Curtis Granderson Hopes to Regain Home-Run Stroke to Power Yankees to Playoffs

Christopher ConnorsCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2012

Curtis Granderson has hit more home runs than any big leaguer over the last two seasons.
Curtis Granderson has hit more home runs than any big leaguer over the last two seasons.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Since the start of the 2011 MLB season, no player has hit more home runs than New York Yankee Curtis Granderson. Granderson continues to slug at an impressive clip, though he's fallen off somewhat from the tremendous power display he put on in the Bronx last season.

With a lightning-quick, crisp, compact swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium's short right porch, Granderson has electrified the crowds in the Bronx with his booming shots. He even evoked memories of a Yankees legend, Reggie Jackson, earlier this season on April 19th when he socked three homers into the right-field bleachers against the Minnesota Twins.

With great power comes great responsibility, though, and the Yankees are hoping their slugging center fielder can heat up over the final 26 games and vault the Yankees into the playoffs for the 17th time in 18 seasons.

Curtis Granderson playing at the top of his game is what the Yankees will need to get there and advance throughout the postseason.

Granderson came to the Yankees in a blockbuster trade in December 2009 involving the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers. The Yankees dealt former first-round pick Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks and sent prized prospect Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke to Detroit.

While it was particularly very tough to part ways with Ian Kennedy and burgeoning then-prospect Austin Jackson, the Yankees can hardly take issue with the returns that the 31-year-old from Chicago has delivered so far. The problem now is that he's set the bar so high.

Granderson led the American League in runs scored and runs batted in (RBI) in 2011, while belting 41 home runs, good enough for second in the AL. He was fourth overall in offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a metric that calculates how many more wins one player represents for their team over a replacement-level player at the same position.

Granderson had a productive all-around first season in Yankees pinstripes but carried with him from Detroit his lackluster hitting against left-handed pitchers (LHP). Granderson belted 24 home runs in 2010, with only four coming against southpaws.

It wasn't until a mid-August hitting tutorial with Yankees hitting coach, Kevin Long, that Granderson found the elixir for his left-handed hitting woes. Suddenly revitalized, Granderson was equipped to solve the one glaring weakness that had been plaguing his game for most of his career.

Granderson made a swift, dramatic improvement against lefties and carried that enhancement in production into 2011, where he finished with an amazing .944 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) against LHP.

This was the third-highest OPS for a left-handed hitter against LHP in the majors, behind professional hitters Joey Votto and David Ortiz.

Through games played September 5th, Granderson is note quite at the sensational level that he was at in 2011, but he is still performing quite credibly against southpaws, hitting 13 homers and producing a .789 OPS. 

Granderson's extraordinary turnaround against lefties showcased his work ethic, his desire to improve and his humility, given he already had established himself as an All-Star and elite player earlier in his career.

The Grandy Man's weakness is his high strikeout total, which leads to him putting fewer balls in play than the average hitter. He finished fourth in the AL last season in Ks and is currently fourth this season. For any great power hitter, though, swings and misses will come with the territory.

Granderson's batting eye and patience at the plate more than make up for his high strikeout count. He sees many pitches, helping to wear down the opposing team's pitcher, making it easier for the Yankees to get into the other team's bullpen earlier in the game.

Granderson is currently ninth in the AL in Bases on Balls (BB), and he ranks fifth in the majors in pitches per plate appearance (P/PA).

The unassuming Granderson does not view himself as a home-run hitter, and at first blush, he doesn't look like the prototypical power slugger. He did swipe 25 bases last season and remains one of the league's faster players.

Don't be fooled, however. Granderson's exceptional power is generated from his strong upper body, core and quick wrists, which help him pull the ball with great force.

As the stretch run starts to heat up and the Yankees look to fend off the Orioles and Rays, they'll be relying on their star center fielder to regain his form and power them to the top of the AL East in 2012; and for years to come.

The Yanks hold a team option for their center fielder in 2013—which they are expected to pick up— and then, following the 2013 season, he will enter free agency at age 32. Even with his recent struggles, the Yankees are in good hands with Curtis Granderson.

You just don't find power hitters who can also play a strong center field like Curtis Granderson on the scrap heap. Granderson is an elite talent, and he'll likely rebound from his recent struggles. And once he does, expect him to keep sending long fly balls into that right-field porch in the Bronx for years to come.