Friday, October 8, 2010

The platoon differential: "Fixing" Curtis Granderson

Curtis Grandrson had just four hits in his career against
Francisco Liriano before his game-changing triple in
the sixth inning on Wednesday.
It seems that every time Curtis Granderson -- the greatest former Mankato Masher -- comes to the plate in the Twins-Yankees series, Ron Darling tells us that the Yankee center fielder is greatly improved since hitting coach Kevin Long reworked his stance.

Oddly, Darling is quite vague on the specifics. There could be any number of reasons why, one of them being that the statistical facts don't match the claim and that Darling is merely buttering up Long by touting his expertise as a hitting instructor. This is not unknown in broadcasting.

About as specific as Darling has been: Granderson, he said, was hitting .240 in August when Long asked manager Joe Girardi to "give him to me for a couple of days" -- keep Granderson out of the lineup for intensive practice. Since then, Darling claimed, Granderson has hit marvelously.

Considering that Granderson hit .247 for the season, that would seem to overstate matters.

Let's back up a minute. The platoon advantage, as Bill James put it more than two decades ago, "is real and virtually universal." This season, in the American League, left-handed batters (such as Granderson) had 71 fewer points of OPS against left-handed pitching than against right-handers; right-handed hitters lost 34 points of OPS against righties. (Detailed numbers here)

Granderson has always sported an even more extreme platoon disadvantage. In 2009, while with the Tigers, Granderson hit .183/.245/.239 against lefties, .275/.358/.539 against righties. That's 413 points of OPS difference, despite which he had 180 at-bats against lefties,which is a lot.

His career platoon splits aren't quite that extreme, but they still suggest that he's virtually unplayable against left-handed pitchers. The Yankees, looking to inject some speed and athleticism into their aging lineup, traded for him anyway.

And he continued to flounder against lefties. And since the Yankees traditionally face more lefties than msot teams (because of the configuration of their home park), and because Granderson was still playing regularly (albeit hitting lower in the lineup), he wound up with 174 plate appearances against left-handers. This was wrecking his numbers.

The Kevin Long intervention appears to have come on Aug. 10 and 11; Granderson didn't start either day, but did play late-inning defense.

Entering Aug. 10, Granderson was hitting .240/.307/.417 for the season -- inadequate for a major league outfielder. After that, he hit .261/.356/.564. Not that much improvement in batting average, but he was drawing more walks and hitting for a lot more power.

I'd be wary of putting much weight on the platoon splits since Aug. 11, even if I had them; there simply aren't enough at-bats involved. I will note that the Star-Ledger (Newark), in reporting on Granderson's resurgence at the plate, said he's hitting .286 against lefties since Aug. 11 -- which would mean that, at least in batting average, he was hitting better against lefties than against righties. That's probably not sustainable.

So yes, the Long intervention appears to have helped Granderson. Whether the improvement, especially against southpaws, is permanent remains to be seen.

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