Perception, Reality, and Curtis Granderson

NEW YORK - AUGUST 07: Curtis Granderson #14 of the New York Yankees hits an RBI triple in the second-inning against the Boston Red Sox on August 7 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Obviously, a .240/.307/.417 batting line isn't what anybody was hoping for when the Yankees traded Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Ian Kennedy to bring Curtis Granderson to the Bronx last offseason, and the fact that Ajax got off to such a hot start hasn't helped the issue (although it's worth pointing out that he is hitting just .284/.329/.379 in 339 plate apperances since the calandar turned to May).

And so now the story goes something like this: because Granderson is struggling, the Yankees traded for Austin Kearns, and now there's a good chance that the Yankees will go after Carl Crawford or some other big name player this offseason and Granderson will wind up on the bench or playing for some other team before perhaps even the middle of next season. 

All I can say is, thank goodness sportswriters aren't GMs. 

The biggest problem, in life and baseball, is the clash between perception and reality.  What I mean is, things are a certain way, yet we perceive them to be some other way and proceed to base our expectations and outlook on the way we wished things were, not the way they actually are (this is how political cable news attracts viewers, but I digress....). 

We've subjected Curtis Granderson to this faulty thinking.  Most scouts and defensive metrics rate him as a solid centerfielder, and by positional standards, he's got above average power (.208 career ISO despite spending most of his career in a pitcher's park).  He's also a safe bet for 15-20 stolen bases per year at a very high rate of success.  Yet somehow, we now think the Yankees should bench/trade this guy because, unsurprisingly, he isn't hitting left-handed pitching, and all because of some unfounded animosity towards platooning players.

I know, I know.  Granderson makes a lot of money, he's a big name player, he should be able to hit left-handers.   But he can't.  He never has.  He probably never will.  It's that darn perception versus reality thing.  He's come to the plate 3,200 as a major leaguer, and another 1,800 times as a minor leaguer, and if his struggles were the result of a flaw in his swing, or a simple lack of exposure, one would think that 5,000 plate apperances would be enough to sort something like that out. 

No, I think the problem is something else.  Whether it's the name recognition, his contract, or their own ineptitude, the managers that Granderson has played for have failed to see his struggles against lefties as a reason to hold him from the lineup on certain days.  Again, it's that perception versus reality thing.  Yesterday, Granderson struck out in the 7th inning against Jon Lester with the tying run in scoring position.  My question is, why is he ever facing one of the top three lefthanded starters in all of baseball?  Sending Granderson to the plate in this situation and expected him to succeed makes about as much sense as asking Jorge Posada to steal 30 bases, and I don't see anybody doing that.

Here are Granderson's stat lines against righties for each of his full major league seasons so far:

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If he never faces a lefty (and stays healthy), he's still going to come to the plate 500 times, post an OPS in the mid-.800s, play stellar defense in center, and steal 15-20 bases at a high rate of success, all for an annual salary that's about the same as what Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews Jr. are making.  Sure, you'll need a decent 4th outfielder to take the 100 or so at-bats that come against lefties, but is that really the worst thing in the world? 

Perception verus reality.  CC Sabathia isn't going to lose 70 lbs.  Brett Gardner isn't going to hit 30 home runs.  Curtis Granderson isn't going to hit left-handed pitching, but that doesn't mean he's a bench player, trade bait, or a bust.    It does mean that Joe Girardi is foolish for sending him to the plate against Jon Lester, but just add that to the list..... 

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