Grappling with Granderson’s fielding stats

Granderson is a case where these old eyes do not get where the metrics are coming from. These eyes watched a lot of Bernie Williams in center and Granderson runs circles around Bernie. And yet, not only is Granderson ranked dead last among major league center fielders, he is dead last by a huge margin. His defensive metrics are downright Bernie-like.

Now people are always saying to not get wrapped up in just one year’s fielding data. They say to look at chunks of three years. Okay. Let’s do that. His first year with the Yankees was positive according to all the major sites. But last year’s fielding valuation threw Granderson under the bus and this year is heading in even deeper chasms than last. So the three year trend is sinking faster than Best Buy’s profit margin. And look at his UZR, which currently sits at -16.8. Of all qualifying center fielders, that is more than ten points worse than the second worse guy. And his UZR/150 comes in at a staggering -29.1. The closest to him there is Dexter Fowler with the Rockies at -11.1. Ouch.

RZR is another stat for fielding. RZR determines a range for what center fielders should cover. Then it counts how many balls are hit into that range and how many of those plays were converted into outs. According to this stat, Granderson has converted 94 percent of plays into his zone into outs. That is third best in the majors. He has made 51 plays out of his zone which is in the middle of the pack with Denard Span of the Twins having the most at 69 and Drew Stubbs the lowest with 25.

Granderson’s arm has worsened this season which doesn’t help. After two years of positive scores in that category, Granderson is in the negative there this year. And the eye confirms that as his throws seem particularly weak this season. You have to wonder if his arm is hurt a bit the way he is throwing.

The head is trying to understand while the eyes are telling a different story on Granderson’s defensive season. But then again, saying as much is usually a cause for ridicule. Such poor defensive metrics pushes Granderson down in fWAR all the way to fourteenth on the list of qualifying center fielders. According to Fangraphs, both Colby Rasmus and Michael Brantley are more valuable players this year than Granderson. That is super hard to rationalize. That is not going so far as to say they are wrong. It just doesn’t feel right.

But say the metrics are correct. How does that project Granderson’s future value. Baseball Prospectus does that for us and predicts his value will decline by small measures the next few years but enough not to justify paying him, say $15 million a year. If he is heading south as a fielder as badly as the metrics say, then that means a move away from center. To where? Left and then let Gardner go?

The overriding question circling around this brain this morning is if Curtis Granderson is really that bad a center fielder. Is he really as bad as a 34 year old Bernie Williams? And how will this come into the accounting for the Yankees’ long term plans? This post grapples for the answers and only comes up with questions.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

13 thoughts on “Grappling with Granderson’s fielding stats

  1. Honestly, my eyes are seeing a different story. Granderson routinely gets bad jumps or takes bad routes. It's a problem. Watch Granderson closely for a week or two and you'll start seeing him run left and then right to catch most balls. He has good speed which helps him compensate, but he needs to be moved out of center field.

    • Thanks for the comment. I'll keep looking closer.

    • Mike

      I would tend to agree with this. His speed lets him make up for stuff and it's one of those where at times it looks like he makes some nice plays. But especially seeing him in person and the jumps he gets, is where he falters, and as Rob mentioned, his routes are questionable (which I think is at least partially due to the initial poor read and jump that Grandy seems to get a lot.)

  2. Matthew G.

    I agree with Rob. And Granderson has become quite bad at reading the ball off the bat. He makes some plays look harder than they were by breaking in the wrong direction initially, which creates the impression of skillful play when he ultimately lays out to make the catch.

    Grandy is one of my favorite guys on the current squad, and possibly the most likeable Yankee. But he's not a good CF at this point in his career.

  3. Bill

    This is going to be a hard decision for management. 27 home runs aside, he has not had a particularly good year. He's going to strike out around 180 times, and his doubles and triples will be significantly less unless those pick up dramatically in the final two months, not to mention his stolen base total. His walk total is fine, but you'd want those walks to turn into doubles through the judicious use of the stolen base. That's not happening often enough. Plus, his center field play is reminiscent of Bernie's toward the end of his career and is not going to get any better. I don't think he's worth a long term deal at this point. But we don't sign the checks.

  4. jay_robertson

    With Swish gone, couldn't he move either to right (unless we're keeping Ichiro) or left. I would rather see him in one of the corners, and put Mr. Speed (remember Gardner ;D) in center field.

    That said, he doesn't LOOK like the worst center fielder in the MLB to me, either. Although it does appear that his arm strength is down this year.

  5. mike_nicoletti

    William, I'm confused why you suggest dropping Gardner instead of just flip-flopping the fielding duties??

    • michael

      Precisely this. The yankees have a less-adept at fielding, power-hitting, high-walk outfielder, and a lightning fast but light-hitting outfielder. These match the sterotypes of a corner outfielder and centerfielder, for good reasons.

      The sooner the Yankees make the apparent switch-ideally when Gardner is healthy- the more the decrease his value in attempting to re-sign him, if they chose to do so. If they don't sign him past 2013, the compensation should remain the same if he's playing either OF position.

  6. HIM

    Your old eyes are younger than HIM's and HIM sees the same things. Mickey was never graceful but his speed made up for many things, HIM sees the analogy here (and there is obviously no comparison between Granderson and Mickey). What we see and what we read can be in conflict…HIM prefers to go with what HIM sees…

  7. thecutoffman

    Granderson takes the occassional bad route but for the most part he's an above average centerfielder. He's fleet of foot and has good instincts on where the ball is going to land. That catch he made against Mike Trout a couple weeks ago was absolutely fantastic, and there are only a small handful of centerfielders(Trout included) that could make that play.I trust advanced defensive metrics about as much as I trust Wall Street or 9/11 conspiracies, which is to say not at all.

  8. Michael Burkes

    I'll think i'll stick with looking at fielding percentage & errors, those other sabermetrics are useless.

    • When you reach the end of the Earth, don't fall off.

      While fielding stats are not without debate and dispute, they are better that the stats you mention.

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