch. Kevin Long was able to take all of this potential and mold Granderson into one of the 10 best offensive weapons in the American League, and he deserves a ton of credit for doing so.

By getting Granderson to limit his movements, use a trigger, and attempt to pull the ball, Kevin Long has made him into one of the best power hitters in baseball. Granderson probably hits a little to high up in the batting order and would probably benefit from hitting 4th or 5th in the lineup, where his power could drive in a greater amount of runs. At age 31 the other aspects of his game, speed and defense, are starting to drop off a bit, but his powerful bat still provides the Yankees plenty of value.

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