Curtis Granderson’s Remarkable Home Run Pace

In the first inning of yesterday’s game against the Mets, Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson ripped a low and inside pitch well over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium. It was his 16th home run of the year, just two behind the torrid pace Jose Bautista has set. Most stories written about Granderson marvel at the turnaround he has made: since he and hitting coach Kevin Long tweaked his swing last August he has hit 30 home runs, which is the second most in baseball during that span (to Bautista, of course). What I haven’t yet seen is how Granderson’s spot on the defensive spectrum makes his run more remarkable.

Throughout history we have seen a few center fielders hit for tremendous power. The most notorious era came between 1952 and 1966, the former date marking Larry Doby‘s 32-homer season and the latter marking Willie Mays‘s final 30-homer effort. In that span a center fielder — as defined by playing 90 percent of his games at the position — hit 30 or more homers 26 times. The usual suspects appear on that list: Mickey Mantle (7), Mays (11), Duke Snider (5), and Doby (2). For good measure, Gus Bell sneaks in there with a 30-homer season in 1953. It was quite a 15-year run for major-league center fielders.

Things changed a bit once those generational talents left the game. From 1967 through 1992, there were only 17 instances of a center fielder hitting 30 home runs in a season. Gorman Thomas was the most prolific, making the list four times, including the top two spots (45 and 39). A few other players — Dale Murphy, Jim Wynn, and Eric Davis — made the list multiple times, but this was no era of Mantle, Mays, and Snider. There was no pantheon of power-hitting center fielders in that 25-year span. There were a few guys who hit them, but no one who so obviously dominated.

Why 1992 as the cut-off? There are a few reasons, though the least of them is that it makes a neat 25-year window. In 1993, things started to change. In 1992, hitters smacked home runs one every 47.4 at-bats. That number had fluctuated a bit in the preceding years, but it was normally between once every 42 and once every 48 at-bats. In 1993, that number dropped to one every 38.5 at-bats. From there it dipped and dipped, until we got to the height of the power era. From 1999 through 2004, hitters smacked homers at a rate of one every 30.9 at-bats. It’s unsurprising, then, that many more center fielders had 30-homer seasons.

From 1993 through 2009, there were 42 instances of a center fielder hitting 30 or more homers in a season. Ken Griffey Jr. was the tops here, hitting 56 in both 1997 and 1998, and making the list a total of seven times. Also making multiple entries were Andruw Jones (also 7), Jim Edmonds (5), Steve Finley (4), and Carlos Beltran (3). Even Vernon Wells, Ray Lankford, Preson Wilson, and Jose Cruz made the list twice. Granderson made that list once, with his 30 homers in 2009. But that just isn’t as impressive as the run he’s making this year.

Last year we saw a slight movement in the at-bats per home run ratio. For the first time since 1993 it crossed the 35 mark. It wasn’t a hugely drastic shift — in 2008 a home run was hit once every 34.2 at-bats. There is no surprise that only one center fielder, Vernon Wells, hit the 30-homer mark; really, it’s a surprise that even one did it. This year hitters are belting homers at a pace of one every 38.7 at-bats, which is basically on par with 1993. Granderson has hit one every 10.7 at-bats. That’s not quite as impressive as Bautista’s pace of one every 7.6 at-bats, but then again the point is that Granderson is a center fielder, a position not known for enormous power.

Throughout history we have lauded the great center fielders of the game. Mays, Mantle, Snider, Jones, Griffey, Edmonds — they all bashed homers at torrid rates. While there is no need to take away from their achievements, I hope that we can honor center fielders such as Gorman Thomas, Dale Murphy, and, if he can keep up a semblance of his pace, Curtis Granderson, for swatting homers in periods where they weren’t so common — were there weren’t a trio of prolific ballplayers in New York, or homers weren’t being smacked at record paces. It’s a tribute to the rarity of a center fielder possessing this type of power. That’s what makes seasons like Granderson’s so special.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

45 Responses to “Curtis Granderson’s Remarkable Home Run Pace”

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  1. Paul B says:

    Gorman Thomas played centerfield. But I wouldn’t call him a centerfielder.

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    • Ted says:

      Really? He was actually a pretty great defender. Expectations from his physical appearance and style of hitting aside.

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  2. dudley says:

    eric davis stole 80 bases one year? man, the game really has changed.

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  3. paul says:

    Grady Sizemore had 33 dingers in 2008 and he most certainly is a centerfielder. Josh Hamilton had 32 as well in 2008. Just checked and Vernon Wells only had 20 HR’s, so I assume you just have the wrong year.

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    • MBD says:

      He’s saying Wells was the only one last year. The home run rate last year went over 35 ABs. It’s not a dramatic increase because it was as high as 34.2 as recently as 2008.

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  4. Theodore says:

    Amazing how different the Austin Jackson trade looks at this point, than it did as late as August of last season.

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  5. Barkey Walker says:

    Can we get a graph of AB/HR by year?

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  6. Omar says:

    I point out the pink elephant in the room. He’s on steroids.
    No way could he put up this jump in production otherwise.

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    • Theodore says:

      I disagree. I think he’s just playing better. After he hit 30 HR’s while playing at spacious Comerica in 2009, the 40 HR number was thrown around before last season as being attainable at the more HR friendly Yankee Stadium, which is especially friendly down the right field line.

      Obviously, that didn’t happen. He struggled and lacked power through the first 4 months of last season, but he hit 14 HRs from August 1st on, and he seems to have picked up right where he left off.

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    • Steve says:

      If this comment was tongue-in-cheek, I apologize in advance for this: your comment is stupid.

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    • Mark says:

      A subtlety that I’m not sure you intended, but I love: pink elephants, stereotypically, don’t exist–they’re imaginations of an ill and inebriated mind.

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    • fredsbank says:

      theodore, steve, and those 7 people who voted Omar’s comment down have fallen deep into the chasm…

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    • Dustin says:

      Everyone who thinks that post is serious is an idiot. He is obviously making light of people saying that Bautista is on roids.

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  7. Jake Squid says:

    1967 through 1992 is a span of 26 seasons – not a nice round 25. Unless you’re excluding either 1967 or 1992.

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  8. Ted Williams Head says:

    Austin Jackson never looked great to me, his BABIP was .396 last year, and he had a 0.28 BB/K ratio. Hardly the makings of a long and productive career.

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    • fred says:

      Yup… and this was the knock on him until he started out hot and people forgot about it.

      Many had him as a possible 4th OF type and while he may stick as an everyday player he’s going to do it through defense. There’s also no way he should be batting leadoff, unless you goal is to maximize his strikeouts. He’s like Brett Garnder without the plate discipline and OBP, and maybe slightly more power; he’s more flashy in the field but I’m not sure he’s as good a fielder.

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      • Preston says:

        The Granderson trade was a success for the Tigers they got rid of the salaries of Granderson and Edwin Jackson got two solid cheap replacements in Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer, plus two left handers in Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. They downgraded in CF, upgraded a SP, got bullpen depth and shed salary.

        The Yanks got Granderson for Coke, Kennedy and Jackson. The money is inconsequential to NY and Granderson obviously is better than Jackson. So the question on whether or not the trade was a success depends on how much they miss Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke. I think the Yankees will take an upgrade in their everyday lineup over a back end starter and middle reliever any day.

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  9. Blind leading the blind says:

    Power era = Steroid era. Still have your head in the sand in 2011??

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  10. lexomatic says:

    Something showing where (on the field) Granderson is hitting his home runs, and speculating as to how much the home park is helping would be nice addition to this.

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    • Joe Pawlikowski says:

      It might, but he has hit as many on the road as he has at home.

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    • joser says:

      Hit Tracker
      All but one are right down the line or to right center.
      By park:
      NYS: 8
      Fenway: 1
      Camden: 1
      Toronto: 2
      Tampa: 1
      KC: 1

      Except for Fenway, the RF in all of those are neutral to hitter-friendly (Rogers Center and Kauffman become pitcher-friendly as you get towards center)

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  11. TB says:

    Ray Lankford, Preston Wilson, and JCJ were COFs

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    The interesting thing to mr is that Grandy and Bautista are not “big guys”.

    I saw Bautista listed at 6’0 195 and Granderson is less than that.

    To me, the exciting part is that batting coaches appear to be doing what they’re paid to do. Too often, players just seem to make it or not. We have these two guys with swing/approach changes and Morton and Masterson with mechanics/pitch changes, leading to a bunch of success.

    Big steps forward in regards to coaching. Also the elimination of the slap swing or linear hitting has seemingly gone away with Astroturf.

    This is pretty exciting stuff.

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    • Bemused Met Fan says:

      I agree. I went to the ballpark and saw Bautista last year. He looked sort of scrappy and small. That still didn’t stop from smacking one out of Yankee Stadium III’s left field, which led to much rejoicing.

      It’s annoying that when batting coaches do their job, they don’t get the credit, but if the guys aren’t hitting they are instantly/easily blamed. Finally, they are getting some credit.

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    • Someanalyst says:

      Anecdotally, there is evidence that coaching benefits even more from cheap digital video than scouting does. Some people assume the benefits of video were reaped when they started using it in the 70s & 80s. But analog video is cumbersome to edit and manage. It is digital video asset management that helps coaches turn hunches into theories and then start a proper trial and error loop.

      We will see many of these stories over the next few years. Finding and arbitraging player development inefficiencies is becoming an area where teams seek competitive advantage. I just wish I could find that quote by Anthopoulos where he makes it explicit… sorry, poor form.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        My 10yo had a travel tourney this weekend. I used a flip for his at bats and pitching, not primarily for instruction, but to send the footage to grandparents.

        After his last at bat in the first game (a rare K), we were sitting at a picnic table drinking some powerade, and I asked if I could show him something. I showed him the at bat and he just replied “ah, got it” (he looked up to see where the ball was going before he actually made contact). This is how a lot of kids are growing up these days …. immediate video feedback.

        The price/availability of decent video recorders (phones, portables, etc) is such that everyone at the ballpark has the ability to do it.

        The key is being able to teach/coach the corrections. Pointing out flaws using video analysis is the easy part … almost analogous to the dad in the stands yelling “c’mon, throw strikes!” … being able to see the timing issue with a batter/hitter is the easy part. Giving the batter/pitcher verbal or visual cues, as well as, coaching/teaching the skills that will correct the problem is where the value is. I think there are a lot of people that can identify the problem, but not many coaches that can successfully teach the corrections. “Your hands are starting early, just fix that and you’ll be fine.” When the player doesn’t make the correction the coach can say “Hey, I told him what to fix.”

        This is why some guys, like Andres Torres and Ben Zobrist went out of the organization to get private instruction.

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      • Someanalyst says:

        @CircleChange11 – excellent illustration of how teaching & learning are becoming better in many sectors.

        Stuff like this leads me to agree with you when you say: “Big steps forward in regards to coaching”. It will, of course, be in the minors that this impact will be felt the most but we’ll probably see a Bautista every now and again.

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  13. douglaslreed says:

    I love seeing these mechanical improvements, big displays of power by smaller guys (by smaller i mean not muscle bound and HUGE). I think it’s good for baseball.

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  14. Jim says:


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  15. Wraithpk says:

    The truly amazing thing, which wasn’t mentioned, is his turnaround against LHP. Granderson’s wRC+ against LHP for his career is a 70, but this year it has been 200. The closing off of his stance and removal of the early movements in his swing has allowed him to stay back and be on time with his swings against lefties.

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  16. pft says:

    People seem to believe an increase in HR’s is always due to an increase in power. This is not always they case. One can experience a significant jump in HR’s hit without an increase in power, simply by being more consistent in making solid contact (just like a singles hitter who jumps from a BA of 280 to 330).

    One can test this by looking at the average HR distance of Bautista and Granderson and seeing if it has increased or not.

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  17. pft says:

    Bautista avg HR distance is 394 ft this year, and it was 400 ft in 2008

    Grandersons HR distance is 391 ft this year, and 395 last year and 393 ft in 2009.

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  18. gdc says:

    The turf era probably accounts for a lot of high speed low bat CF’s replacing big bat CF’s from the 50′s. But as far as “generational talents” I would guess that if Wynn and Snider switched parks and eras they would switch stats and Wynn would have 5 30 HR seasons and Duke 2. Switching Mantle and Murphy might leave them with their own stats (Murphy suffering from Death Valley though) but all the road turf parks might have made Mantle a 1B earlier in his career to save his knees. The fun ones to swap would be Mays and Davis, especially if Davis could pull the ball into the corners at the Polo Grounds and stay healthy without turf.

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  19. Andrew says:

    Ok now I realized why Granderson is hitting alot of homeruns. Yankees stadium’s right field is a JOKE! In ALL other stadiums, the rightfield is a CLEAR pop up. He hits left side, so OBVIOUSLY he can easily hit home runs in Yankees stadium. It’s so UNFAIR. Why don’t ESPN do something about that then picking on teams that are not even close to the playoffs?? I guess everything is about who makes $$$

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  20. Andrew says:

    Ok now I realized why Granderson is hitting alot of homeruns. Yankees stadium’s right field is a JOKE! In ALL other stadiums, the rightfield is a CLEAR pop up. He hits left side, so OBVIOUSLY he can easily hit home runs in Yankees stadium. It’s so UNFAIR. Why don’t ESPN do something about that then picking on teams that are not even close to the playoffs??

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