Will Curtis Granderson Signing Pan Out for New York Mets?

For the first time in years, the New York Mets opened their pockets and brought a big-name free agent to town.

In order to appease rapid sports talk radio participants planning to assemble an angry mob outside of Citi Field, the “cheap” (others could call it “financially responsible,” “logical” or “smart”) Sandy Alderson made his first major splash in the open market by doling out four years worth $60 million to outfielder Curtis Granderson. The New York Post‘s Joel Sherman broke the news on Friday.

On the same day the New York Yankees lost superstar Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, the Mets turned the tables on their cross-town foe, twisting the knife deeper by poaching another one of their big power bats. The Bronx Bombers had no intention of ever bringing Granderson back, but Mets fans tired of playing the jealous little sibling will derive some joy out of landing a lucrative free agent on the same day the Yankees lost their best player.

But does that really make this a joyous occasion for the Mets? After delivering two straight 40-homer seasons in pinstripes, Granderson hit .229/.317/.407 during a season shortened by two fluky, unrelated hand injuries. Can he help the Mets inch closer to their first playoff bid since 2006, or is this just a move to save face among impatient fans yelling for something, anything to invigorate a stagnant organization?

If only life ever contained an easy answer. Granderson has his faults, and any cost-conscious human being will look at every single MLB signing and think, “HE’S GETTING PAID HOW MUCH?!?” But Granderson is also a former All-Star who could become David Wright’s partner in crime amid an offense that desperately needs more pop.

But there’s also a veteran (he’ll turn 33 before Opening Day) that has experienced ample strikeout issues over the past three years.

Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com

Can the Grandy Man Stop Whiffing?

Before his career torpedoed in New York, Jason Bay—who received a nearly identical four-year, $66 million deal four years ago—was an offensive stud in the outfield. His one shortcoming that could have foreshadowed his downfall?  He struck out in 25.4 percent of his at-bats during his last year with the Boston Red Sox.

So once Bay’s debilitating contract finally exited the books, the Mets found another man with strikeout woes to fill his space.

Even when crushing 43 homers in 2012, Granderson also procured a 28.5 percent strikeout rate, which led to a then career-low .232 batting average.  Those troubles continued last season, when he batted .229 with a 28.2 strikeout percentage. There’s plenty of other numbers highlighting his misguided aggression.

From 2008-11, Granderson’s swinging-strike percentage stayed consistently between 8.0-8.5 percent. He looked to have matured from his earlier years with the Detroit Tigers, but his thirst to clear Yankee Stadium’s short porch changed his approach.

In 2012, the mark skyrocketed to 11.8, and it expanded even higher to 13,6 in 2013. His contact rate also dipped to a career-worst 69.5 percent last season, down from his 76.4 percent career average.

Not only did he swing at a higher rate of pitches (45.4 percent) than ever before, he chased bad pitches outside the strike zone. After demonstrating superb patience at the plate in 2008, when he hit .280 with a .365 on-base percentage, Granderson whiffed more and more at pitches out of the zone. Here’s a look at his O-Swing percentages during the past six years.

2008: 19.8%

2009: 20.1 %

2010: 25.6 %

2011: 25.7 %

2012: 29.5%

2013: 31.3 %

Granderson will keep hitting .220 until he lays off unfavorable offerings that would otherwise be ruled balls.

But What About His Power?

Those declining measures are one thing from a guy smashing 40 dingers, but that won’t carry over well in Citi Field. He’ll need to follow Wright’s mold and slash some strikeouts to enhance his on-base percentage, even if it means sending less balls over the fences. Chances are, that’s going to happen anyway.

In perhaps the coolest thing ever invented (I’m just realizing now that I really ought to go outside more), ESPN’s Home Run Tracker allows us to easily view the landing distances of all of Granderson’s home runs in respect to any stadium’s measures. Overlaying his blasts with Citi Field, seven of his 43 round-trippers from 2012 wouldn’t have cleared the fences in Queens. Three of them fell right around the border.

From 2010-12, Granderson produced 47 homers on the road, so his power won’t entirely dissipate. He also hit 30 long balls in Detroit before getting traded to the Bronx, so the Yankees didn’t completely morph him into a long-ball threat.

Just don’t expect him to return to knocking 40 homers out of the park with the Mets. If he can offer 30, great, but 25 is probably a more reasonable goal. That still would have led the team last year.

Will Half Measures Work for Mets?

The MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, who has tried with all his might to bring advanced statistics to the forefront of typical baseball discussion, laid out a blueprint to fix the Mets both on Twitter and MLB Clubhouse Confidential. One of his nuggets recommended the Mets purchasing “half players.”

https://twitter.com/MrBrianKenny/status/406992980919476224

No, he was not suggesting they sign a legless pitcher or a shortstop with one arm. He was advocating they seek out platoons whenever possible, but his thought process also belies the foundation of Moneyball. Teams on a limited budget must locate flawed alternatives that can overcome one of two deficiencies with other skills and high upside.

While Mike Ehrmantraut would bash the concept of half measures, it could work wonders for the Mets.

Although separated by multiple years and millions of dollars, their two outfield signings in Granderson and Chris Young share many similarities. Both bring a mix of power and speed to the table, which showed in fruitful 2011 campaigns.

Granderson’s 2011 stats: .262/.364/.552, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 136 R, 25 SB, 6.7 WAR

Young’s 2011 stats: .236/.331/.420, 20 HR, 71 BI, 89 R, 22 SB, 4.5 WAR

Young delivered better offensive numbers in 2010, but his 20 defensive runs saved earned him a career-best WAR. If these guys come close to returning to those stats, the Mets will be walking on sunshine.

Perhaps the Mets have identified free swingers as the latest market inefficiency. A decade ago, Billy Beane snagged disciplined batters at discounted rates, but those guys no longer sneak beneath the cracks unless truly wretched contact abilities hide the results.

Having seen the horrors done by other major contracts, the Mets are shying away from complete packages. They found power, speed and defense with Young and Granderson at the sacrifice of accruing their decrepit strikeout habits.

Last season, the Red Sox built an assortment of half measures into a full team that won it all. Shane Victorino looked like an overpay at the time after a down year, but he bounced back to become a vital cog in their championship squad. Can the Mets bring about the same good fortune with Granderson?

Will the Mets Contend with Granderson?

No, probably not.

Would Granderson uplifting them from 74 wins to 77 victories really mean all that much in the long run? Not really, which is why Alderson had his reasons to remain a spectator during the influx of winter activities. The Atlanta Braves have built another batch of in-grown stars and the Washington Nationals are gearing up to accomplish what was expected of them last season. Even more important, Matt Harvey will spend the entire 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Granderson does not make the Mets a playoff contender in 2014, but if they can sort out Ike Davis’ early-season woes, build up their young pitching and obtain another impact bat, 2015 might be the year for them to rise from the dead. Listen to WFAN for five minutes, and you’ll discover why they jumped the gun now.

Even in a poor 2012, Granderson amassed a 2.3 WAR. Forget his MVP-caliber 2011; if Granderson can return to 2010 levels, where he hit .247/.324/.468 with 24 homers, solid defense and a 3.5 WAR, he’ll be worth the investment. Shifting to a corner outfield spot should also help avoid waning defensive productivity.

Yet the same fans who cried for the team to pay Granderson will whine about his poor batting average, oblivious to the existence of any stats. Welcome (back) to New York, Curtis!

Final Verdict

Meh. It’s not a total game-changer, but there’s more upside there than with Nelson Cruz, a Carlos Beltran reunion or any other realistic target. It’s also not as risky as tossing $100 million at Jacoby Ellsbury (I’m sure a speedy outfielder will hold up just fine until he’s 37) and Shin Soo-Choo, an on-base fiend whose power would not translate well in Citi Field.

Signing Granderson is hardly a reason to break out the champaggin, but it’s also not atrocious enough to decry your allegiance to the Mets and ram your head into the wall.

The Mets are certainly not fixed yet, but Granderson is better than what they had by a mile, and it’s not like we’re paying his salary. The story on this deal is yet to be written, as this one could easily stray in either direction as a massive dud or smashing success.

For now, let’s give the signing a B.

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