Curtis Granderson vs. Breaking Balls

Future strikeout?

Curtis Granderson strikes out a lot. There aren't a lot witty or compelling ways to introduce that fact, and the title probably gives it away a little bit, so there it is. 'A lot' seems like a better term than 'too much' if only because it's an out like any other. It won't move runners over or bring in a run with one out, which is annoying, but it won't lead to double play as often as a poorly placed shank of a ground ball either. Everything has its pros and cons. Really, if the grounder option is in the hopes that a fielder boots it, that's a whole separate problem.

It's pretty well detailed how Granderson's free swinging and has gotten just a little bit more free this season. The slash line is down, the strikeout rate is up and he looks genuinely confused in many at-bats. Still on pace for 40 home runs after last year's 40 home run campaign, the free swinging can be excused to an extent. While not ideal, it does seem to be working. But there has to be a limit to freedom. Too much freedom leads to anarchy, which is kind of what we're seeing this year.

It isn't anarchy in the sense that he has no leader. I have to assume Granderson isn't trying to violently overthrow Joe Girardi and Kevin Long so he can take a javelin to the plate with him. It's more in the sense that there doesn't appear to be a lot of order to him as a hitter. He's swinging more that usual, leading to more strikeouts, but he's still being patient and walking above his career average. He's hitting less, but it hasn't taken a major toll on his power. The one thing that's really been consistent has been inconsistency. Playing a major role has been an increasing willingness to expand his strike zone to chase breaking balls.

Since coming over to the Yankees in 2010, Granderson has become somewhat of a different hitter. Chalk some of it up to playing half his games in a ballpark that is considerably different from Comerica. The home runs have increased, which you would expect moving to a smaller stadium, but they have come at the 'expense' of other extra-base hits. Home runs are all well and good, but trying to attack the short porch has led to some worrying trends.

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Swinging more outside the strike zone isn't necessarily a bad thing. Part of what makes players like Robinson Cano so great is the ability to expand the zone and still make solid contact. That assumes solid contact is made, though. For the first two seasons in New York, Granderson was able to increasingly stray outside the zone without any kind of noticeable drop in overall contract. This season has shown a drastic shift in that trend. While remaining consistent in his in-zone swings, his chase and whiff rates have jumped up, leading a serious drop in overall contact.

The in-zone contact has been way down this year, about 5.5 percent, but that's an easier fix than reining in an expanded zone; especially when that zone has shifted completely away from what makes him an effective hitter. Easy for me to say from sidelines of the sidelines, but the whole game is adjustments. He thrives on being able to pull the ball either to the right-center gap over over the fence. When the strike zone expands low and outside, it's going to be toxic to a pull hitter. Pitchers know this and have exploited this trend with a steady dose of breaking balls.

And those are just the breaking balls he whiffs on. Even when he doesn't miss, Granderson is swinging at more and more breaking pitches down and out of the zone. When he isn't swinging over top of curves or reaching for sliders he shouldn't be swinging at, he's occasionally punching singles on curves and sliders he shouldn't be swinging at. True, he has golfed a couple home runs on low sliders that tailed to the middle. Almost forgot about the dingers. It hardly seems like the logical trade-off, though. While it's nice to know Granderson might be able to park one even if it isn't a great pitch to go for, the percentages clearly don't favor his boldness.

Watching Granderson swing and miss so often hasn't been fun, at least one would hope not, but what's concerning is that things appear to be getting worse. Not just the drop in contact or jump in chase rate as a whole; it's the pitches he's chasing. His power doesn't play to the opposite field, so to seem him expand his zone low and away is troubling. He could be pressing trying to find more consistency, reaching to try to hook and pull everything or his entire approach may have changed. Whatever it is, it hasn't bred much consistency this season.

Throwing a breaking ball to a hitter like Granderson is always going to be a gamble. If it isn't buried or strays towards the middle of the middle of the plate, there's a good chance it ends up in the seats. The problem is that the gamble isn't completely one-sided. Chasing a stream of pitches outside of what is typically a comfort zone is Granderson's gamble. One that could keep the team from taking a chance on him if things continue this way.

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