Curtis Granderson: Yankee Centerfielder Quickly Earning His Pinstripes
There is always concern when bringing a new player aboard, wondering how quickly he'll adjust to his new surroundings, how he'll fit into the clubhouse, and if he'll deliver the same production that prompted your team to covet him in the first-place. That concern is especially magnified in the Bronx, where occasionally, even a great player will find the blinding lights of the big city too much to handle.
Another factor that can influence this thought process, is the method in which the player was acquired. Concerning a big-ticket free agent signing, it's always disconcerting to feel that you may have made a mistake, committing large sums of money for several years to a player who may just not be cut out to play in a particular environment. If the player was obtained through a trade, especially for valued prospects, fans always wonder if the youngsters traded away will go on to develop into one of the game's next superstars, only in a different uniform.
That's the specific situation facing Curtis Granderson. Obtained in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, in which the Yankees traded away one of their most touted prospects in years, center-fielder Austin Jackson, Curtis has had to deal with the potential backlash of being traded for a fan-favorite, home-grown prospect.
Many viewed Jackson as the potential heir to the Yankees' prestigious center-field position, following in the steps of greats like Bernie Williams, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. A fleet-footed, five-tool athlete, Jackson appeared to be destined for the Bronx in the next season or two.
There were concerns though, as Jackson had yet to develop the power that many predicted of him, and his high strikeout totals were alarming, considering his lack of power.
The concerns were apparently shared by the Yankee brass, who despite their once-high hopes for him, cooled on the idea of him succeeding in the Bronx. So much in fact, that when presented with an opportunity to obtain Curtis Granderson from the Tigers, the Yankees were willing to include Austin Jackson in the package of players headed to Detroit.
Granderson came with his own set of concerns, notably a distinct lack of success against left-handed pitching, and high strikeout totals himself. By some estimations, his once-stellar center-field defense had also regressed, causing some to speculate that the Yankees would move him to left-field to accommodate Brett Gardner in center.
Once the 2010 season began, the scrutiny only intensified. As Austin got off to a scintillating start in Detroit, spraying line drives all over the field, and making spectacular plays in center, Granderson's experience was vastly different.
Although he quickly endeared himself to Yankee fans, by hitting clutch home-runs off of Boston's Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon in the season's opening series, his fortunes soon turned for the worse.
After getting off to a quick start during his first few weeks in the Bronx, Granderson quickly faded, going into into a two week funk that saw his average drop to .221 as he was striking out once in every four plate appearances. His frustrations took on another dimension when on May 1, he injured his groin running the bases and found himself on the disabled list.
Missing almost a full month of the season, Granderson was eager to return to action in order to make up for lost time. His return didn't go exactly according to plan however, as he picked up right where he left off...struggling at the plate. On a positive note, although his bat was still lagging behind, his defensive work alongside Brett Gardner helped to vastly improve the Yankee defense, making left and center-fields, places that extra-base hits went to die.
His struggles at the plate continued though, from June 1 to August 31, he hit only .244 with a .751 OPS, while striking out 70 times in 305 plate appearances. While his power picked up slightly, he slugged .444 during that span, as opposed to .403 before June began. Something looked slightly off with his swing, and the results were bearing that out.
Granderson then enlisted the assistance of Yankee hitting coach, Kevin Long, and dedicated himself to becoming a more efficient hitter. Removing some of the movement from Granderson's pre-swing approach, Long helped him to calm in the batter's box and stay in longer on pitches from left-handers, thinking opposite field more than straight pull.
Thus far, the results appear to demonstrate a new, improved Curtis Granderson. Whether it's simply a short hot stretch, time will tell, but for now, Granderson appears calm, collected, and is scorching the ball just at the right time for the Yankees. So far in September, over the course of 19 games and 78 plate appearances, Granderson is hitting .288 with a massive 1.011 OPS, smacking six home-runs, with 18 RBI, as well as greatly reducing his strike out rate.
Yankee fans had been getting impatient with the struggling Granderson, including myself. It never felt right though, because as fantastic of a human being as Curtis is, it only feels natural to root for such man. His humble, friendly nature, combined with his intelligence and grace, all within a man blessed with such athletic gifts, make him, not Austin Jackson, the Yankee center-fielder now, and hopefully for several years to come. Bernie, Mick and Joe D would be proud to have him amongst them.