Faced with a thin market and steep prices, GM Brian Cashman was unable to reel in another bat for the Yankees before Wednesday’s trade deadline. But Friday night in San Diego, a new pinstriped jersey will be hanging in the visitor’s clubhouse nevertheless.
Outfielder Curtis Granderson, sidelined since May 24th with a broken left pinkie, will make his second season debut tonight, this time hopefully for good.
After fracturing his wrist in Spring Training, Granderson was out until May 14. When he returned he played just eight games for the Yankees – registering seven hits and one homerun – before landing back on the DL 10 days later.
Well cognizant now of the team’s uncanny propensity for injury, Granderson will wear extra padding on his wrist, hand and elbow to guard against high fastballs…and any demonic spirits that may be still following this club.
But recently, the sinister clouds seem to have lifted. Derek Jeter has played three smooth games at shortstop, Alfonso Soriano has provided a spark on offense and now the League’s 2011-12 homerun king rejoins the team tonight. That’s right, no one player in the Majors – not Miguel Cabrera, not Jose Bautista, not Ryan Braun – hit more homeruns through 2011-12 than Granderson, who slugged 84.
That’s what makes the “Grandyman” so valuable to this team. He might not be the high-average hitter he was in Detroit, a fleet-footed gap-to-gap fountain, but that’s okay. With Jeter back in the fold alongside slap-hitting pests Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, the Yanks are not short on contact hitters.
What they’re short on is power. After leading the Majors in homeruns three of the past four years, the erstwhile Bronx Bombers have fallen to 24th in 2013. For a ballclub that has relied heavily on the strength of one big swing or two in the past, the scarcity of homeruns has spelled famine on the scoreboard. If zeroes have been the team’s lyric this season, “1-2-3 go the Yanks” has been their chorus.
Soriano has already helped quiet that refrain, and Granderson should as well. Last Sunday against the Rays, the value of the homerun hitter came to the fore. After Phil Hughes coughed up a 3-1 lead in the top of the third, Soriano lifted a two-run homerun to right in the bottom half, quickly restoring the Yankees’ lead. Two runs? With one swing?? We’re allowed to do that?
But the team’s ignorance can be excused. For much of the season a multi-run inning has required a succession of hits, which for a team hitting .241 hasn’t been a common theme. Now though, they have two more hitters – along with Robinson Cano – who can achieve in one swing what typically takes the offense three or four.
There isn’t a play in baseball that changes the scope of a game more than a homerun. As evidence of this, just take a look at the Toronto Blue Jays who hit just .253 as a team (17th in the Majors), but whose 136 homeruns have helped them score 496 runs (7th in the Majors). Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers rank sixth in the Majors in batting average but fall to 19th in runs scored. And the San Francisco Giants, whose .262 average is good for 8th in the Majors, come in at a distant 24th in runs scored.
Generally, homeruns translate more immediately into sheer offense – runs scored – than high averages do. And whether or not this rule flip-flops in the postseason is irrelevant for a Yankees team that is on the outside looking in. If they make it to October, they can worry about their offensive philosophy then.
So if Granderson goes 5-20 and then 10-40 and ultimately 50-200, that’s fine. Because a healthy portion of those hits will be homeruns. And a healthy portion of those homeruns, with Gardner, Jeter and Cano all likely hitting in front of him, will be thumped with men on base. The Yankees can live with another .250 hitter, so long as he’s not a .300 slugger.
And remember, Granderson hasn’t become a one-dimensional player the way Soriano has. Homeruns might be the feature presentation in his show now, but they’re not the only one. He still has plus speed and runs the bases as well as anyone in the game. Another statistical category that Granderson led from 2011-12? Runs scored.
It could be argued that with the return of Granderson the Yankees are getting back their most complete player. Robinson Cano is absolutely the most valuable player on this team, but Granderson may well be the most versatile.
They’ve played 99 games without him, and sit just 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. With 55 still to play with him, the skies continue to get clearer for the Yanks.