Despite many intuitive reasons why Curtis Granderson might be a bad fit for the Cubs or White Sox, many baseball writers feel like he’ll be playing baseball in Chicago come Spring 2014. So what are we missing? Is there reason to think he could be worth a hefty contract?
Curtis Granderson has been an above-average to MVP-level player in his career, amassing 33.2 fWAR and 217 HR in a 10 year career with the Tigers and Yankees. In 2011 he finished fourth in the AL MVP voting after hitting .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 homers and 25 stolen bases, a massive 6.7 fWAR campaign. Since then, Granderson’s defense and contact skills have begun to erode, and he played only 61 games in 2013.
There are a lot of red flags in Granderson’s game that makes him a questionable signing. His degrading defense pushed him out of a full-time center field role in 2013, and it’s unlikely he’d rebound to be anything more than an average centerfielder in 2014 and beyond. At the plate, he’s been declining in a bunch of key areas:
Granderson has never been an OBP machine, largely as a function of his merely OK batting average, but he has more than made up for it with his impressive power. Unfortunately, his power dipped significantly in 2013, and his impressive ISOs in 2011 and 2012 were undoubtedly inflated by Yankee Stadium, which boosts home runs for lefties by an outrageous 13% over the league average stadium (Detroit suppresses lefty HR by a slight amount). While Granderson’s road ISO in 2011 was .280, it fell back to .223 in 2012. It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect his ISO to rebound to much more than that going forward.
Granderson’s strikeout numbers have been steadily increasing over the years, and with it his average and OBP have been fallen to a below-average level, especially for a corner outfielder. As scary as that may be, a look into his plate discipline trends reveals a horror story waiting to happen.
Yeah, that’s terrifying. For those of you not familiar with these numbers, I’ll sum it up like this: Curtis Granderson is progressively swinging at more pitches out of the zone and progressively making less contact with those pitches. He’s also making less contact on pitches within the zone, and swinging and missing more often.
These trends are the sign of a hitter in clear decline. There’s a clear demarcation line after 2011 where everything starts falling apart. He goes from a 80% contact percentage guy to 70% guy, swinging at significantly more balls, and as a result, swinging and missing much more often. Granderson is on the wrong side of 30, and expecting these trends to reverse, especially once outside the hitter-friendly Yankee stadium, is foolish.
If Granderson went out and hit .200 next season with a 30% strike out rate, that wouldn’t shock me. If he still hit for Dunnian power, he’d have a chance to be useful. But as a likely .220 or so ISO guy, and possibly declining, you’re looking at a .200/.300/.420 hitter in a corner position. Power may be down across baseball, but it’s not so down where that’s a guy you want to man left field.
Even if he’s more of a .220/.310/.440 player in 2014, he’s not much more than a 2 win player. And how much would the Cubs be expected to pay him? The Associated Press’ baseball writers have predicted that Granderson will sign for 4 years and between $58 to $72 million.
Four Years and Fifty-Eight to Seventy-Two Million American Dollars.
You may want to read that a few more times, because it’s really funny. I’ve written a bunch on how the market might get out of whack here in the next few years, but it’s never going to get to the point where that looks like a good idea. At $6million or so per win, at 5% inflation, you’re expecting nine to eleven wins out of Curtis Granderson over his four year stay in Chicago. Given his terrifying plate discipline trends, he’s liable to fall off a cliff at any moment, and as he ages he’s likely to provide little value in the field and on the bases. The chances of him providing nine to eleven wins over the next four years are remote.
Oh, and did you know Curtis Granderson comes with draft pick compensation? Both the Cubs and White Sox have protected first round picks in 2014, so they’d only be forfeiting a second round pick. That player isn’t likely to be a star, but the slot value money lost would make it much more difficult for either team to give their top-4 pick an over-slot deal. Since this is a strong high-school draft class, and star high schoolers can often require a bit more money to make forfeiting college worth it, that lost money could be very important.
Some of the arguments for signing Granderson say he’s a good member of the Chicago community, may draw fans because of it, and will be able to help out in the city more often if he lived here. While there’s some truth to these, it’s unlikely the value lost in signing him is recouped in community goodwill. Furthermore, Granderson has been a positive force in the community without playing in Chicago thus far, so you have to wonder if being in the city would be of much extra benefit.
White Sox attendance is correlated quite well with team record, and signing Granderson does not make them a good team. They were atrocious in 2013, and a 2 win player isn’t going to turn them around. Also, oddly enough, the outfield is not a huge area of need for the White Sox. I love Alejandro De Aza, I think Dayan Viciedo deserves at least one more year to try and figure it out, and Avisail Garcia should be ready to take over in right field full time in 2014.
The Cubs are also not lacking in outfield options, with Schierholtz, Sweeney, Lake, and Bogusevic coming off of decent seasons. None of those are likely to be superstars, or even above average, but neither is Granderson.
And even if you think Granderson could be a valuable piece this season, he’s going to be 33. These are two teams in various states of rebuilding, with the Cubs likely aiming at 2015-2016 as a realistic time to begin seriously contending, and the White Sox needing at least that long to do the same. A very-short-term signing like Granderson does nothing for these teams, especially at the money he may get. The White Sox will need that money to improve multiple positions around the diamond, and the Cubs will need it to add pieces to the prospects coming up in the next few seasons. Both teams need that draft pick to continue rebuilding their farm systems. And by the time they’re ready to compete, Granderson probably wont be worth a starting role. I just cannot see how signing Curtis Granderson makes sense for either Chicago team.