Two-Hole: Nick Johnson VS Curtis Granderson
There has been much debate regarding the number two spot in the Yankees lineup, with most fans, at least those who read iYankees, advocating for Nick Johnson, while some continue to push Curtis Granderson as the ideal two-hole hitter. The arguments for both players have their merits, of course. Johnson’s camp rightfully touts his ability to get on base (his nickname across the interwebs is OBP Jesus), which he does often, thanks to his masterful plate discipline. In 2009, according to FanGraphs, Johnson walked 17.2% of the time, the third-highest mark in all of baseball after Adrian Gonzalez (17.5%) and Adam Dunn (17.4%). As stated by Moshe over at The Yankee U, due to his on-base skills, “Johnson batting second means more opportunities with runners on for Teixeira and Rodriguez.” The main knock against Johnson is his running, as his EqBRR, a statistic which essentially measures all baserunning contributions, a season ago was -4.4 between the Nats and the Marlins. He basically cost two teams 1/4 of a win. In his defense, he did battle a few minor lower half issues in ’09 – toe and hamstring – which might have hurt him here.
Now, for those who wish to see Curtis Granderson replace Johnny Damon in the two-hole, the reasoning is a bit more multifaceted. Though Granderson is not as patient as Johnson, he can still take a walk when he has to, with a base-on-ball percentage of 10.1% in 2009 (the Yankees’ collective BB% was 10.3%). Beyond on-base percentage, though, Granderson does not ground into many double plays as he has only had eight over the past two years (just one a season ago), a talent that might be valuable in terms of not making multiple outs to prematurely end an inning (for comparison purposes, NJ had 15 last year). Granderson’s power, that knack for clearing the bases with a single swing – he hit 30 home runs in 2009 – also makes him a better option, according to some fans, with regards to the number two spot. Moreover, Granderson’s baserunning, a trait historically valued by managers for the top of the batting order, has always been strong. His EqBRR in 2007 was +6.6, +5.8 in 2008, and +1.9 in 2009, with the latter seeming like an anomaly. It is not a reach to say that Granderson could provide a half a win with his running game.
So, this is the argument, in a nutshell. Johnson can definitely get on base, but he can’t really run all that well. On the other hand, Granderson, who can clear the bases with just one swing, may not get on base nearly as much as Johnson, but when he does, he makes the most of it with his wheels (stealing, advancing, etc.). What, then, is more valuable to the Yankees? Yesterday, in a post by Joe Pawlkowski of River Ave Blues regarding this very topic, Joe said, “while [Granderson will] be able to take extra bases that Johnson will not, I think that the added plate appearances give the Yankees a bigger advantage. It means more opportunities for Tex and A-Rod. While Granderson might be able to score from second, or even first, in a few more instances than Johnson, he won’t be on base as much as therefore won’t get as many opportunities.” Now, I don’t think that it’s as clear as Joe describes it, but I do lean towards Johnson as the better fit. Granderson’s ability to run the bases makes you think, though. For what it’s worth, after today’s game, Joe Girardi seemed to prefer on-base skills over speed for the two-hole hitter.
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