Why Curtis Granderson Could Be the Next Jason Bay After All

It’s been nearly a week since we heard the Mets were signing Curtis Granderson — enough time for the news to digest, to sleep on it, to think it over. So here we go.

After hearing about an un-Aldersonlike 4-year, $60M contract, immediate comparisons to the Jason Bay deal were a natural progression. Around the Mets beat and blogosphere, the response has been mixed in that regard, though overall the consensus seems to be defending the signing of Granderson, with people pointing to all kinds of details suggesting that the player and the current situation are much different from the one the Mets chose around this time four years ago.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there are too many small fires being snuffed out in the Grandy camp to prevent comparison to the day the Mets dumped too many dollars and years into the Bay of Jason.

As Yogi Berra might say, “it’s deja vu all over again.”

Let’s get one thing straight: I am firmly seated on the Grandwagon. I love, love, LOVE Curtis Granderson, and always have. He will bring an energy and enthusiasm to the ballpark that hasn’t been seen in Flushing since Jose Reyes was allowed to walk away. He plays hard, with intensity. He plays the game the right way. He has an infectious personality, he’s great with the media, and he’s incredibly generous in terms of giving back to the game and the community. In short, he’s a good guy — in many ways, much like David Wright.

Let’s get another thing straight: for all of the reasons above, and many more, the Mets HAD TO sign Curtis Granderson. It was absolutely, positively, the right move, right now. Beyond an uptick in ticket sales, the Mets will benefit greatly from Granderson’s presence. He lifts the image of the organization, he makes it appear (for now) that the Mets are players in the free-agent market, he will serve in a leadership role for the club’s young players, and he will bring with him the habits of a winner.

OK, do we all agree on the above? Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty: how will Granderson perform for the Mets over the next four years?

As the headline suggests, I have my doubts, and there are far too many similarities (coincidences?) between Jason Bay circa 2009 and today’s Curtis Granderson. A few to list:

Age

Bay was coming out of his age-30 season. PEDsless history has shown us that the majority of hitters have a tendency to lose bat speed and see a decrease in performance as they get further and further away from their 20s. Granderson turns 33 in mid-March, and, homerun numbers aside, has been showing a gradual decrease in offensive performance since his age-27 season.

“Well, hold on a second, Joe — GrandyMan had a spectacular 2011 season, when he was 30, leading the AL in runs and RBI, smacking 41 HRs, and posting a .364 OBP, .552 SLG, and .913 OPS. Those stats are almost identical to his age-26 and age-27 seasons!”

Oh my, you’re right. Well, maybe we should look at what Jason Bay did as a 30-year-old: 36 HR, 119 RBI, .384 OBP, .537 SLG, .931 OPS. That production was very close to what he did in his age 26 and 27 seasons. Huh, go figure. Probably a coincidence, right?

The Stadium and Lineup Argument

“But Bay was playing in Fenway Park that year, a stadium that is notorious for beefing up the stats of righthanded hitters! And, Bay was in the middle of a Boston lineup that also included David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who all hit well!”

Oh jeez, you’re right. And Granderson played his home games where? Oh, that’s right — a park that is built for lefthanded power hitters, with a jet stream in right field that carries balls over the fence. And the Yankee lineup that year had some sluggers of their own, namely, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, and, for half a season, Alex Rodriguez — among others. Heck, even Russell Martin banged out 18 homers in 2011, and Andruw Jones and Jorge Posada combined for another 27 from the DH spot.

For what it’s worth, in 2011, Granderson hit 20 HRs as a visitor to other parks. In 2009, 15 of Bay’s four-baggers were hit in Fenway, while 21 were hit at others. It could be argued that Bay would’ve hit even MORE homeruns had the Green Monster not interfered with his long line drives to left field.

The Homerun Length Argument

“But Joe, Curtis Granderson hit homeruns that would go out of ANY park. Maybe a few were helped by the Yankee Stadium jet stream, but he also hit a bunch of homers away from home. Didn’t you see the overlay charts?”

Oh yes, oh yes I did. Did you? And do you remember the overlay charts presented (and supposedly, researched by the Mets front office) when Jason Bay was signed? Let’s compare, courtesy of ESPN’s HitTrackerOnline

Jason Bay 2009 (36 Homeruns) Citi Field Overlay

jason-bay-overlay-2009-499

Curtis Granderson 2011 (41 Homeruns) Citi Field Overlay

curtis-granderson-2011-overlay499

Hmmm … do you see what I see? Maybe I need to check my eyes, but it looks like Jason Bay would’ve lost only 3 or 4 of his HRs hit in 2009 to the depths of The Field At Shea Bridge. In comparison, of the 41 homers hit by Granderson in 2011, he also would’ve lost about four. What I’m trying to show here is that there is some commonality in the arguments — we’ve been here, done that. And further, the argument that Granderson hit homeruns further than Bay did, doesn’t wash.

In fact, also according to HitTrackerOnline.com, in 2009, Jason Bay’s 36 homers had an average “true distance” of 393.7 feet, an average “standard distance” of 389.9, and gopher balls came off his bat at an average speed of 102.9 MPH. To compare, in 2011, Granderson’s 41 dingers had an average “true distance” of 389.1 feet, “standard distance” of 385.8, and the balls came off his bat at a speed of 102.4 MPH. Based on those numbers, Bay’s homeruns were hit further, and at a slightly faster speed, than Granderson’s.

Just to be fair to Granderson, I also checked out his Citi Field overlay for 2012, which is more recent, and when he hit 43 homeruns:

curtis-granderson-2012-overlay-499
The stats go like this: “true distance” was 383.2 feet, “standard distance” 379.4 feet, and balls off the bat speed was 101.6 MPH.

Uh-oh.

So, in addition to Granderson’s batting average taking a 30-point nosedive (.262 to .232) in his age-31 season, his homerun distance and balls-off-the-bat speed dropped by almost one MPH. And, according to the overlay, about 8 of his 43 homers would have been swallowed by Flushing Cavern. Maybe closer to a dozen, as I’m not sure whether outfield wall height is factored into the overlay? In fact, although “true distance” takes into account atmospheric conditions, I don’t know exactly how that translates in regard to the park overlays — anyone else? Also, HitTrackerOnline only tracks homeruns, so we don’t know how many long fly balls that remained in the park hit by either player would have drifted over one of Citi Field’s walls.

But again, I present this because the defense of Granderson is shaping up so eerily similar to that of Bay. If you remember, the big to-do was that the Mets chose Bay over Matt Holliday because of all kinds of extensive research suggesting that Bay had a better chance than Holliday of hitting homeruns at Citi Field — at least some of it had to do with Bay’s tendency to pull (as well as his homeruns’ distance).

Speed and Defense

Back in 2009, the Mets were getting a Jason Bay who had above-average running ability, evidenced in part by his 13 stolen bases and 103 runs scored in his final year in Boston. There wasn’t an agreement on his defensive prowess, though (we’re going to back to perceptions THEN, not now, with the benefit of hindsight). Many said his defense was not very good, and wouldn’t play well in the Mets’ home park. Others pointed out that Bay had been athletic enough to play center field on occasion in Pittsburgh, and was never considered terrible as a Bucco, and perhaps had trouble adjusting to the Green Monster.

Similarly, Granderson comes into Flushing as someone who has displayed above-average running skills recently, and with questions about his defense. On the one hand, he’s been an everyday center fielder, so the theory is that he’ll be a good corner man. On the other hand, people using their eyes say that Granderson’s range has deteriorated, and, indeed, his UZR was an abysmal -18.5 in 2012, playing 157 games as a center fielder. It jumped up to 21.5 in 2013, but that was in only 197 innings (about 21-22 games) in centerfield — so the sample size is far too small. If you look back to 2011, his other most recent full season as a center fielder, his UZR was also less than great at -5.3.

Why do I bring this up? First, because it’s another parallel between the two players at the time of their respective signings. And secondly, because a dropoff in fielding could be an indicator of overall erosion of skills.

The Swing Thing

Do you remember how Jason Bay began his Mets career in a slump? Do you remember that he “couldn’t get comfortable” and was changing his stance on an almost daily basis? It was an issue that continued throughout his time with the Mets.

Curtis Granderson had similar issues of “getting comfortable in the box” at a similar age/point in his career. Luckily, though, he was able to work things out with Yankees batting coach Kevin Long , who is widely respected as one of the best in his craft. Kevin Long simplified Granderson’s swing, and tuned both his mechanics and his approach to exploit the Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch. Long also made in-season adjustments to Granderson’s swing in 2010 that turned him into a 40+ homerun monster.

So, what happens when Granderson — who became a dead pull, ball-lofting hitter — sees his 370-foot flies fall securely into the leather of opposing right fielders standing at the warning track in Citi Field? Will he, like Jason Bay, start to tinker with his stance, with his load, with his swing path, in the hopes of sending the ball a few feet further? Will he completely change the approach he’s had for the last three years, and start aiming for the opposite field? Will he make adjustments to cut down the uppercut and loft, to hit more ground balls and line drives? And if he does, is Dave Hudgens capable of guiding him through it successfully? Or, will Kevin Long agree to meet Granderson secretly in the basement of Foley’s Pub one night to “fix” his swing?

Even if Granderson continues to hit balls over the fence, he’s unlikely to improve upon his batting average, which projects to be in the .230 – .240 range. He doesn’t walk very often, either, so he’s going to make lots of outs. I don’t see Mets fans booing him unmercifully the way they did to Bay, but making out after out after out can weigh on a hitter’s mind and negatively impact his confidence — just as Bay or Ike Davis can tell you.

Being “The Man” / Batting Cleanup

Both Jason Bay and Curtis Granderson were brought into Flushing to bat cleanup, protecting David Wright in the lineup. There are people who pooh-pooh the theory that hitters react different based on their lineup position, but I believe that certain spots can positively or negatively affect certain players. For example, I felt Mike Jacobs shouldn’t have ever batted fourth, and had the numbers to support it. We kind of covered the lineup thing a bit earlier here, but I’d like to go into further detail. Namely, Jason Bay hit 5th or 6th twice as often as 4th for the Bosox, and rarely if ever was he “the man” in the lineup. Similarly, Granderson has spent most of Yankees career hitting 2nd. And while he hit a boatload of homers, I’m not sure he could’ve been considered “the man” — the guy who carries the team on his back, the hitter the other team strategizes to avoid, and the player who provides protection for everyone else. You could argue that David Wright is “the man” and you’re probably correct. But, Wright needs a secondary “the man” in the same way Carlos Beltran needed a heavy-hitting Carlos Delgado a few years back. Bay hadn’t been that guy since his Pittsburgh days, and Granderson, never was — he was a leadoff hitter in his time as a Tiger. For what it’s worth: Bay batted cleanup 383 times in his career, and posted a .860 OPS. Granderson has been written into the #4 spot in the lineup only 7 times in his career — too small a sample size, but on the bright side, he’s hit 3 HR and posted a 1.142 OPS through 30 plate appearances. Of course, we don’t even know for sure if Granderson will bat fourth — it’s only a guess.

Swinging and Missing

Another coincidence: Jason Bay came in as someone who took plenty of walks, but also struck out more than most — he’d whiffed 162 times in 151 games with the Bosox in 2009, a career high. Granderson bested that in both 2011 (169 Ks) and 2012 (195).

Changing Leagues

Both Bay and Granderson join the Mets after playing in the AL East. Very generally speaking, when a player spends most of his career in one league, adjusting to the other can be difficult in his first year, because he’s unfamiliar with many of the new league’s pitchers (particularly the relievers). For Bay, it was mostly a non-factor, since he’d been with the Pirates through July 2008. But Granderson has spent all of his ten years in the Adulterated League. Granted, there’s less mystery thanks to interleague play, but it’s another factor that could cause Granderson to start slowly.

Freak Injuries

Jason Bay’s difficult debut with the Mets was cut short due to a concussion at the close of his age-31 season. In his age-32 season, Granderson similarly had a rough time at the plate, and suffered two freak injuries that limited him to only 61 games. I realize Bay’s injury happened after being signed by the Mets, but I bring it up because of the similarities in age and production. It’s a given that for most, advancing age affects performance — is it possible that injuries can exacerbate performance further?

Conclusion

Though no one necessarily expected Jason Bay to be an MVP candidate after being signed by the Mets, there wasn’t much concern that he’d completely fall off a cliff the way he did. And there’s already been discussion in the comments there that Bay was an outlier, and Granderson couldn’t possibly sink to such depths in his next four years. Honestly, I’m not so sure. With Bay, there were little signs here and there prior to his arrival that became more noticeable upon seeing him every day. Further, in my opinion, many of his eroding skills were inflamed by being in an unsupportive situation — there wasn’t much talent around him, the coaching/management wasn’t helpful, and the fans turned against him immediately. Will there be more support for Granderson? Maybe, but what bothers me are the parallels I see between he and Bay at similar ages, and the fact that Bay came in with similar if not better skills, and a few years younger. What really jumps out is that Granderson’s current value came mainly because he was in a lineup full of All-Stars and tailored his swing and approach to fit Yankee Stadium like a glove — much like Bobby Murcer did back in the 1970s. It wouldn’t surprise me to see his homerun total drop to something below 20 per season as a Met. If Granderson becomes a guy who hits 15-19 HRs, bats .230, and posts a .310 OBP, would that be considered a success?

I’ve talked enough. Time for you to respond.

13-14 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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