It's like a splinter you just can't get out.
For whatever reason, the Detroit News' beat writer Lynn Henning just keeps picking at Curtis Granderson relentlessly. Henning just cannot get over the fact the fan favorite and All-Star center fielder is allowed to have an off-year. And by off-year I mean, he's only the second-most productive position player on the team.
Earlier this year, Henning wrote Granderson needs to concentrate more on baseball and less on being Mr. All-America. Granderson writes a blog and is active in charity work during the regular season. It looked like a low blow, but days later Tigers manager Jim Leyland actually said many of the same thoughts as Henning, just framed in a better tone.
Had that been the end of the discussion, fine. I don't think the Tigers or the fans would like to see Granderson be anyone but the man he is. And I think if Granderson felt like it was hurting his baseball career, he would tone things back a bit. I don't know, but that's just the kind of person Granderson seems to be.
But that wasn't the end of it. Henning has continued to track Granderson's poor hitting against left-handers. He has dropped Granderson's name with a few hints that the Tigers might want to look elsewhere for a starting center fielder next year.
And today, he published a full discussion with this thought in mind: The Tigers should trade Granderson before it's too late and he erases any value he has.
Before I get to that, let's look at the argument against Granderson.
In 2007, just his second full season starting at center field, he had 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 steals. He joined rare air in doing so, becoming just the third major leaguer to do so. His on-base-plus-slugging was .913. He looked like a star in the making. But he took a step back in both the field and at the plate, though he was still productive. In 2009, his home runs are up but his extra-base power is down overall.
On top of that, Granderson's ability to hit lefties has fallen off the table. His OPS against left-handed pitching is .475, while his OPS against righties remains .910. It's gotten to the point where Leyland either buries Granderson in the lineup against lefties or sits him altogether.
Historically, the splits are interesting. He hit for a .739 OPS against lefties in 2008, yet .494 in 2007, which was a substantial drop from the .672 in 2006.
You see where I'm going with this: Granderson has often struggled to see southpaw pitching, and from season-to-season his results vary wildly. Yet when you look at the best season of his career, he did not hit substantially better against lefties than he is hitting this season. In 2007, he hit much better against righties than he has been hitting this year.
We also have evidence 2007 may be a career year for Granderson. His batting average on balls in play was a highly unsustainable .362. His highest full season otherwise is .337. His lowest, .317. (Until this season, where bad luck shows its face with a .276 rate.) His is actually hitting a higher percentage of line drives this year than at any point since his first full season. That should translate positively, not negatively.
Well, I've probably gone a bit overboard in detailing all the splits, but the point is, there really is no baseline comparison for one of Granderson's seasons to the next. He's just all over the place. While Henning may take Granderson's statistics as a sign he is dropping off as a player, I just look at them and think, "Well, that's Granderson for you. Always plugging one hole in his game yet opening up another."
This season, the hole he plugged was his fielding, by the way. Last year was a huge disappointment there, but this season has been a rebound.
But OK. Let's get back to the trade scenario. The reason for trading Granderson is that he is owed $25M through the year 2013, which a club option to pay an additional $11M in 2013 to retain Granderson's services (Cot's Baseball Contracts). That's a lot of money to be paying a less-than-stellar player.
But I see (at least) three errors in judgment here. The first, I don't see a real solid replacement player. I suppose you could look to trade for one or look to the free agent market, but Granderson's contract is actually a pretty fair one. I don't see any players in the minor league system who could step in and fill Granderson's shoes right away either.
Second, the fans love the guy, and rightfully so. I can't put numbers out there to back myself up, but the fan base would be quite unhappy if the Tigers dealt Granderson.
Finally, we have a measurement of players' values: wins above replacement. Sabermetrics folks have managed to peg approximate financial values to players based on the going rate of a win above replacement on the open market.
Granderson's WAR for 2006 was 3.9. His WAR for 2007 was 7.4, and for 2008 was 3.8.
This season, his WAR is 3.2, which is second among Tigers position players and third for American League center fielders.
His value to the team is $14.4M. His salary is $3.5M. In other words, he is an incredible value and he has been a remarkably consistent and valuable player in each of his seasons in Detroit.
Granderson's season is undoubtedly a disappointment to him and to Tigers fans. But even in being disappointing, he's having a great year.
To trade that away would be ludicrous.