Last August, with the New York Yankees in the middle of a pennant race, Curtis Granderson made an extremely questionable decision. Fed up with his futility against lefties, Granderson decided to completely revamp his swing. The decision carried a considerable amount of risk, since few hitters are able to completely retool their swing on the fly. Since that fateful day in August, Granderson’s performance against lefties has improved markedly. After last night’s home run against David Price, it’s time to take a closer look at Granderson’s transformation.
Granderson’s success against left-handers cannot be written about without mentioning Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long. Even though Long initially expressed doubts about how soon Granderson would see results, some changes happened almost immediately. Just 48 hours after Granderson announced his plans, Mike Axisa broke down Granderson’s new stance. Granderson had eliminated his “toe tap” and appeared to have lowered his hands against lefties.
The new approach worked almost immediately. Over the rest of the season, Granderson – a career .209/.266/.334 hitter against lefties – hit .286/.375/.500 versus southpaws. Granderson achieved this success in just 56 at-bats, however, meaning much of his improvement could easily be written off as a small sample size fluke.
Granderson’s success has continued this season, making his breakout against lefties more significant. It’s an incredibly small sample, but Granderson is absolutely murdering lefties this season. In just 40 at-bats, Granderson has hit .275/.326/.850 (!) against lefties in 2011. While the batting average and on-base percentage is nothing to get excited about, it’s a huge improvement over his numbers before he revamped his swing. As evidenced by his ridiculous slugging percentage, Granderson is completely destroying lefties when he makes contact. Entering this season, Granderson had only hit 20 home runs against lefties over his career. This season, he already has seven home runs against same-handed pitchers.
Of course, that still doesn’t completely disprove the “small sample size” problem. Since making the change, Granderson has accumulated only 96 at-bats against lefties. While those at-bats have been exceptional, we have to be cautious when examining Granderson due to the sample size.
At the same time, there are some legitimate reasons to buy Granderson’s improvement despite such a tiny sample. For example, it’s probably not a coincidence that Granderson started hitting lefties better once he worked with his hitting coach to revamp his swing. As Axisa’s article pointed out, it was easy to spot some immediate changes in Granderson’s approach from day one of this experiment. I also spoke to Axisa about Granderson’s performance this season. Axisa noted that while he would typically chalk up this type of performance to small sample size, you can physically see a change in Granderson’s approach this season. He looks like a totally different player (…and when Mike Axisa talks about the Yankees, you should freakin listen to him).
The fact that we can physically see a change in Granderon’s approach makes his breakout against lefties more believable. As Axisa noted, Granderson is a totally different player right now. Even if we expect Granderon’s line against lefties to regress as the season progresses, he has completely erased the notion that he needs to be platooned. Even when Granderson struggled to hit lefties, he was still recognized as a strong outfielder. With his new found usefulness against left-handers, Granderson is already establishing himself as one of the best outfielders in the game.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.