Austin Jackson is No Curtis Granderson


I was checking up on my twitter feed this morning when a column by Joel Sherman of the New York Post caught my eye. Upon reading the tweet, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even thought of the name he’d mentioned in quite some time, so I decided to click on the link and read all about the struggles of former Tiger hero Curtis Granderson.

Sherman’s piece illustrates the poor season that Granderson is having in New York. How bad is it? Granderson’s current line of .240/.307/.417 each represent a career low. Maybe it’s his charismatic persona, but Granderson has yet to hear the boos of New York. If he doesn’t turn things around soon, however, you can bet that they are coming.

Now I know that it is far too early to judge the trade that sent Granderson to the Yankees as a success. Even if you just look at the centerfielders that were swapped, both players are still young and there is a lot of career left to be played. But the Tigers are losing these days and I’ve run out of positive things to say recently, so I’m going to delve into this topic a bit. I’ll do so after the jump.

There are far too many parts of that trade to even imagine what the Tigers season might have looked like had the deal not been made, but I can tell you one thing for certain; the Tigers to this point have been the easy winners among the three teams.

Max Scherzer has developed into a very good pitcher who only figures to get better. Phil Coke has been a savior in the bullpen and Dan Schlereth still has a bright future. The star of the deal is Austin Jackson. Meanwhile, the D-backs have already parted ways with Edwin Jackson and the Yankees are stuck with a declining player in centerfield. A player who’s salary continues to rise (not that the Yankees can’t afford it) as his numbers continue to drop.

As Sherman points out, there were many who figured Granderson was on the verge of putting up a 40-homer season in New York. He’d hit 30 last season, playing half of his games at Comerica Park. The short right field porch at Yankee Stadium would certainly turn many fly balls into home runs that he never would have gotten in Detroit. It hasn’t happened yet.

Granderson’s numbers have dropped almost unilaterally. He’s walking a lower rate (8.7%) than he did in either of his final two years with the Tigers and he’s striking out more frequently (24.7%) than he has since 2006. Considering that one of the biggest knocks on his game was his propensity to strikeout, this is a serious regression.

Sure, he’s had a few shining moments. He’s provided the Yankees excellent defense in centerfield after two straight season of below average defense in Detroit, so that’s a plus. He’s hit some memorable homers already as a Yankee, as Sherman mentions as well, but those moments have been fleeting at best and it doesn’t figure to get better anytime soon.

The month of August has historically been Granderson’s worst. In his career, Granderson has posted an average of just .234 (24 points lower than his next worst month), a .319 OBP (tied for lowest), and a .419 slugging percentage (58 points lower than next worst month). His career OPS of .736 is easily the worst of any month and he has fewer home runs, doubles, and RBI than in any other month, despite getting more at bats than in two other months. His strikeout total of 122 in August is second only to the 141 he has recorded in the season’s final month, but he’s had almost 100 more at bats in September than in August.

Meanwhile, as Granderson has struggled under the pressures of playing in New York (while trying to maintain his budding television career and all of his various, and commendable, charity contributions), Austin Jackson has thrived in his first season in Detroit.

Not many knew what to expect from AJax, a rookie who had never seen even one major league pitch prior to the season, but he has been better than any of us could have hoped for.

Jackson has covered more ground in center than Granderson could have in Detroit, which has come in quite handy considering the vast expanse of land at the CoPa, not to mention the lack of range typically shown by his corner men. In addition his his glove, Jackson has hit.

Before the season, the cynics pointed to his “unsustainable” .384 BABiP that he produced at AAA last season. There was no way he could come close to that number in the big leagues and therefore he was going to struggle. Well, so far this season, Jackson has a BABiP of .419.

I guess it wasn’t all that unsustainable after all.

In fact, in Jackson’s entire minor league career, he never posted a BABiP of less than .346 (major league average is .300). Now, can we expect that he’ll continue to lead the league in this category? No, probably not, but we can expect him to continue to mature as a hitter and eventually cut down of his strikeouts and raise his walk rate. If he does those things, he’ll remain productive when his BABiP comes back down to Earth.

For those of you that like comparisons, here’s a couple for you. In 2009 with Detroit, Granderson posted a line of .249/.327/.453/.780 that included 30 home runs and a UZR/150 of -1.5. Jackson has posted a .303/.351/.406/.757 line with just one home run and a UZR/150 of -0.7. He’s been better (minus the slugging numbers) across the board. Granderson was worth 3.1 WAR last season for the Tigers in 160 games. Jackson is on pace to play in 147 games for the Tigers this season and if he maintains his current pace, he win finish with a WAR of 3.2. He’s already been worth 2.2 wins this year, Granderson has a WAR of 1.6.

Sure, there are signs that Jackson will cool off. His walk rate and is lower than Granderson’s and his strikeout rate is higher, but they also aren’t significantly different from his AAA marks of last season. Most of the drop off can be attributed to playing at the highest level. If you factor in the struggles one could expect from a rookie in the big leagues, there is no reason to think that those numbers won’t begin trending the other way, possibly as early as next season.

But if you want the biggest reason that I was (and continue to be) thrilled with the trade made by Dave Dombrowski this winter, it’s this: Granderson is 29 years old and is making $5.5 million this year. He’s owed another $20.25 million minimum over the next two years. Jackson is six years younger and makes the league minimum of $400 thousand this year. He won’t even be eligible for arbitration until after the Yankees have already given Granderson well over $25 million.

I sure am glad the Yankees are footing that bill.