Aggressive Granderson earning his contract
Veteran outfielder's average exit velocity up nearly 3 mph since May 10
Mets fans can be forgiven for constantly asking when their team is going to go out and get a hitter, because the offense -- currently 26th in run scoring at 3.58 per game -- has clearly not done its part to support the consistently excellent pitching, which is sixth at 3.73 runs allowed per game. Thanks to injuries to David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Travis d'Arnaud, and disappointing performances from most of the rest of the lineup, the only two consistently above-average hitters in Queens have been Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson.
It might be surprising to see Granderson referred to as "above average," considering that he's hit only 33 homers in his first year-and-a-half with the Mets after topping 41 in each of his final two fully healthy years with the Yankees, or that he's tied for just 111th in runs batted in with 27. (Nevermind that he's led off in 70 of 77 Mets games.) For the $60 million he's receiving over four years, many fans seem to have expected more.
That's unfair, though, and it's just another reason why runs batted in should rarely be used when evaluating a single player's offensive performance. The truth is, Granderson isn't just having a good season, he's having one of the best of his career -- and with Statcast™ and some advanced metrics, we can prove it.
We can say that by using Granderson's 129 Weighted Runs Created Plus, an all-inclusive park-adjusted stat that's abbreviated as "wRC+" and can be read as Granderson being 29 percent better than a league-average hitter. Dating back to 2008, it's his second-best mark, behind only 2011's 146, and it's well above his career average of 117. No, you're not reading that wrong; Granderson has been a more productive offensive player this year than he was when he hit 43 homers in 2012.
How? Because while Granderson is not as powerful, he's a more complete batter. His on-base percentage is up nearly 40 points from what it was in 2012, as he's making far more contact (81.2 percent, up from 71.9 percent) and drawing more walks (12.5 percent, up from 11 percent). Granderson also receives a boost in wRC+ because it accounts for just how difficult it is to hit in Citi Field, as opposed to Yankee Stadium's hitter-friendly right field.
But even Granderson would admit that his first year as a Met didn't go quite how he expected, and his first month of 2015 (one lone homer) didn't do much to change that opinion. Since much was made of the Mets' hiring of hitting coach Kevin Long -- who had been the Yankees' hitting coach during Granderson's best years in the Bronx -- the slow start was particularly disappointing. But clearly something clicked in early May, as Granderson started hitting the ball considerably harder:
Exit velocity through May 9: 87.51 mph
Exit velocity since May 10: 90.64 mph
How is Granderson doing that? By working with Long to be more aggressive and not let hittable early-count pitches go by in the service of "working the count" in his new leadoff role. Using that same May 10 cutoff date we used for exit velocity, Granderon's swing rate on first-pitch strikes has jumped from 4.72 percent to 7.13 percent. For his career, he's hit .365/.369/.632 when swinging at the first pitch, and .195/.203/.315 when the pitcher is ahead. Seeing more pitches isn't worth putting Granderson in bad spots.
Having a better selection of pitches to hit has helped Granderson stop hitting the ball the other way as much, important since 227 of his 250 career homers have gone to right or center. Through May 9, 25.6 percent of his batted balls had gone to the opposite field, and only 36.4 percent had been in the air. Since May 10, Granderson's opposite-field rate is down to 19.8 percent and his fly-ball rate is up to 45.2 percent. Eleven of his 13 homers this year have gone to right; it's a much better fit for his skills.
Granderson is never going to be that 40-homer threat again, but that never should have come as a surprise. The move from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field, the multiple 2013 arm injuries (fractured left hand and right forearm) and the simple realities of age -- he turned 34 in March -- have seen to that. It's not the same thing as being a disappointment, however, and Granderson has certainly not been that in 2015. He's been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise struggling lineup.