Granderson and Left Field

Ever since Curtis Granderson revealed that the Yankees asked if he’d be willing to move to left field this weekend, various people have weighed in on the merits of such a move. My take? It really doesn’t matter much at all. Whether you have Brett Gardner in left and Granderson in center or vice versa, the overall impact on the Yankees will be so minor as to not be worth the discussion.

Gardner may actually be the better defender at this point, and we have been conditioned to believe that the best defensive outfielder should play center, as he will have more opportunities to flag down balls than either of the corner outfielders. But if you have two guys who can capably handle center field (as the Yankees now do), it isn’t all that important which one ends up in CF.

The CF-playing-a-corner guy doesn’t magically lose some range when shifting to a corner. His physical abilities are the same, and his ability to cover ground to his left and right remains the same. The only difference is that instead of covering two gaps, he’s now covering one gap and one line.

Even if we accept that Gardner is a better defensive outfielder than Granderson, which may or may not be true, the Yankees wouldn’t lose anything in their ability to cover the gap in left center with the current alignment. They would take a very marginal hit in right field gap coverage, but that would be somewhat offset by the gain in their coverage of the left field line.

The total difference in defensive performance between the two alignments is simply the drop in value in right-center balls caught minus the rise in value in left field line balls caught. We’re talking about a marginal difference on just a handful of balls in play over a full season. We’re talking about fractions of a run.

The Yankees have two center fielders. One of them will play left field. It doesn’t matter which one. So, just to avoid it becoming a story, it should probably be Granderson. No point creating something for the media to talk about when the end result just doesn’t matter.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


59 Responses to “Granderson and Left Field”

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  1. Joe R says:

    Sounds a lot like Boston one month ago.

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    • LeeTro says:

      Except the Yankees’ CF will be covering the large part of the field, while the Red Sox’ will be covering the small part, though J.D. Drew has been pretty good the last 2 years.

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      • Joe R says:

        More just the 2 CF’s / battle of egos / don’t hurt anyone’s feelings / etc.

        I think it’s still an insult to players to move them to weaker defensive positions. Especially when objective measures say you’re pretty good (Granderson). End of the day, I think most, if not all, players learn to like what the manager wants from them. Now Grandy can go and make a mockery of LF like I think Ellsbury will in Boston.

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  2. t-bone rex says:

    I think you want the best fielder getting the most options to make the most plays. Since its fine with Granderson to move to left, shouldn’t Brett be given center, so long as his bat plays.
    I realize its small sample sizes but Gardy seems to be a better fielder based on fielding data then Grandy, in fact he seems to be elite if the numbers are correct.

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    • Steve says:

      Not trying to be a jerk, but did you read the article?

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      • t-bone rex says:

        The one where the author neglects to point out that Granderson has declining numbers in center where as Gardener has been nothing but stellar? Yea, and I’d take issue with the conclusion and stick the superior defender in center. You?

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  3. Andy S says:

    This simply isn’t true. It’s not even true in theory. If you take a baseball diamond and draw two very large circles in the outfield, you’ll find it’s easier to fit more of that circle in CF than it is in LF, and thus if you put a great defender in CF you’re getting more out than if you were to put him in LF. The problem has to do with the geometry of a baseball diamond.

    And beyond theory, a player might just be better at a particular position, and for instance, much more comfortable routing in CF than LF, or vice versa, so you can’t say there will be no real difference if they were to switch positions. This is effectively why Boston thinks Ellsbury’s numbers took such a hit last year, it’s more than just a range-positional thing.

    I’m sorry, but as useful as positional adjustment is, it isn’t the end-all be-all. There’s more to consider than rough (albeit, good) approximations.

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    • Everett says:

      This isn’t a geometric issue, since the diameter of the circle is smaller than you are making it out to be. It is quite rare, given the diameter of the circle, that the two would significantly overlap each other, or even overlap into dead territory (past the foul walls or the outfield fence) enough that you would have a sizable decrease in area of the circle. Sure, there’s likely a difference, but its pretty small overall.

      More significant, assuming the actual range is roughly similar, are concerns about which is best suited to which position, by virtue of their abilities to move to the left or right, or the strength and accuracy of their arms.

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  4. AInquisition says:

    I guess in a situation like this, I lean towards putting the weaker armed player in left.

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  5. paris7 says:

    Thanks for this! It helps to resolve some quirks in the As acquisition this winter of Coco Crispwith Rajai Davis projected as starting CF and Ryan Sweeney in RF. With Rajai moved over to LF (one option), both R and L can help take the burden off the CF, while still covering the lines. The conclusion: the more CF-quality fielders you have, the better off you are (so long as RF has the arm to hold runners at 2nd base).

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  6. Fresh Hops says:

    This seems right: the best outfield is made up of three center fielders, and two is better than one. Where you put them is less important.

    Also, I’m not sure if this is correct or not, but I would guess that a player is more of an injury liability at a position that makes more plays. Given that Curtis is a much better player, it makes sense to protect him a little in left field.

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  7. Aaron says:

    “No point creating something for the media to talk about when the end result just doesn’t matter. ”

    Isn’t that kind of the opposite of the Yankees motto?

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  8. Rich in NJ says:

    There could be a perceptual issue with fans and some members of the media. If Gardner plays LF, his offense may be compared to a league average LF rather than a league average CF, which could put more pressure on him.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Indeed, I’ve heard people say that Gardner’s offense would be acceptable if he was the starting CF instead of the starting LF. No. As long as the difference in his defensive value between the two positions roughly mirrors the positional adjustments, it makes no difference.

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  9. Jay says:

    I believe that it makes more sense to play Granderson as the regular centerfielder because: (1) the difference between Gardner and Granderson defensively is neglible, (2) why create “controversy” as the Granderson adjusts to being the new guy coming to NY, and most importantly (3) if (and this is a big IF) Gardner is not going to be an everyday player you would prefer to have the same guy playing CF every day as you need a “leader” in the outfield (just like the shortstop in the infield) and it helps the communication between outfielders, etc.

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  10. Rocco says:

    If it didn’t matter which one plays center, the yankees would not have asked Granderson to move to left.

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    • Steve says:

      Did they? Or did they ask him if he might be willing to move to LF if necessary?

      Pretty big difference, considering one implies a decision has actually been made.

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  11. Spike says:

    “Whether you have Brett Gardner in left and Granderson in center or vice versa, the overall impact on the Yankees will be so minor as to not be worth the discussion.”

    Then you devote 292 additional words to the topic. That’s irony at it’s best right there.

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    • Steve says:

      It is implied that “the discussion” refers to the countless hours the NY media and WFAN callers will spend obsessing over this topic.

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  12. Nick says:

    This is why I don’t really get Boston moving Ellsbury to LF to make room for Cameron in center. Obviously Ellsbury is going to move back when Cameron is gone, why not give him the reps in CF?

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    • Dirty Water says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s obvious he’ll be moved back. It’s possible, but it’s also possible that he’s dealt within two years. I started believing the latter once they moved him in the first place.

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  13. Nick says:

    And they’ve said their numbers don’t agree with Ellsbury’s UZR last year, they have him as a good CF, before anyone brings that up.

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    • Dave says:

      Of course they said that. What do you expect them to say: “We agree, Jacoby sucks!”? Also, those same numbers they use probably said Cameron was better.

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      • Dirty Water says:

        There is no conclusive defensive data which indicates Jacoby ‘sucks’, which leaves scouting reports (which indicate he’s excellent) and professional observation (which indicates ‘he has great tools but needs to improve on his routes).

        This is a 25 year old kid with one full year of ML CF experience. One should not forget that.

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      • TCQ says:

        UZR, even heavily regressed, indicates he probably isn’t any great shakes out there, at least as of yet.

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  14. delv says:

    Err… by the reasoning in DC’s article, the Yanks would be fine putting Swisher in CF, too, since he, also, “is a centerfielder.” But, of course, that’s not quite right; one would prefer to place the best centerfielder—the one with most range—in the part of the field with the most fair territory.

    Also, not sure about the presumption that the lines play the same way as the gaps do.

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    • Steve says:

      That doesn’t follow from Dave’s article at all. The premise of the article is that both Granderson and Gardner are rangy, plus defensive CFers and even if we DO allow that Gardner is slightly better (which the sample size is too small still to say for sure), the difference is negligible.

      Swisher is a inferior OFer to the other 2. Thus, a similar article would not have been written.

      Honestly, I don’t even see how anyone could read otherwise into this.

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  15. Dirty Water says:

    So, not even a week into ST and ‘Grandy’ is already being demoted?

    I’m shocked. Shocked, i tell ya!

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  16. Gardner is clearly the faster of the two if not the fastest player in all of baseball. Having him cover CF will make Yankee pitchres look better than they really are. Granderson seamlessly goes to left. Clearly a win-win for the Yankees.

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  17. Brian G says:

    If Gardner ends up playing the majority of the games in CF for the Yanks than trading Jackson for Granderson wasn’t a very smart trade.

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    • TEH FEAR says:

      I don’t follow. Why would this be true?

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      • Dirty Water says:

        I’ll take a shot at that.

        Because his wOBA since he fractured his hand (2 years) would place him 16th amongst 2009 ML LFers? And his L/R splits scream ‘PLATOON’. And he will cost $8.25m in 2011, $10m in 2012?

        Also: Forget Jackson; maybe one day I’ll come to realize why the Yanks sold Kennedy, who so thoroughly dominated mL ball thru his 24th year, so cheap. Maybe they’re right… although I doubt it. They rarely are.

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      • Steve says:

        could you be a bigger troll?

        yes, you’re right, the yankees are “rarely right”. they’ ve traded away so many prospects that have come back to bite them. oh wait, they haven’t?

        no, his L/R splits don’t scream “platoon”. his L/R splits at COMERICA scream platoon. his road numbers scream “much better against RHP but acceptable against LHP”

        also, why are we ignoring his 2010 salary? doesn’t fit the narrative? he’ll make an average of $8M/year. you’re cherry picking.

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  18. Scottwood says:

    I’m not sure I’d say it doesn’t matter who plays CF. The CF will get the most defensive opportunities and have the most responsibility. If the Yankees feel that Garnder is an upgrade over Granderson in CF, then they should absolutely make that switch. Grandy’s UZR the last 2 years is a significant drop from what it was in 06-07 and a lot of scouts have questioned his route running. Some even suggested that was one of the main reasons the Tigers traded him. There were a few other fielding metrics that rated him better last year, but it seems that some scouts and the Yankees/Tigers may be leaning closer towards his UZR totals from the last 2 seasons to predict his performance going forward as a CF. Playing Gardner in CF and Granderson in LF, rather than the reverse, may be worth several runs over the course of the season. In what is expected to be a tight division race, every little bit helps.

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  19. Whartonite says:

    “The total difference in defensive performance between the two alignments is simply the drop in value in right-center balls caught minus the rise in value in left field line balls caught.”

    If they were to put the worse center fielder in center (assuming they aren’t equal in talent), wouldn’t there be a drop in value in balls hit to center too? I mean, that’s the whole purpose of putting your best outfielder in center in the first place. If Gardner actually IS significantly better than Granderson in center, even though now we’re in a tough position to ever really find out, then it does matter how they’re arranged. It seems like we just need more conclusive evidence of how they compare…

    “The Yankees have two center fielders. One of them will play left field. It doesn’t matter which one. So, just to avoid it becoming a story, it should probably be Granderson.”

    Wouldn’t the media have more to talk about if Granderson plays left?

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  20. xie says:

    You cannot trust the sample size, but Gardner’s small sample in CF isn’t “good CF” it’s “elite CF.”

    Over a very APPROXIMATE MLB season’s worth of games, he has a 28.8 UZR/150. He probably is not this good, but an 18.0 would put him as the second best OF in the majors behind only Gutierrez, who isn’t human.

    He has great numbers in left, but you do not sit a top 5 OF defender in the majors (if thats what you potentially see as his ceiling, he’s only just entering his prime), or play him in LF, for an average to above average fielder like Granderson.

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    • Joe R says:

      I believe it’s a classic case of proven commodity (Granderson) vs. upside-filled kid (Gardner). To me, the answer is clear: move Gardner to CF. Granderson will be an All Star-caliber player anyway.

      Of course the Yankees can always do Gardner for Ellsbury straight up. I wouldn’t mind.

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  21. Kirk says:

    It’s just speculation at this point.

    But I’ll speculate that this move might be to keep Granderson fresher. And it might not an everyday move.

    For example: Gardner plays 75% of the games in CF, Winn plays 25% of the games in LF and Granderson plays the remaining games in LF and CF. What you accomplish by doing this is keeping Granderson fresher by playing a less demanding position while not losing anything defensively.

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  22. David B says:

    None of this is substantiated by facts but bare with him. If you have 2 centerfielders and 1 average fielder, wouldn’t it make sense to play the good defenders on the corners? Any space that 2 players can cover is lost space (you don’t need 2 guys to catch the ball). If the 2 players are not next to each other but next to the bad defender, that would minimize the overlap. If the argument is lost ground via the foul territory, wouldn’t that be minimized by good positioning? I understand that more balls are hit at the centerfielder, but isn’t that a product of the centerfielder being the guy that covers the most ground.

    I feel like if the Yanks put Swish in center, he would be able to get to every ball that they would need him to. Would he get to all the balls Granderson or Gardner would get to? Of coarse not but those 2 would be tracking balls to the ir respective right and left that other defenders would get to.

    No clue if this makes any sense.

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  23. balfourvanvleck says:

    “The CF-playing-a-corner guy doesn’t magically lose some range when shifting to a corner. His physical abilities are the same, and his ability to cover ground to his left and right remains the same. The only difference is that instead of covering two gaps, he’s now covering one gap and one line.”

    What about the difference in coverage on balls hit in front of or behind the fielder? That has to count for something right? I’m confused as to why the only difference in the players is gap/line coverage.

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  24. Linuxit says:

    Granderson has a weak throwing arm that belongs in LF and Vs Lefty pithcers he belongs on the bench.

    In LF, Granderson’s WAR value automatically goes down. If he’s platooned, his value goes down even further. I’m just not a Granderson fan. 76 of his 102 career HR’s were the solo variety.
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/event_hr.cgi?n1=grandcu01&t=b

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Pretty much everything you said was a pile of fail, but

      In LF, Granderson’s WAR value automatically goes down.

      deserves special attention. You do realize that the quality of left fielder Grandy gets compared against is much lower than that in center, right? In fact, the adjustments are designed specifically to account for that. Moving to left shouldn’t affect his WAR at all, because his UZR should shift up (due to the lower baseline) approximately as much as the PA brings his WAR down.

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      • Linuxit says:

        Everything?

        Fact 1- Granderson does have a poor throwing arm.
        Fact 2- He can’t hit lefty pitchers
        Fact 3-76 or his career 102 were solo HR’s
        Fact 4- I’m not a Granderson fan

        Fact 5- WAR position adjustment for Left Field= -7.5 runs vs Center Field +2.5 runs. That’s a difference of 10 runs, so his WAR is 1 lower just by moving to LF.

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      • Linuxit says:

        I hate it when I’m just so right.

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  25. balfourvanvleck says:

    Not exactly. Let’s say you have a CF with UZR of 0 and a LF with UZR of 10. The positional adjustment is there to tell us that those two players contributed equal defensive value (0+2.5=2.5 and 10-7.5=2.5). However, being a capable CF (4.9 UZR/150 career), Granderson should be well above average in LF. I think we can expect a 10+ UZR/150 from him there.

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    • Linuxit says:

      True, but Granderson wouldn’t be the only CF moving to LF. Other teams are moving to a superior glove into the LF spot also. So the question is, what will league average be in LF?

      BAL- Nolan Reimold
      BOS- Jacob Ellsbury (Bay)
      TB- Crawford
      NY- Granderson (Damon)
      TOR- Travis Snider (Lind)

      KC- Scott Podsednik (Dejesus moving to RF)
      CLE- Michael Brantley (Crowe/Laporta/Francisco)
      CHW- Juan Pierre (Pods/Quentin)
      DET- Johnny Damon (not official yet, but he’d be replacing Guillen)
      MIN- Jason Kubel (my guess is that he replaces Young)

      ANA- Juan Rivera
      OAK- Rajai Davis (Hairston/Holliday)
      SEA- Milton Bradley (Chavez/Langerhans/Balentien)
      TEX- Josh Hamilton (David Murphy)

      ATL- Melky Cabrera (Garrett Anderson)
      FLA- Chris Coghlan
      NYM- Jason Bay (Sheffield/Murphy)
      PHI- Raul Ibanez
      WAS- Josh Willingham (Dunn)

      HOU- Lee
      MIL- Braun
      STL- Holliday
      CHC- Soriano
      PIT- Milledge

      ARI- Conor Jackson (hurt last year)
      LAA- Ramirez
      SF- Derosa (Winn/Lewis)
      SD- Blanks (Headley)
      COL- Carlos Gonzalez

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      • balfourvanvleck says:

        You make a good point about UZR being a stat that is relative to “average”. However, even as teams beef up on OF defense, the quality of defenders in LF is still going to be less than in CF. So Granderson’s UZR should tick up even more.

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