The New York Mets received precious little production from their outfielders in 2013, as the likes of Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares combined for a .685 On-Base-Plus-Slugging Percentage (28th among major league clubs) and 50 home runs (24th). To add some thump to a mostly anonymous, anemic group of fly catchers, GM Sandy Alderson just added a guy who nearly hit that many homers by himself in recent years -- Curtis Granderson.
Granderson, inked to a four-year, $60 million deal to change buroughs in New York, went deep 40-plus times in both 2011 and 2012. But the soon-to-be-33-year-old's park-and-league adjusted OPS has dropped three years running, from a career-best 42 percent above average in 2011 to 15 percent above average in 2012 and three percent below average last year, when he missed a big chunk of the season after getting hit by pitches that broke his right wrist and left pinkie. His strikeout rate has climbed steadily over that time frame, from 24.5 percent of his plate appearances in '11 to 28.2 percent in '13.
For the Mets' latest free agent gamble to pay off, Granderson will need to prove that his uptick in whiffs and decline in power are more the product of aching hands than a slowing bat. His contact and slugging woes been especially glaring against fastballs.
Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2011
Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2012
Granderson's contact rate vs. fastballs, 2013
Granderson missed just 15.3 percent of the fastballs that he swung at in 2011, comfortably below the 16-17 percent average for MLB hitters. That whiff rate reached 23 percent in 2012, and spiked to 33.3 percent during his injury-shortened 2013 campaign -- highest among all batters seeing at least 400 fastballs.
Even when Granderson has managed to connect, he's rarely ripping fastballs down the right field line. He pulled 54.2 percent of fastballs put in play in 2011, by far the highest rate among left-handed hitters (Ryan Howard was second, at 40.6 percent). But Granderson's pull percentage dipped to 38.3 percent in 2012, and 34.7 percent in 2013. Hitting weaker shots to center and the opposite field, Granderson's slugging percentage against heaters has plummeted from .704 in 2011 (a mark bested only by Matt Kemp) to .456 last year.
Granderson's most comparable players on Baseball Reference through age 32 don't bode especially well for his chances of raking as he reaches his mid-30s. A group of outfielders including Ron Gant, J.D. Drew, Jose Cruz and (gulp) Jason Bay posted a collective OPS that was eight percent above average during their age 33-36 seasons (Bay, 35, is mulling retirement).
If you're optimistic about Granderson, you could say that 2011 was a career year, 2012 was more along the lines of what we should expect from him moving forward, and last year was an injury-riddled mulligan. If you're a pessimist -- there may be a few Mets fans in this category, I'm told -- then Granderson can't turn on fastballs anymore and his contract could turn into another Bay-esque money pit. Alderson and the Amazin's have staked $60 million on Grandy crushing fastballs in Queens.