Curtis Granderson is struggling. In fact, he really has been all season. But during a stretch when Magglio Ordonez has started to break out of his season long funk, and Placido Polanco has again become a viable member of the offense, it has been the catalyst, Granderson, that has regressed.
For the season, Granderson is sporting a .254 average, which we all know is not the true measure of a hitter, but for reference, his career average is some 21 points higher at .275. He is carrying a .334 OBP, which is his lowest since his first full season in 2006. It’s true that he has already homered 23 times, matching his career best, but he continues to struggle to lead this offense.
Granderson is currently wallowing in an 0 for 13 slump, and Jim Leyland said after last night’s game that he may give Granderson a couple of days off to right the ship. The Tigers will face two left handers in the next two games.
A couple of days off would seem to suit the Tigers’ needs anyway. This season, Granderson has suffered at the hands of southpaws. Versus righties, Grandy carries a .283/.368/.536/.904 line. He hasn’t done much against lefties, however, at just .178/.257/.256/.513. Granderson has just six extra base hits in 147 plate appearances against left handers. There is no doubt that Leyland is well aware of these numbers.
Granderson’s splits are nothing new. For much of the first few years of his career, Granderson rarely played against lefties, and when he did, he would hit at the bottom of the order. In 2008, he seemed to figure out the lefties, however, as he hit them at a .259/.310/.429/.739 clip. While those aren’t impressive numbers, for a guy that had historically struggled it was an impressive improvement. Obviously, this year he has taken a step back.
So what’s the answer? How can the Tigers improve the offense? It starts with Granderson. Unfortunately, the Tigers have a great black hole on the depth chart behind Granderson in center field. They also have very few viable options to lead off in the order. The Tigers have just two players that could get by playing center field for a couple of games, in Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn. Thomas is the better outfielder by far. Interestingly, Thomas is also the better hitter against left handers, though Raburn is the right handed hitter.
Over his career, Thomas hits lefties much better than he hit righties, albeit in very limited at bats. Raburn has been just the opposite, hitting right handers better than lefties, a split that is much more significant this season. Just looking at the players currently on the active roster, it is apparent that Granderson should be moved down in the order against left handers, if not sitting on the bench. While the prospect of Raburn playing in center does not appeal to me, I wouldn’t mind seeing Thomas out there once in a while.
While we’re on the subject, if the Tigers could find someone, anyone to lead off other than Granderson, that would seem to help as well. Granderson has been bad when leading off the game, carrying a .323 OBP and a .721 OPS. By contrast, when he hits anywhere but lead off, he has a .391 OBP and a whopping .957 OPS. He has just 64 at bats hitting lower in the order this season. The facts are that Granderson hits lead off because someone has to. The same reason that Thomas has hit third for so much of the year. These just are not good reasons.
My suggestion to the Tigers is simple, really. Against left handers, why not use Thomas in the lead off spot in center field while Granderson sits? Or if you like Grandy’s defense, use Thomas in left and Granderson in center while hitting ninth, while Thomas at the top.
I realize that Thomas has limited at bats against lefties, and his splits are likely skewed because of that, but we have seen that Granderson is not doing the job, and it is time to try something else. Against right handers, continue the order as has been, while I still don’t like Granderson in the lead off role, there frankly aren’t better options in a lineup that would include Carlos Guillen and Aubrey Huff hitting in the middle.
If not, we’ll all be hoping that Granderson wakes up one day and remembers what he did last year. But time is running out, and the White Sox aren’t going away.