Curtis Granderson: making his mark as a leadoff hitter: Tigers center fielder continues to brighten his role in Detroit's lineup with his speed, power and hustle.
Instead of overly obsessing on more walks, longer at-bats or any of the myriad other stats so often used to measure leadoff runs, Granderson has taken a teammate's advice and looks at runs scored. With the offense behind him, he wants to get on base however possible.
By taking a simple approach, he's on his way to threatening a very complex feat.
Only two players in modern baseball history have recorded 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Nobody has done it since Hall of Famer Willie Mays in 1957, and the other was back in 1911. Fittingly, it was a former outfielder nicknamed "Wildfire" Frank Schulte.
While Phillies All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins has three of the four categories, needing five triples to fill out the feat, Granderson is in similar territory. Through mid-August he needed one triple, four home runs and seven stolen bases to reach those standards.
In Granderson's case, it's quite a feat for someone in his second full year in the major leagues, but it's a telling sign of what has worked for him in a breakout season that has him leading the American League in extrabase hits and trailing only Alex Rodriguez in total bases through August 19.
"It would be interesting," Granderson said last August. "It's a surprise, because nothing feels out of the ordinary. I'm not just going (for a lot of stolen bases). Triples and home runs will just happen. You can try to hit a home run, but you definitely can't try to hit a triple. If I end up being around that milestone towards the end of the season, it'll be a great accomplishment. The good thing is with those statistics, that I can't really push, it eliminates me focusing on it."
Instead of weighing each situation, Granderson just goes. Between a penchant for line drives and an aggressive mentality on the basepaths, it's becoming harder for opponents to catch him.
"In a lot of ways, he's one of the hardest guys to pitch to on our ball club," said first-base coach Andy Van Slyke. "He can hit a home run, he can hit extra-base hits, and if he walks, he can steal a base. In a lot of ways, he's a pitcher's nightmare."
As the outfield and base running coach on the team, Van Slyke has worked with Granderson for the last two years. When they began instruction in Spring Training 2006 to prepare him for an everyday leadoff role, they worked on technique and mechanics, as did then-hitting coach Don Slaught.
Granderson was a willing student, and he ended up with a relatively solid season. But a late-season slump and a league-leading strikeout total had some fans wondering whether he was a fit for the leadoff role.
Then during the Tigers' winter caravan, new slugger Gary Sheffield said something that stuck with him.
"Sheffield mentioned to me last January, 'You should be a guy who scores 100 runs,'" Granderson said. "That's what I'm trying to get myself to. I can't force a run. But just trying to get on base will put me in a position to score runs."
With that, Granderson had his goal. His coaches had the way to help get him there. This year, Van Slyke tackled the mental side of the game, and much of hitting coach Lloyd McClendon's work was the same.
"I think Curtis Granderson is the most conscientious young man that I've ever been around in baseball," Van Slyke said. "That's how I feel about him as a person. That translates into his personality as a baseball player in the sense that he always wants to do everything right, almost to a fault, because he doesn't want to make any mistakes. So, because he doesn't want to make any mistakes, sometimes he doesn't let himself fly enough (on the bases). Not passive, but too cautious."
While McClendon worked on Granderson's two-strike approach, he also maintained the 26-year-old's aggressiveness. As Granderson explained, McClendon wanted him to understand situations and what pitchers would try to do to him, then react.
Vail Slyke, meanwhile, wanted to mitigate Granderson's reluctance to risk mistakes.
"This isn't like trying to steal diamonds," Van Slyke said. "You have to worry about getting caught stealing diamonds, so you have to have the perfect crime. So I told him to have the mentality that it's a pickup game with your buddies in the backyard, and it's three minutes to six and you're supposed to be home for dinner at six o'clock.
"I also told him that I thought last year he should've had more triples--that triples is a mentality that every time I hit the ball in the outfield, that my first thought is I'm going to be standing at third base--if I'm not, then second base, and if not, then first base. I told him to think three, then two, then one, instead of one, two, then three."
The aggressiveness can be seen each time Granderson gets out of the box. His triples look like he saw the opportunity all along. His doubles often are without a burst of speed rounding first base because he's already around his top speed.
"Even on home runs that I hit in the past," Granderson said, "guys were like, 'Man, you need to slow down. You've got that one.'"
The home runs are the one star that hasn't changed all that much. He hit 19 last year, and through August 19 he had 16 with 30 doubles and 19 triples, nearly double his 2006 total. At one point, he had a statistical chance to threaten the league's single-season record before falling back from the pace.
Considering he could become just the fifth player since Mays 50 years ago to have a 20-triple season, that's not a bad consolation prize.
Meanwhile, after striking out 174 times last year, he had 116 in his first 122 games this year, well below his 2006 pace. His walks are just half of what they were last season, but that's not a concern.
He wants runs, plain and simple, however he can get on base. This is his way to do it. With six weeks remaining in the season he already had 93 runs, 100 should be a certainty as long as he remains healthy. Mays' and Schulte's feat is another matter.
"If he doesn't walk enough, that's someone else's opinion," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'll take a leadoff man who is leading the league in extra-base hits any day of the year."
By JASON BECK
Players Who Had 20 or More Doubles, Triples, Homers and Stolen Bases in The Same Season Year Player, Team 2B 3B HR SB 1911 Wildfire Schulte, Chicago Cubs 30 21 21 23 1957 Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants 26 20 35 38 SOME PLAYERS WHO CAME CLOSE Year Player, Team 2B 3B HR SB 1941 Jeff Heath, Cleveland Indians 32 20 24 18 1979 George Bred, Kansas City Royals 42 20 23 17 1984 Ryne Sandberg, Chicago Cubs 36 19 19 32 CURTIS GRANDERSON AND JIMMY ROLLINS' TOTALS (Through August 19) Year Player, Team 2B 3B HR SB 2007 Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers 30 19 16 14 2007 Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies 30 15 22 25
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2007|
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