Curtis Granderson, and balancing his role as a power-hitting leadoff hitter
When the Mets signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million contract in December, 2013, the front office believes they were adding a left-handed hitting power hitter to the middle of their lineup.
He was coming off a lost season in 2013 in which he dealt with two broken hands thanks to being hit by a pitch once in spring training, and another time mid-way through the 2013 season.
But the Mets felt they were acquiring a veteran who could handle the dimensions at Citi Field, who also knew how to deal with the pressures of playing in New York.
Granderson did post 20 home runs in 2014, but it only amounted to a .388 slugging percentage in 155 games.
But the Mets didn’t lose faith in their investment in Granderson. In fact, they saw something in his stat line and approach at the plate which, while not originally envisioned, could prove to be very valuable in an area the club was deficient in.
Granderson reached base 85 times via the walk or hit-by-pitch in 2014. But while it only amounted to a .326 on-base percentage, he became viewed as a possible candidate to leadoff for the club in spring training.
And Granderson has excelled in that role.
He’s posted a .346 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot for the Mets in 118 games this season, and he has a .342 on-base percentage when leading off an inning in 2015 as well.
Granderson has certainly embraced his unexpected assignment, but his success can be attributed to his experience as a leadoff hitter with the Tigers.
“A lot of people forget I led off for most of my career,” Granderson told JustMets.
Indeed that’s true. 3388 of his 6273 career plate appearances have come with him in the leadoff spot in the order.
And Granderson has transformed his role as a power-hitting leadoff hitter. Seven of his 23 home runs this season have come leading off a game, and he’s posted a 124 OPS+, his best mark since 2012 while with the Yankees.
He’s successfully evolved his approach based on specific in-game situations.
“You’re really only in [the leadoff] spot one time over the course of the game,” Granderson said. “Everything else is going to dictate what you need to do when your time comes up to hit. If there are guys on, you’ve got to try to find a way to move them around. If not, you’ve got to try to find a way to get on.”
But even though his fundamental approach might differ at certain points of the game, Granderson never steps into the batters box pressuring himself to hit home runs if it’s a run-producing situation. Rather, he looks for pitches he can drive rather than simply trying to find a way on-base.
“I’m not a guy who can say, ‘hey, I want to drive the ball out of the ballpark this time.’ I’ve never had success doing that,” he explained. “At the same time, I want to look for pitches I can hopefully drive, and if I get it and make the swing I want to, the chances of that ball going out of the ballpark increases. But if I go out there and say, ‘I’ve got to get a home run and do something big,’ it’s not going to work out too good for me.”
If there’s one kink in Granderson’s armor this season, it’s his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching. He’s only hitting .164 with 45 strikeouts in 127 plate appearances against southpaws in 2015, with only one of his 23 home runs coming against left-handed pitching. He’s hitting about 60 points less than his career marks against southpaws, so this season could be considered a blip.
It could also be where he’s at in this stage of his career, and protecting that weakness with a right-handed hitter instead could result in even more production out of that position and make him more productive, especially with the playoffs in sight.
But the Mets have yet to find anyone else who can serve as a quality leadoff hitter on their roster. They’ve examined Juan Lagares over the last year in that role, and while he’s posted a .336 on-base percentage against left-handed pitching this year, consistency has been his biggest problem overall.
So for now, it looks like Granderson will continue to face southpaws on a regular basis, at least until Lucas Duda returns and the Mets can afford to take Granderson’s on-base and power potential out of the lineup occasionally.
It’s never easy to make such a major adjustment like the one Granderson has in having to adapt to an unexpected role. But the Mets knew he could at least serve as a leadoff hitter on an interim basis based on his track record alone.
Not only has he exceeded those expectations, he has redefined himself as a dynamic presence capable of wearing multiple hats at anytime for the Mets.