About a week into the 2010 season, Curtis Granderson looked like a terrific addition to the Yankees.
He homered in his first at-bat as a Yankee and then hit a game-winning home run against Boston two days later. He put up a .357/.419/.607 triple slash line with two homers, five RBI's, and three stolen bases in his first week in pinstripes.
Yankee fans everywhere celebrated. They had their first true center fielder since Bernie Williams' heyday.
But the exciting opening act quickly gave way to a less than appealing second one, and Granderson saw his numbers fall precipitously to .225/.311/.375 until he hit the disabled list in early May with a groin injury. By that time, many fans had soured on the energetic center fielder, and Granderson's struggles, coupled with Austin Jackson's otherworldly start for Detroit, prompted calls for Brian Cashman's job.
But Granderson returned from the DL smoking hot, temporarily quieting doubting fans by hitting .417/.461/.750 the first week back from his injury with four doubles, a homer, and four RBI's. But just like he did in April, Granderson slumped, and all the concerns and worries about him came to the forefront again.
Through the summer, Granderson continued to struggle with consistency. His offensive performance in general was of concern, but more specifically troublesome was his dismal showing against left-handed pitching. Coming off his worst season as a professional in 2009, Granderson was showing little to no improvement in 2010, despite moving into a better lineup and a friendlier hitting environment.
After taking three oh-fers in four days against Boston in early August, Granderson requested that hitting instructor Kevin Long take a long look (pun intended) at his swing and make any necessary adjustments to improve it. Long did so, although both reported that only minor mechanical changes were made.
After two days out of the lineup, Granderson returned with noticeably fewer moving parts during his at-bats. He went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk that day and recorded both hits against a left-handed pitcher. One game told very little, but progress was progress. Granderson had two three-hit games over the next few games and slowly inched his numbers towards respectability.
Since his extensive work with Long, Granderson has hit .288/.358/.602 with seven home runs in 21 games, numbers that are notably better than what he has posted beforehand. After Thursday's game against the Athletics and lefties Dallas Braden and Jerry Blevins, Granderson is hitting .248 against righties and .247 against lefties. Again, not overly impressive numbers by any means, but a welcome improvement.
While his season totals remain unspectacular, his performance against lefties since he debuted his reworked swing is utterly phenomenal. In 21 at-bats, Granderson has posted a line of .428/.476/.809, which translates to a ridiculous 1.285 OPS—in other words, a better number than Mark McGwire posted during his 70-home run season and a better mark than any National League or American League MVP since Barry Bonds in 2004.
Granted, it's an extremely small sample size, but Granderson's improvement has been a very welcome development for the Yankees, even more so as they've dealt with injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Lance Berkman, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher in the past month. Granderson has been an asset defensively for the Yankees all season, and getting his bat going for the playoffs would be a huge boost to the league's top-rated offense.
His transition from the Motor City to the City That Never Sleeps hasn't gone as smoothly as anticipated, but Granderson has played excellent defense in center field this year and has been a league average hitter so far in 2010. His rejuvenated offense only makes him that much more of an asset to the Yankees as they attempt to repeat in 2010.