Results tagged ‘ Curtis Granderson ’
From this day forward I think we can all agree to never, under any circumstance, question what Brian Cashman is doing again. The Yankees general manager took a verbal beating from almost every sports writer this winter over the moves, or lack thereof, that he was making. Signing Travis Hafner? Nah, he’s too old and brittle. Kevin Youkilis? No way jose, he’s a one of those Red Sox, plus he can’t hit anymore. How about swapping for Vernon Wells? Ha, don’t make me laugh.
These lackluster acquisitions, plus numerous injuries to the roster, were supposed to finally sink a Yankee ship that appeared to be too battered from years of battles to stay afloat. Yes, Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia were still aboard, but they weren’t going to be able to make up for the loss of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson, among others. The hope was that the replacements would hold the fort until the cavalry made their way back. But that hasn’t been the case this season. Buoyed by an excellent pitching staff, a deep bullpen, and some surprise offensive breakouts from Cashman’s reserves, the Yankees have gotten off to a rousing 19-13 start that has defied even the biggest optimists expectations.
If the rumors do indeed come to pass (and it looks like they are going to), Vernon Wells will be moving across country to join the New York Yankees. The Yankees have been searching for an outfield bat with some pop throughout the Spring and apparently GM Brian Cashman. The Angels have been trying to dump Wells since they decided to shoot themselves in the foot, acquiring the outfielder at the steep cost of Mike Napoli, which meant the gears for a deal where properly greased. But the big question is why would the Yankees want a player the Angels are so desperate to get rid of?
The dreaded injury bug scurried into the Yankees-Blue Jays scrimmage yesterday when one of Toronto’s candidates for their last rotation spot, JA Happ, plunked outfielder Curtis Granderson on the arm. Granderson’s arm broke, thanks to the impact, and now the Yankees are going to be robbed of one of the Majors most prolific long ballers for an estimated 10 weeks. Luckily for the Yankees, if Granderson can make it back to full strength on that sort of timetable he should only miss 30-40 games, a sizeable amount no doubt but at least it’s not season-killing. The injury does bring up a series of interesting questions though. What are the Yankees going to do in left field? Should they look to the minors and give one of the youngsters a chance? Or should they swing a trade and potentially bring back a veteran with some pop?
The American League Championship Series got off to a rousing start last night before, ultimately, ending on a sour note. Tigers closer Jose Valverde continued his season long battle with the save, giving up a pair of 2-run homers and a 4-0 lead to the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th. A couple innings later, the Tigers were able to parlay an atrocious display of defense by Nick Swisher and some timely hits into a pair of 12th inning runs to escape with a 1-0 series lead. The game was particularly disastrous for New York because not only did they hand over home-field advantage, captain Derek Jeter was also lost for the rest of the playoffs due to a broken ankle.
With the playoffs fast approaching, half of the teams in Major League Baseball are either looking at a playoff spot or still have fantasies of winning one. All that means is that we as fans have a smorgasbord of delicious games to watch between wanna-be playoff teams. Let’s take a look at the 3 best series of the weekend:
For the 2nd consecutive season, New York Yankee centerfielder Curtis Granderson ranks 2nd in the American League in home runs. Over the same amount of time only Jose Bautista has hit more long balls than Granderson’s 69, knocking 70 out of the park from the start of the 2011 season until now. Granderson had shown big power potential earlier in his career, hitting 30 homers for the Tigers in 2008 despite playing his home games in cavernous Comerica Park, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him blasting the ball out of the much, much friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. But Granderson’s change in stance, timing, and his new-found ability to hit left-handed pitching is a much larger reason for his power spike, and today I want to analyze why. Let’s take a look after the jump:
The Yankees have now won 9 games in a row, and 21 out of their last 31 games. The team has surged to the front of the AL East pack by decimating the top of the NL East. In the last 10 days the Yanks have swept the 3rd place Mets, 2nd place Braves, and 1st place Nationals, putting together the most impressive streak of victories in all of baseball this season. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons the Yankees dominated the NL East:
Josh Hamilton may very well be on his way to one of the best seasons in baseball history. He leads the entire major leagues in the Triple Crown categories, OPS+, and total bases. Over the past week, Hamilton has hit 8 homers, driven in 15 runs, been on base 2/3′s of the time, and has had one of the greatest individual games in baseball history. He won’t be able to keep up the pace he has set over the past week, but what kind of season is Hamilton looking at? Can he win the Triple Crown? Is 60 homers or 180 RBIs in the picture? Let’s take a look:
No player in professional baseball has hit for the Triple Crown since 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a.326 batting average with 44 homers and 121 RBI. Hamilton is currently hitting .407/.463/.873 with 17 homers and 40 RBI on the year, which gives him a comfortable lead in all three categories.
Concerning batting average, Derek Jeter is 2nd in the AL in batting at .372 and the rest of the field isn’t even close. The next closest hitters, Ryan Sweeney and David Ortiz, are all more than .50 points behind Hamilton and probably won’t keep their average this high for very long. Given that Hamilton is already a batting champion from 2010, and that he has such a substantial early lead on the field, I think he’s a safe bet to win the batting title.
His home run title will also be tough to take, because he has a 6 homer lead over Edwin Encarnacion, Curtis Granderson, and Adam Dunn. Dunn and Granderson have slugger pedigree and a history of topping 40 homers, so they could be threats if Hamilton cools off. But its probably going to take more than 43 homers that Jose Bautista won the title with last season if any player wants to beat Hamilton.
He’s on a stretch of 8 homers in 17 at-bats, making him the 3rd player in history with 17 homers in his teams 1st 33 games. He’s on an unsustainable pace for 85 homers, due to the fact that such a high percentage of his hits are leaving the park. Hamilton has only 4 doubles and 27 singles to go along with all of the homers, and out of the 38 fly balls he has hit this season, 17 have left the yard. That rate is unsustainably high, and will probably have to come back down at some point. This kind of early production gives him a great head start toward an eye-popping total and will probably put him over 55 for the season. That’s a number no other player is likely to top.
Finally Hamilton’s early RBI production has also been off-the-charts good. He’s got great hitters in front of him in the Texas lineup. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are speedsters who excel at aggressively running the bases, giving Hamilton extra RBI chances that many hitters do not get. 53 of his 118 at-bats, 45%, have come with men on base and Hamilton has made pitchers pay, racking up a MLB leading 40 ribbies. If Hamilton can play in 150 of his teams games this year, that would put him on a pace to drive in 200 runs, which would be a major league record besting Hack Wilson’s 191 set in 1930.
Hamilton is currently on pace to have one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. He has always had injury problems, even missing an entire month from his 2010 MVP season. If Hamilton stays healthy he has the kind of swing that strikes fear in opposing pitchers, because he covers so much of the plate with so much power. I think he has the best chance of any player in the past 20 years of hitting for the Triple Crown, and with the way Hamilton is currently swinging the bat, I think he WILL do it.
Around the League:
-The Cubs and Brewers played an extremely entertaining game last night, with Milwaukee prevailing 8-7 in the 13th inning. Corey Hart was the hero, providing the game-tying 2-run homer in the 9th and the game winning hit in the 13th, a single up the middle past a drawn in Cubbie infield. Hart was 4-7 in the game with a homer and 3 RBI.
-Raul Ibanez continued to swing a powerful bat for the Yankees, smashing a 3-run homer off Felix Hernandez to give New York a 6-2 win. He now has 6 homers and 19 RBI during his age-40 season, and like a much more celebrated Yankee teammate, he continues to defy father time.
-Carlos Beltran is also having an excellent week for the Cardinals, batting .455 with 5 homers and 12 RBI over his past 5 games. He’s now hitting .307/.410/.658 for the year with a National League leading 12 homers.
I always love going to Kauffman Stadium every year. Its one of the nicest ballparks in the entire league, and the fans in Kansas City are always friendly. I went to Saturday night’s 5-1 Royal win and Sunday’s 10-4 Yankee win. Both games highlighted the strengths of each team. In Saturday’s game Alex Gordon and Billy Butler carried the Royal offense, with a combined 6-9 effort with 4 RBI and 2 doubles combined. Jeff Francoeur made a laser throw from the outfield to nab a tagging Curtis Granderson at 3rd base and Felipe Paulino gave the Royals 6 good innings in his season debut to pick up the win. In Sunday’s game, much to my expectation, the Yankees pounded Luke Hochevar en route to a 3 homer, 10 run performance. Phil Hughes gave the Yankees everything they would need on the mound, allowing only 3 runs in 6.2 innings, picking up his 2nd win of the season.
Kansas City is a great place to catch a couple of ball games, and I highly recommend Kauffman Stadium as one of the best ballparks in baseball. The All-Star game this summer will be a much needed treat for a starved fan base, and the city should do a great job as the host.
Joe Maddon has employed many different varieties of shifts this season and I’ve tried to watch as much of the Rays as I can so far this season to gain a feel whether the shifts are working or not. From what I am seeing so far, the result tends to be a net positive, because very few hitters actually hit the ball to beat the shift, plays usually result in an out. This is just an early estimation, and because defensive numbers are so unreliable, particularly with a small sample size, we will have to put that judgment off for another day.
First let’s take a look at a few reasons Tampa can use the shift more liberally. One of the big reasons is that Tampa Bay has an excellent, hard-throwing pitching staff that ranks 4th in the American League in strikeouts. A couple of their pitchers, Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields like pitching to the shift, and will even position infielders themselves, based on which pitch sequence they want to throw. This caliber of pitching staff tends to further exaggerate the success of the shift a little bit, but could also play a role in getting inside hitters’ heads.
It is also difficult to weigh the mental effect the shift has on hitters, because when many hitters see the shift they change their approach and get frustrated. After seeing the shift during the Opening Series in Tampa, Nick Swisher said, “Righties, lefties, it doesn’t really matter. It feels like there’s 15 guys on the right side of the infield or the left side of the infield.” Other hitters, such as Albert Pujols, have also appeared frustrated by the shift after seeing a normal base hit go directly toward a fielder.
The numbers are interesting as well so far, with the Rays having shifted 125 recorded times so far this season, according to ESPN. According to baseball prospectus, the Rays rank 2nd in baseball in defensive runs saved. However in defensive efficiency, a statistic that measures the number of balls put in play that are turned into outs, they only rank 20th. It’s way to early to put stock into any of those numbers, as defensive efficiency and defensive runs saved require very large sample sizes. Tampa used the shift more times than any other Major League team a season ago, and produced a fantastic defense, so Maddon’s decision to use it even more this season isn’t too much of a surprise, just him pushing the envelope.
So we have 125 cases over the course of the 1st month of the season. Let’s take a look at a few of the times the shift has worked this year, and a few of the hitters that Maddon has had particular success with, and why.
He has grounded into 2 outs this season on the left side of the infield, and 17 times he has hit a grounder to the left side for an out. This is not a recent trend either, because Granderson has always been a pull hitter, especially on ground balls. Joe Maddon knows this and intelligently deployed his shift, taking away multiple base hits from the Yankee centerfielder. In this particular video, Maddon places Sean Rodriguez, the shortstop, just to the right of 2nd base. He has his 2nd baseman, Elliot Johnson, playing deep in the hole with 1st baseman Carlos Pena holding the runner. The Rays ended up winning the game by 1 run, 7-6, and this double play was a rally killer for the Yankees. Rodriguez also took another hit away from Granderson, in nearly the same spot later in the game as well.
Maddon has also taken his shifts one step further this season, employing them nearly as often on right-handed hitters as lefties. Pujols saw the shift in all the games of a recent series. Maddon placed his 3rd baseman Evan Longoria on the line, his shortstop was planted deep in the hole, and his 2nd baseman was located on the left side of the base, shaded toward the middle. It was the perfect alignment for the struggling slugger because Pujols has been a pull hitting machine this year.
Pujols has 2 total outs to the infield on the right side this season, and is making outs all over the place on the left side of the infield. Maddon’s wisely deployed shifts stole hits from Pujols as well. One rocket line drive down the line was snared by a waiting Evan Longoria, taking away a double, and a sharp hit grounder in the hole was easily handled by Elliot Johnson. Again the Rays played a couple of close games in the series against Los Angeles, and Maddon’s maneuvering could be giving the Rays a slight edge.
The Rays also employ various shifts for switch-hitters as well. Mark Teixeira, the Yankees slugging 1st baseman, saw infield alignments that included 3 players on both sides of the infield, depending on which way he was batting. As you can see from Teixeira’s spray charts, he is a dead pull hitter when he hits the ball on the ground, and Maddon played him that way.
The Rays were able to turn multiple hits into outs on Teixeira as well. Teixeira hit a hard liner that was right at shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who was playing up the middle, and the Rays also took away a grounder in the hole with the shift.
Maddon is particularly adept at calling these shifts against the Yankees, and in the Opening Series of the season, he was able to successfully use the shift on half the New York lineup. This is an encouraging sign for Tampa Bay, because any advantage they can get on their wealthier rivals helps.
Over the course of the season I plan on looking at cases where the shift fails, the Rays pitchers who like the shift (particularly Hellickson), and the variety of shifts which Maddon will employ.