When I began researching Yankees position players to figure out who scared me the most, the benchmark that I focused in on was an ability to hit right-handed pitching. The Yanks absolutely mash lefties (we're talking .805 OPS against lefthanded starters) but do slightly worse against right-handers (only .779 against). 20 points of OPS might not seem like a lot, but against a top offense it can make a world of difference. The good news here, is, of course, that the Tigers feature a rotation that features five right-handers. So to me, the most terrifying Yankee had to be a player that could mash our right-handed starters and play good defense.
This eliminated a few guys right off the bat. Russell Martin is a mediocrity, Derek Jeter can't play defense anymore (if he ever could), Nick Swisher is scary but not as dominant as other hitters in the Yankee lineup and Brett Gardiner isn't so much a masher as a scary good leadoff guy. As I worked my way down the list, I was stuck between two players: an all-star second-baseman with Hall of Fame potential who wasn't quite as good with the leather, or an all-star center fielder who could make plays at the plate and in the field. I chose the center fielder. Which makes me sad.
Because I don't want to see a pinstripe-clad Curtis Granderson anywhere near the Detroit Tigers.
Let's look past sentimentality and to reality for a moment. Curtis Granderson really improved when he left Detroit; the guy developed the ability to mash left-handers as well as right-handers. That skill in particular has made Granderson an MVP candidate. But how good is Granderson really?
The answer is "really good". Maybe you like more traditional rate statistics, like runs, RBI and home runs. Granderson has 136 runs, 119 RBI and 41 home runs. Of course, that tells us more about the team that surrounds him. The traditional slash stats paint the same picture, though: Granderson hit .262/.354/.552 this season. Maybe you're like me and you prefer advanced offensive metrics. In that case, you'll be happy to know Granderson has an OPS+ of 138 and a wOBA (compares on a scale similar to on-base percentage) that's almost .400.
And Granderson hits righties pretty well too. Against right-handed pitchers, he's hitting .258/.372/.531 with a split OPS+ of 141. He's a little bit better against right-handed starters, with a line of .240/.358/.523 and a split OPS+ of 143.
Put much more simply: Curtis Granderson is the MVP on a team full of MVP's. He is the star on a team full of stars. This kid can hit.
My default position when looking at defense is to go to fielding metrics, especially when I haven't watched a player very thoroughly. With Granderson, I felt comfortable (or uncomfortable, as the case may be) that his defense was really splendid in center field. UZR, however, disagrees. Granderson has a tendency to put up eye-poppingly good UZR scores (13.6 runs saved in 2006 and 14.5 runs saved in 2007) or mediocre to below average ones (-11.9 runs saved in 2008 and -5.3 runs saved this year).
Of course, Granderson passes the seeing-eye test with flying colors. The guy can make some really awesome grabs in center field. And the statistics may not do him justice. A recent article at Fangraphs has argued that positioning might cause Granderson's UZR score to drop in New York. So defensively, I'm still very confident that Curtis has the ability to make some highlight grabs. Like the catch he made against Grady Sizemore. Except substitute Miguel Cabrera for Grady Sizemore. Urp.
Curtis Granderson is a phenomenal human being and a terrific baseball player. He's also going to mash the tar out of this team if given the chance, and it wouldn't shock me to see him rob a couple of our hitters of some nicely hit baseballs. In short, I miss Curtis, but I really wish he would have stayed far away from us.