The Curse of Jerry Hairston, Jr./Eric Hinske:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Should the Yankees Swap Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson?

By just about every objective measure, Brett Gardner is probably a better defensive player than Curtis Granderson.  So logically you’d think it probably makes sense to move Gardner to CF and Granderson to LF.  What I don’t know is how much of a difference it’d really make.

I’ll look at this using zone rating, since it’s more granular and transparent.  I don’t think using other metrics would change things much, but if anyone wants to show that I’m wrong go for it.  Standard caveats about defensive metrics apply, etc.,  Here’s the methodology I use for converting zone rating to plays/runs compared to average.

In zone rating, plays are either made or not made.  There are no adjustments for difficulty of chances, which can be problematic over a single season but less so as we move into larger sample sizes.  I’m going to ignore the fact that lumping OF ZR together isn’t necessarily the best approach either, just because I want to ignore it.

Zone rating is a decimal and it’s calculated as plays made divided by chances.  Chances are defined as plays that are converted into outs at least 50% of the time in the assigned zone for each defender.

Since 2008, Gardner has seen 901 chances in the outfield and converted 821 of them into outs.  That’s a ZR of .904.  Since 2008, Granderson has seen 1575 chances and converted 1404 into outs, good for a ZR of .891.

The average AL LF had a ZR of .848 in 2011.  The average AL CF had a ZR of .879.

The primary reason to make the switch is that CF will typically see more chances.  In 2011 Yankee CF saw 444 chances and Yankee LF saw 368.

So using 2008-2011 ZR as an estimate of current ZR, here are the two scenarios.

Player Pos Ch Diff
Granderson CF 444 5
Gardner LF 368 23
Total 812 29
Player Pos Ch Diff
Gardner CF 444 14
Granderson LF 368 16
Total 812 30

Diff is difference between Granderson/Gardner’s ZR and an average LF/CF over the chances shown.  The difference is in terms of plays, not runs.  A play made/not made in LF is generally worth about 0.83 runs on average, in CF it’s about 0.84 runs.

These tables show little difference.  Part of the reason Gardner has had such good defensive numbers is because he’s being compared to worse defenders.  He’d still likely be quite good in CF, but he wouldn’t be as valuable defensively relative to position, even with more chances.  We can see that moving Granderson to LF makes him more valuable defensively relative to position, again because he’s being compared to worse defenders now.

This assumes that Granderson would be able to make the move to LF seamlessly, which I’m not sure about.  It also ignores the fact that Granderson’s going to be 31 next year and probably in defensive decline, even if last year probably overstates it.  If you were to just use 2011 ZR #s for both (which we shouldn’t do)

Player Pos Ch Diff
Granderson CF 444 -12
Gardner LF 368 21
Total 812 9
Player Pos Ch Diff
Gardner CF 444 12
Granderson LF 368 1
Total 812 13

If you think using the 2008-2011 data is too generous to Granderson, I could see splitting the difference.  In that case you’re talking about a couple of runs.  I suppose you could probably move Gardner closer to RF with Granderson in LF and gain some additional benefit, but I doubt it’d be much of one

So technically speaking, the Yankees are probably better with Gardner in CF and Granderson in LF, but it likely wouldn’t be noticeable.

And anyone that mentions any player whose name begins with Yu and ends with Darvish in this thread will be put in timeout.

--Posted at 7:32 pm by SG / 20 Comments | - (0)


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So…is the message here not that we need to replace RF sometime in the next 18 months, but that we need another youngish, monsterish CF prospect so we can move Granderson to RF before we CAN tell the difference ?

Is there anyone that meets that criteria ? I mean, now that Melky is locked up for a few years and getting a little long in the tooth anyways (non Bernie Williams Division).

[1] Duh, Bernie’s bastard son Mason.

My eye tells me that Gardner is a substantially better fielder than Granderson.  Granderson sometimes breaks the wrong way, although his speed usually allows him to catch up with the ball,  ISTM that Gardner is better at breaking the right way instantly.

A subset of reads in CF are inherently more difficult than those in LF or RF, since balls that are pulled or sliced tend to behave more predictably than those that are hit straight away.  So I think your eyes will always tell you that the CFer breaks the wrong way more often.  OTOH, it’s not like Gardner couldn’t outrun a few mistakes either.

[3] I can’t really remember Grandy blowing a chance this season, but when I picture him making a play, I see him taking a circular path to the ball. 

[0]  Great analysis, SG.  This is a prime example of what makes this site great.

Another point to consider might be the benefit an older Granderson would see from a less physically demanding position.  Of course he’s been nothing if not durable…but it’s possible that reducing his workload in the field might help ensure continued health and/or freshness at the plate.

My eye tells me that Gardner is a substantially better fielder than Granderson.

The numbers agree.  That’s why Gardner shows as roughly 8 runs better in CF/LF.

The point is not that they are equally good defensively.  The point is that swapping them doesn’t really make that much of a difference.

[7] Granderson has the bigger contract, and hence, must play center field and bat higher in the order. Wish I was joking.

During the playoffs there were a couple of well hit balls into the gap. The TV screen showed the two of them converging from opposite sides, both running at top speeds. Each time, Gardner appeared to be moving dramatically faster than Granderson.

[8] You’re not?

So, SG’s numbers show that it’s basically not a big difference. If that’s the case, then why go through all the PR anguish plus the risk of moving Granderson having to adjust to LF? Seems like a perfectly rational course of action by the Yankees.

[8]  I would suggest it’s not the money, but Granderson’s veteran status.  CF is the more prestigious position, and Grandy gets it because he’s more of an established MLB veteran than Gardner.

Same thing with Jeter and A-Rod.  A-Rod had a much bigger contract, but Jeter occupied a somewhat higher spot on baseball’s (and certainly the Yankees’) totem poll, so Jeter got to keep the more prestigious SS spot.

[10] No, I’m not. As you say, there’s not much of a difference, so how do you settle it ? Not with any rational basis, because those don’t matter (or if they did, it’s probably Gardner by a nose). Why bother worrying about it ?

[12] I’m not sure what you’re saying. It’s easy to settle it.

Gardner might be better, but we can’t even know that for sure because of the uncertainty of our metrics.

Even if he is better, the amount is likely very small.

Is the *possible* benefit of a *small* improvement worth moving a guy from his established position? No.

That’s a very rational thought process, IMO.

The primary reason to make the switch is that CF will typically see more chances.  In 2011 Yankee CF saw 444 chances and Yankee LF saw 368.

I believe if you make a play out of zone - whether in say the RF zone or in a zone that no one makes the play at least 50% of the time - it counts as a chance.  IOW, you’d want to see how many in-zone plays there were, PLUS how many OOZ plays.  That may be available on FanGraphs.

Or what I’m saying is, maybe Gardner covers more ground, so moving Granderson to LF means he’ll make the play on .891 of 360 plays, and moving Gardner to CF he’ll make the play on .904 of 450 plays.  That’s going to make a difference of what, another 5 runs?  I also think Gardner’s arm is a bit better, but I’m just on a lunch break during all-day training so don’t have time to check the numbers/try to figure out how to convert it.

[1] Brewer or Laird are the in-house options, at least with AAA experience.  But really Brewer I was REALLY excited to get to see him play last year, but he was hurt most of it.  Seems like a jack of all trades, good but not great defense, speed, power, contact, patience, etc.  The type of player you never get excited about, but at the end of the year is always putting up 2-4 WAR.  Basically, upside (IMHO) of having equivalent value of Swisher, but getting there in a different way.

I can imagine a situation in which the available area to catch playable balls is exhausted by Gardner so his abilities are being wasted, even though he’s playing some left-center in effect.  Assume e.g. that LF and CF are squarish rectangular and the coverage regions are circular.  Then even with optimum placement one really wants to match r_cov to l_rect_min.

[8] - You aren’t joking?  I mean you can’t really want Gardner to take away PA from Granderson… Can you?

[16] You might be implying Granderson should lead off.

[18] - I’ll just flat out say Gardner should be at the bottom of the order.  He is a very weak hitter and even with his SB etc, he was still one of the 3 worst every day hitters last season against both RHP and LHP.  Posada’s PA should be replaced by Montero in 2012 so he will very likely still be a bottom of the order hitter.

He’s in there for his defense.

I’ve got Gardner as the 6th best hitter last year including everything (which I happen to think was a down year for him offensively), but his low SLG and high P/PA make naive sense at the top of the order.  Maybe you’d prefer Swisher’s OBP there instead though.

He pretty much nailed his career numbers last year. 

His speed is nice but personally I’d put him at 7th against RHP (because he can advance himself and score in front of the weakest hitters) and 9th against LHP.

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