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It’s no secret that the Mets have struggled to get much value from their position players this year.

David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud have missed most of the season with injuries. Juan Lagares went back to being a below-average hitter and has developed a balky elbow that has limited his defensive value. Michael Cuddyer’s bat hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for his defensive play in left field. And after a hot start to the season, Lucas Duda has sunk into a two-month hibernation period.

It seems these days that the only Mets position player exhibiting the qualities of an above-average major leaguer is Curtis Granderson. The 34-year-old outfielder is sporting a .292 True Average this season, nine points higher than his career mark and his best since slugging 41 home runs and racking up 5.0 WARP for the Yankees in 2011.

Through 96 games, Granderson has been about a 2.5-win player. While he’s taken some steps forward offensively this season, the greater driving force behind his improved sophomore season with the Mets have been his defensive contributions. Advanced defensive metrics pegged Granderson as a slightly below-average defender in right field in 2014, but this season he leads all right fielders with 11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), just ahead of Jason Heyward, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton. He trails only Heyward, Stanton, and J.D. Martinez in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

To take a trip down memory lane, Granderson was considered one of the better defensive center fielders in the game during his mid-to-late-20s, the majority of which he spent patrolling the deepest parts of Comerica Park for the Tigers. From 2005-2009, he ranked fourth among center fielders in DRS and seventh in UZR, clearly behind Andruw Jones, but firmly in a second tier among the likes of Carlos Beltran and Willy Taveras, according to the defensive metrics. But as Granderson entered his 30s and turned in the Old English D for pinstripes, he appeared to lose a step. He graded out as slightly below average during his four years with the Yankees, and poor defensive numbers hurt his candidacy when it came to debating his 2011 AL MVP merits.

After the Mets signed Granderson to a four-year deal prior to the 2014 season, they moved him off the position and stuck him in right field. A little over a year-and-a-half into Granderson’s tenure with the Mets, it’s been a tale of two seasons defensively.

So what has Granderson done better this year? A quick glimpse at the spray charts of the plays he has made and the plays that he hasn’t made this year in right field indicates that not nearly as many balls over his head have gone for base hits.

This is backed up by data collected by Baseball Info Solutions. BIS breaks down how well outfielders are at converting batted balls into outs based on the depth of the play, designating balls as being hit to areas considered either “shallow,” “medium,” or “deep.” Granderson excelled at running down deep balls in 2014, making approximately seven plays above average on such balls. This season, he’s on pace to do substantially better. (Data through Tuesday’s games.)

Plays Above Average by batted ball depth, 2014-15

Year

Innings

Shallow

Medium

Deep

2014

1177.1

0

-2

+7

2015

760.1

+1

+2

+7

On the one hand, we know that defensive metrics fluctuate in small samples and that we shouldn’t take a little over a half season’s worth of data to be representative of a defender’s new true talent level. Granderson might be getting better reads off the bat this year or improving the routes he’s taking on balls hit over his head; this is something we would have a better understanding of with more defensive data tracked by Statcast.

But we also know that he’s not getting any more nimble at the age of 34 and it might just be the case that he’s gotten to a few extra balls that landed just beyond his reach at the warning track last year. Those count, and the fact that Granderson has been particularly adept at tracking down balls that are more likely to fall for extra-base hits is something that the Mets tremendous young pitching staff should be thankful for. But as for how we should treat Granderson’s improvements at tracking down balls this season, it’s probably best to regress.

The greater driver in the boost Granderson has gotten defensively has actually not been his range but rather how his throwing arm has graded out in the eyes of the metrics this season. Granderson was never known for having a particularly strong arm but it was good enough to pass in center field, grading out as basically average over his first nine years in the league.

But defensive metrics evaluate players relative to their peers at a given position. The Mets stuck Granderson in right field upon his arrival in Queens—a position typically reserved for players with above-average arms—and the results during his first season were historically bad.

Lowest single-season rARM, RF, since 2003

Player

Year

Innings

rARM

Emil Brown

2005

1097

-10

Brian Giles

2008

1263

-8

Curtis Granderson

2014

1177

-8

Shawn Green

2006

1121

-7

Hunter Pence

2013

1431

-6

According to the BIS measure Outfield Arm Runs Saved (rARM), a component of DRS that evaluates outfielders based on how well they are able to limit runners advancing on base hits and throw out runners attempting to take extra bases, Granderson cost the Mets approximately eight runs in right field last season. That’s tied for the second worst rARM by a right fielder in a single season since the metric’s inception. By ARM, a similar metric incorporated into the calculation of UZR, Granderson’s 2014 season was the sixth worst. Include all outfielders and it ranks 7th lowest since 2003 by rARM and 10th worst by ARM. No matter how you slice it, Granderson’s throwing arm really hurt the Mets last season.

But this season, Granderson’s throwing hasn’t been the negative that it used to be, according to these same metrics. In fact, his arm has been approximately average compared to other right fielders, with his rARM checking in at 0 runs saved. According to BIS, in 2014 Granderson had two kills (when an outfielder throws out an opposing baserunner without the help of a cutoff man) and allowed 57% of baserunners to take an extra base in right field. Through Tuesday’s games, he already has four kills this season and has only allowed 44% of baserunners to take an extra base. The league average since the start of 2014 is 48%.

So does Granderson’s improvement pass the eye test? Was Granderson’s arm in 2014 really that inept or was this merely fluctuation within a year’s worth of defensive data? Let’s take a look at some throws from 2014 Granderson.

Granderson comes up charging all of these balls, guns for home from pretty shallow in the outfield, and still requires multiple bounces to reach home. I spent a good amount of time searching through Granderson’s throws on MLB.com and I can tell you that not all of his throws last year looked like this. Some only required one hop, fewer made it on the fly, and a lot of throws needed to be cut off by an infielder. But even the throws that reached on a hop or on the fly required a large arc behind them and lacked much carry to them. Here are two examples:

FanGraphs has a feature available called the Fan Scouting Report that is conducted by Tom Tango. Fans are asked at the end of the season to rate players on a number of defensive skills on a scale of 0-100 (higher being better). It’s subjective and not the most exact science in the world but it gives a pretty good gauge on what the consensus is on a given player from fans who watch their favorite team every day. Here’s what the FSR has said about Granderson’s throwing arm since 2009.

Year

Team

Release

Arm Strength

Arm Accuracy

2009

Tigers

59

42

48

2010

Yankees

57

51

56

2011

Yankees

54

45

56

2012

Yankees

42

30

38

2013

Yankees

41

36

47

2014

Mets

37

15

30

There’s certainly a trend in the wrong direction here. So after what appears to be a fairly steady decline in Granderson's throwing abilities, is it really possible that his arm has looked better this season? As we did earlier, let’s take a look at some of his throws, this time from 2015.

Okay, so he’s still no Yoenis Cespedes. It doesn’t even really look like an average right field arm. But there does appear to be noticeably more carry behind his throws. After looking through several other throws, I can say that there haven’t really been any of the same type of miserable two- or three-hop throws home that we saw in 2014. Factor in a couple of these

and the picture becomes a little clearer as to why runners aren’t vying for the extra base on him nearly as frequently this season.

One of the biggest criticisms of defensive metrics is that it’s difficult to account for the original positioning of a player. In the case of Granderson, when I set out to examine his defense, I thought that maybe playing shallower could be helping his ability to limit runners taking extra bases, especially given that the fences in right center field at Citi Field were brought in by about 10 feet during the offseason. From what I’ve been able to tell, this hasn’t been the case; there hasn’t been a noticeable difference in the depth at which he’s been playing. Below is a comparison of Granderson’s positioning in games from 2014 and 2015 against the Giants, both at Citi Field, both with Buster Posey hitting and Jon Niese pitching, and both with no runners on.

The camera angles are different and there’s the unfortunate part about the graphic being over the front of the screen during the only shot of the outfield in the 2015 game. It appears that Granderson is playing a few steps closer to the gap in the 2015 game compared to the 2014 game, but the depth at which he’s playing remains mostly unchanged.

I couldn’t find any articles or quotes that indicated that arm strength was something that Granderson had specifically worked on this offseason. However, over time he has developed the reputation of being a hard worker and good teammate; it’s certainly plausible that he recognized that his arm strength was a major hole in his game and worked at improving it after the 2014 season.

It does appear that the woeful arm that sunk Granderson’s defensive value last season has gotten better. Even if you don’t buy that it’s an average arm compared to rest of the right fielders in baseball, it’s certainly closer to fringe-average than what it was last season. There’s tremendous value in going from being really bad to merely adequate at something, even if that’s not as sexy as a breakout.

This article has been edited for accuracy. Special thanks to Scott Spratt of Baseball Info Solutions for research assistance.