About three years ago, just after winning the 2009 World Series, the Yankees traded Austin Jackson, an up and coming prospect in the team’s farm system, for Curtis Granderson, an established commodity in Detroit. The Yankees were trading potential for performance. Jackson wasn’t developing as quickly as a hitter as the Yankees wanted, while Granderson was a proven power hitter with some bad tendencies (namely, striking out too often). The Yankees were betting that Jackson wouldn’t develop, or wouldn’t develop quickly enough, and that his ceiling was essentially Curtis Granderson.
The deal was a flop, at first. Jackson burst out of the gate in Detroit, aided by an insane .530 BABIP in his first month. Granderson, on the other hand, struggled in his first month in New York before going down with an injury in May. Even though it was only a small sample, it looked as if the Yankees had made a mistake. By season’s end, however, it wasn’t as clear. Jackson’s strike outs finally got the better of him, and he finished the year with a good but not great .329 wOBA and a 4.0 fWAR, aided by his defense. Granderson, meanwhile, developed a new swing with Kevin Long and went on a tear that began in August 2010 and didn’t end pretty much until early 2012. Granderson’s 2010 wOBA was a respectable .344 and he finished with an injury reduced 3.6 fWAR. The first season of the trade was a bit of a wash, but the fundamentals favored the Yankees.
2011 was all about Curtis. Granderson had his best season as a pro. He hit 41 homers. He had a .393 wOBA. He accumulated 7.0 fWAR. His .262/.364/.552 slash line put him solidly in the MVP conversation and the effect of his new swing made Kevin Long look like a genius. Jackson, on the other hand, struggled in 2011. He managed a paltry .249/.317/.374 slash line, which translated into a .305 wOBA for a below average 88 wRC+. If the 2010 season hinted that the deal favored the Yankees then the 2011 season confirmed it.
The Pinstripes weren’t so lucky in 2012. Curtis remained an insane power threat. He hit a career high 43 homers. But his strike out rate jumped up to 28.5%, far and away a career high. In total he managed an uneven .232/.319/.492 slash line, good for a .346 wOBA. Curtis turned into a binary outcome player: home run or strike out. Jackson, meanwhile, bounced back. His slash line was .300/.377/.479, which translated into a .371 wOBA. Combine that with his excellent defense and Jackson won the fWAR competition 5.5 to 2.6. (It should be noted that Granderson’s defense penalizes him in fWAR and the defensive metrics leave a lot to be desired.)
So, who’s got the upper hand so far? It may seem hard to believe after his disappointing 2012, but Curtis has still been the more productive player. Since joining the Yankees Granderson is batting .247/.337/.506, which translates into a .362 wOBA. He’s accumulated 13.2 fWAR. That’s just a bit better than Jackson’s production. Austin has bat .280/.346/.416 over that stretch, a .335 wOBA. He’s accumulated 12.4 fWAR.
2013 will be critical in determining if the Yankees made the right decision for the long haul. If Curtis can bounce back in 2013 then he could easily put up 5 or 6 fWAR and leave no doubt that he’s still one of the best power hitting center fielders in the game. But if he struggles, and if Jackson’s development continues, Yankee fans may find themselves second guessing this trade, especially if the Yankees don’t keep Granderson.