The years have taught Curtis Granderson to be precise with his language. Even when he’s reviewing recent at-bats on his own, he leaves no ambiguity about responsibility for the results at the plate. He holds himself accountable — not his age.
“I don’t look back thinking, ‘Man, that jammed me,’ ” the Mets outfielder said recently. “I go, ‘I got jammed on that pitch.’ I know it’s a pitch I should have been able to hit versus a pitch that he beat me on. There’s a difference.”
That distinction looms large even now as Granderson’s swoon approaches a second month, inviting questions about whether the 36-year-old and three-time All-Star is simply enduring a natural fade.
This week, he batted eighth for the first time since 2011. And soon — with the Mets (16-23) dangerously close to losing control of their season before Memorial Day and slugger Yoenis Cespedes nearing a return from a strained hamstring — Granderson could see his playing time diminish.
“Is it an age thing? Possibly,” he said. “Obviously, I am older, there is no denying that. But at the same time, I also feel confident that if I’m able to do what I can do on those pitches that I’ve had, then everything is going to take care of itself.”
This offseason, with the Mets looking to shed outfielder Jay Bruce, rival teams instead flooded the phone lines with calls about Granderson.
Before the 2014 season, Granderson signed a four-year, $60-million deal with the Mets, a contract that initially drew criticism following a slow start. However, in the first three years of the deal, Granderson was among the most productive outfielders in the National League. His 76 homers in that span fell just behind the likes of Bruce and Bryce Harper.
So far this season, however, Granderson has been one of the least productive hitters in all of baseball. He’s hitting .159 with three homers and 13 RBIs. At the start of play on Thursday, Granderson’s .531 OPS ranked last among qualifying hitters in the National League.
“He’s just not squaring the ball up as much as he’s accustomed to,” said Mets hitting coach Kevin Long. “He’s either working too far out in front [in his swing] or too deep. He’s getting enough good pitches. His strike zone’s been fairly decent for the most part. That doesn’t seem to have affected him much. It’s just the consistency of the barrel.”
Granderson’s line-drive percentage has tanked while his infield flies have spiked. It’s part of the reason that he’s hitting just .186 on balls in play, well below his career mark of .294.
One rival talent evaluator said cold weather earlier in the season may have impacted Granderson, though diminished bat speed hinted at the possibility of age as the culprit.
“He puts good at-bats together, competitive at-bats,” the scout said. “But when he squares the ball up, it’s just not going anywhere right now. I wouldn’t close the book on him yet. But for me, it definitely was a big red flag.”
Not only has manager Terry Collins dropped Granderson in the batting order, but he’s also double switched him out of games for former gold glover Juan Lagares.
“It’s one of the toughest things because this guy has been such a huge factor here,” Collins said earlier this week. “I know he’s scuffling. It’s quite obvious. But I want him in the lineup.”
In recent weeks, Long has worked with Granderson on improving the mechanics of his lower body during the swing.
“I feel like he’s turned the corner a little bit with that,” Long said. “His at-bats have been a little bit better. So he’s making steady, very subtle progress but he’s not there yet. He’s still got some work to do.”
Granderson has turned his focus on his most recent at-bats, from which he has drawn some encouragement. He homered in the series against the Diamondbacks and reached base in every game.
“I’ve gotten pitches to hit,” Granderson said. “I’ve attacked those pitches. I’ve just been a little off one way or the other, a little too far in front or too far back, the bottom half working too much or not enough, just little things that are slightly off.”