Handy Men: Arod and Granderson Have an About Face Against Lefties

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

By roughing up Brett Anderson in last night’s 10-3 victory over the Athletics, the Yankees improved their record against lefthanders to 11-6, the fourth best mark in baseball. In addition, the Yankees exited the game with the two batters who have the most RBIs against southpaws: Curtis Granderson (19) and Robinson Cano (18).

Have mechanical adjustments turned Granderson into a lefthander’s worst nightmare (Photo: NY Post)?

No one should be surprised to see Cano among the games most effective hitters against left-handed pitching. Over his career, the Yankees’ lefty swinging second baseman has had considerable success facing hurlers who throw from the port side. Since 2007, Cano’s wOBA against lefties has been .370, including a rate of at least .349 in every season over that span.

Curtis Granderson, however, is another story. When the Yankees acquired him from the Tigers before the 2010 season, the biggest knock on Granderson was his inability to hit lefties. In fact, many suggested that the weakness would eventually render him a platoon player. After a difficult first few months in pinstripes, it looked as if that prediction would come true, but following a much heralded tutorial with hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson completely changed his profile as a hitter.

Not only does Granderson lead the majors in RBIs off left-handed pitching, he is also tops with nine home runs and third in wOBA with an astounding rate of .505. What’s more, he hasn’t exactly been picking on the weaker members of the herd. Counted among Granderson’s long ball victims are Jon Lester, David Price and Anderson, three of the best lefties in the American League.

Major League Leaders Against Lefthanders, Ranked by wOBA

Chris Iannetta Rockies 0.565 45 6 13 0.333 0.467 0.917
Jay Bruce Reds 0.545 47 5 16 0.381 0.435 0.857
Curtis Granderson Yankees 0.505 69 9 19 0.323 0.373 0.823
Howie Kendrick Angels 0.503 66 5 10 0.364 0.462 0.727
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 0.503 45 4 7 0.333 0.467 0.750
Mike Napoli Rangers 0.495 55 5 15 0.302 0.455 0.721
Hanley Ramirez Marlins 0.490 43 2 5 0.378 0.465 0.676
Alfonso Soriano Cubs 0.490 49 4 9 0.391 0.429 0.717
Michael Young Rangers 0.489 64 1 13 0.431 0.484 0.655
Jed Lowrie Red Sox 0.485 59 3 16 0.429 0.441 0.696

Source: fangraphs.com

Considering the Yankees have two lefthanders who have feasted on pitchers throwing from the same side, one might expect the team’s overall performance against southpaws to be off the charts. However, that’s not the case. Although the team’s wOBA of .365 against lefthanders is very impressive, it isn’t an extraordinary figure. In fact, the Yankees are not even close to the rate posted by the Cardinals, who lead the league with a wOBA of .388 against lefties.

A major reason why the Yankees haven’t been even better against lefthanders is Jorge Posada, who hasn’t had a single hit in his 33 plate appearances against them. Perhaps just as significant, however, has been the continuation of Alex Rodriguez’ mysterious underperformance against lefties, which first cropped up last season.

Lefty Splits: Granderson, Rodriguez and Cano, 2002-2011

Note: Season with at least 40 plate appearances versus lefthanders.
Source: Fangraphs.com

Arod’s relative struggles when facing southpaws has almost been as surprising as Granderson’s improvement against them (especially when you consider Rodriguez has maintained a wOBA of .380 against righthanders). Before 2010, Arod’s typical season included a wOBA above .400 against lefties, but since the start of last year, his production against lefthanders has fallen off precipitously. It’s almost as if Granderson and Rodriguez have switched places when climbing into the batter’s box against a southpaw.

Why have Granderson and Arod had such an about-face against lefthanders? Because Granderson’s breakout has been over a much more limited sample, it’s probably best to wait a little while longer to see how well he sustains his newfound success. Arod, however, has built up enough at bats to at least take an early examination.

Arod’s Splits vs. Lefthanders, 2010-2011 vs. 2004-2009

2010-11 0.253 0.99 14.5% 42.4% 43.0% 7.0% 9.9%
2004-09 0.294 0.86 18.4% 37.8% 43.8% 9.2% 20.4%
2010-11 12.1% 19.4% 0.74 0.240 0.328 0.423 0.751
2004-09 17.4% 20.9% 1.04 0.286 0.417 0.560 0.977

Source: fangraphs.com

The one thing that jumps out most is Arod has had fewer fly balls against lefthanders leave the ballpark. Meanwhile, he has also sacrificed line drives for groundballs, which has perhaps resulted in a lower BABIP, especially considering Rodriguez’ diminished speed.  Finally, it seems as if lefthanders have been less eager to walk Arod, a possible result of either the emergence of Cano or Rodriguez’ own over-aggressiveness. Without knowing if Arod has been expanding the strike zone (perhaps lefties are trying to pitch around him with the left-handed Cano on deck, but Arod has been too anxious), it’s hard to draw a definitive conclusion about his approach against lefties, but at the very least, he does appear to be making weaker contact against them.

The reasons behind Arod’s and Granderson’s dramatic trend reversal are subject to conjecture, and whether or not each will continue is anybody’s guess. Nonetheless, both developments are interesting to note, although the Yankees might be better off if opposing managers did not.