Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Granderson not a significant upgrade for Yankees

Before Red Sox fans get all in a tizzy about the Yankees' acquisition of Curtis Granderson -- and, make no mistake, fans are in a tizzy -- let's take a step back and see what the trade actually does in terms of upgrading the Yankees at the plate and in the field next season.

(Here's a hint: It's not going to prompt the Red Sox to throw in the towel for next season.)

Granderson, in theory, will play center field for the Yankees next season and could hit either at the top of in the middle of the Yankees' lineup. He can hit home runs and steal bases, and he can play an above-average defensive center field. He'll displace Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera in center field, and he'll probably displace the departed Hideki Matsui in the Yankees' lineup.

If Johnny Damon returns on a short-term contract to play left field, the Yankees likely would play Granderson in center field and Nick Swisher in right with Cabrera as the fourth outfielder -- and left fielder when Damon DH's.

Is that better than Damon-Cabrera-Swisher with Matsui DH'ing?

It might not be.

Let's look at it specifically in the context of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a statistic that measures offensive and defensive impact to spit out a number that approximate how many wins a team would win with that player on its team rather than a typical Triple-A call-up.

Granderson had a WAR of 3.4 last season, a significant decline from his career-best WAR of 7.4 two seasons ago. His numbers have declined across the board -- with the exception of his home-run numbers -- in that span, and his numbers against lefties have been abysmal. A move to Yankee Stadium ought to help his power production, but there's no indication he's going to be a 7.0-plus type of player again anytime soon.

Matsui had a WAR of 2.4 last season even as a designated hitter thanks to his 28 home runs and .876 OPS in more than 500 plate appearances. It was the same number he posted two seasons ago.

Cabrera had a WAR of 1.6 last season as he matched a career high in OPS (.752) and set a career high in home runs (13).

Gardner had a WAR of 2.1 last season in large part because he had such a terrific defensive season in center field. The 26-year-old started 63 games in center field and made appearances in 36 more, putting up an Ultimate Zone Rating of 7.2 -- better, actually, than Granderson.

Adding Granderson is a plus-3.4 move in a vaccuum -- and maybe a little bit more if he can bounce back. But Matsui, Cabrera and Gardner combined for a WAR of 6.1 last season, and all three either will depart or see their roles dramatically reduced -- meaning the Yankees have to find a plus-3.0 player to make up the difference. If they do that -- and they've shown no interest thus far in Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, though that could change in a hurry -- they'll have upgraded their team significantly.

But if Cabrera is the left fielder and Damon is the designated hitter, well, the Yankees might actually have taken a small step backwards.


Anonymous said...

Not sure I follow your math. NYY are replacing Damon, Matsui, Swisher, Cabrera/Gardner, with Damon, Granderson, Swisher, Cabrera. You can't double count Cabrera and Gardner can you? They played the same position. So Cabrera remains a constant. So you only have to look at Granderson v. Matsui. And Granderson has a higher WAR.

Brian MacPherson said...

Except that Gardner was productive this season, and Cabrera's playing time would dramatically decrease with Granderson and Damon both in the field, so he's not really a constant.

The Cabrera/Gardner combo had 824 plate appearances -- about 25 percent more than your average player would have -- that aren't accounted for in this switch. This is all fuzzy math, of course, but doesn't that mean you count both Cabrera (1.6) and Gardner (2.1) and then lop 25 percent off the total?

That still gives you a WAR of 2.8 for the duo plus Matsui's 2.4 brings you to 5.2.

Brian MacPherson said...

To say it another way:
RF, Swisher to Swisher: Constant
CF, Cabrera/Gardner to Granderson: 2.8 (as described above to pro-rate for 600 total plate appearances) to 3.4, net gain of 0.6
LF/DH, Damon (3.0)/Matsui (2.4) to Damon (3.0)/Cabrera (1.6): 5.4 to 4.6, net loss of 0.8

That's why it's a slight downgrade until the Yankees do something -- be it Cameron or Bay or Holliday or whatever -- to upgrade from Cabrera at LF.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for clarification. So its a .2 net loss right now. They'd need to replace Cabrera with a 1.8 player to remain status quo.

Brian MacPherson said...

Though if the Yankees retain Matsui and Damon on short-term deals, that means you're looking at a straight Granderson-for-Cabrera/Gardner swap with Cabrera becoming the fourth outfielder, and that's definitely an upgrade.