When I interviewed him for Baseball Prospectus in March 2007, Curtis Granderson was a young outfielder coming off a promising first full season with the Detroit Tigers. He’s since made three All-Star teams, bashed 332 home runs, and accumulated 48.7 WAR. Still active at age 37, Granderson has had a very good career.
How much has his approach — and the game itself — changed since our bygone spring training conversation? Wanting to find out, I approached Granderson with an idea this past summer: what if I were to ask him the exact same set of questions I did more than 11 seasons ago?
Granderson was amenable. Standing by his locker, I pulled a copy of the old interview out of my back pocket and proceeded to revisit the past.
Q: Cutting down on your strikeouts has been a main focus for you this spring. What adjustments are you making?
Granderson: “I think we’re all facing that in today’s game. Strikeouts are at an all-time high. Part of it is the talent that pitchers have now. Speaking 11 years later, they throw harder. Guys have more movement. Guys are bigger, more physical, and there are more of them doing different things — they have different pitches.
“It’s a constant battle to keep your strikeouts down. How to do that? Hopefully not getting yourself in too many two-strike counts. There really isn’t too much more you can do, except that when you do get to two strikes, just continue to battle. Fight.”
Q: You were recently quoted as saying: “The simple approach is that if I stay aggressive, I’ll hit less with two strikes in the count.” Can you elaborate on that?
(Agreeing that he’d basically covered that with his initial answer, Granderson elaborated that he’s “not much different in that regard.”)
Q: What is your opinion of the idea that strikeouts aren’t important, that they’re no worse than any other out?
Granderson: “My answer will be the same as I’m sure it was then. Nothing has changed. It’s an out. If you strike out at the end of the game it’s a more-focused out, but otherwise it’s no different than if you flew out, or grounded out, and nothing positive happened. The thought is, ‘Well, if you put it in play good things could happen,’ and that’s true. It is possible. At the same time, you can strike out and have the ball get past the catcher.
“Enough credit isn’t being given to pitchers. This is especially the case with older individuals who remember the game their way — from when they played it or watched it. They aren’t making that adjustment to how the game is different now. The fastball is 2-3 mph faster now than it was 10 years ago. We just faced a guy in Philly who was throwing 98 mph cutters. This was one of their relievers. Then Tommy Hunter came in and was throwing 95 mph cutters. You didn’t see that in 2007. Kevin Millwood was a big cutter guy, but he was 91-92. Mariano Rivera was 93-94, but not 98 with cut.”
Q: Do you care about your batting average on balls in play, or take any meaning from it?
Granderson: “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that was a stat back then. Did I answer it?” (I told Granderson that he had.) “I never heard anyone talk about it back then. Terms like BABiP, spin rate, and launch angle … they weren’t around, at least not to the point where you’d get asked about them. But as for your question, hits are hits. Even so, you can’t control what happens after you hit the ball.”
Q: Which of your numbers do feel are the most important?
Granderson: “I’d say that games played is probably the most important. It means that you’ve earned an opportunity to be out there — there’s a reason they want you in the ballgame. Whether you’re a defensive asset, an offensive asset, a baserunning asset … you’re some sort of asset to the team.” (I asked Granderson what he thinks he said in the original interview.) “I don’t know. Maybe runs scored?”
Q: Hitters are always making adjustments. What might a pitcher do to force you to make one?
Granderson: “Probably how they’re pitching you, but that’s a very broad sense. I’m not not sure how I’d have answered that 11 years ago.
Q: You’ve had the words “Don’t think, have fun” written on the underside of your cap. What does that mean to you?
Granderson: “I still do. There it is, right there.” (Granderson took his cap out of his locker and turned it over.) “I write it underneath there in my game hat — not my BP hat, just game. It’s a reminder to go out there and play the same way I’ve been playing since I was six years old. Don’t try to overanalyze it. If you do that, you get yourself in too much trouble. Hey, it’s still a fun game. There are a few more people watching. That’s all.”
Q: Which would you rather hit: a long shot deep into the bleachers, or an inside-the-park home run?
Granderson: “Probably the inside-the-park one. Not too many people get a chance to do that. Guys hit balls far, and especially when guys hit balls far … I feel like, because of the Statcast stuff, everyone gets shortchanged. I don’t think they’re as accurate in the distances of the home runs as they say. Sometimes they get drastically shortchanged.
“Aaron Judge hit a ball that went to the top … we were talking about it yesterday, in Yankee Stadium. He hit a ball that went over the bullpen. The bullpen in left-center is 399. The average width of a bullpen — let’s ballpark it as another 30 feet — and then it went to the top of the stands, onto the concourse. They estimated the ball at 490 feet. So, we’re saying that the distance from the 399 mark, to the top of the concourse where the ball landed — they say they’re guesstimating where it’s supposed to land, not where it actually hit — is only another 90 feet? I find that hard to believe.”
Q: If you could set any major league record, what would it be?
Granderson: “That’s a tough one. I would say … hmmm. Homers in a season would be a cool one. What did I say back then?” (I told Granderson that he said Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak.) “Yeah, that would be a cool one, too.”
Q: If you could win any title, or award, this season, what would it be?
Granderson: “World Series. Definitely World Series.” (I told Granderson that his 2007 answer was a Gold Glove.) “Maybe back then you asked me ‘which award,’ specifically? The World Series wouldn’t be an award. But if I had to pick an award — an individual award — the ones I could win would be MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger. I’d take any of them, but Gold Glove would still be pretty cool.”
Q: How would you rate where you are as a defensive player right now?
Granderson: “I’m not nearly as good now as I was then, obviously, because of time. But I do have more variety now, because I’ve been playing all three positions. I can still go get it. They had me in center a couple days ago. I was out there rolling around, still standing. I made it through.”
Q: When you think of outfielders in Detroit Tigers history, who comes to mind?
Granderson: “The only two that stand out would be Al Kaline and Willie Horton. They were around when I was there, so I got a chance to meet them, and talk to them. I didn’t know who either one was before I went to the Tigers, though.
“I’d have to do some digging, some research, to say who some of those other guys should be. Infielders I seem to know a lot of. Cecil. Trammell. Whitaker. Tony Phillips. Tony Clark. But the older Tigers outfielders … I don’t know too many of them.” (I told Granderson that he named Chet Lemon — a player he’d been comped to — back in 2007). “It’s possible I’d just heard that, or talked to him. Maybe. Could be.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.