They are the centerpiece center fielders in what should be a captivating American League Central campaign. They share not only a position on the field and in their respective batting orders but also a passion and work ethic that make them a manager's dream.
And, lucky for us, their long-term contracts ensure they'll be grouped on the Great Lakes for years to come. The Indians' Grady Sizemore and the Tigers' Curtis Granderson don't mind being compared to each other, because to draw such a parallel is to implicitly praise their talents. "He's made All-Star teams, and he's got a Gold Glove," Granderson said of Sizemore. "So to get that comparison, for me, is a good thing, because he's playing at the top right now. I'm trying to catch up." Sizemore, 25, is equally laudatory in his evaluation of Granderson, who turns 27 this month. "He plays the game the right way, he's an all-around player, he plays defense, he can run, he's a leadoff hitter who can put the ball in the gap," Sizemore said. "He put up great numbers last year, and he's only going to get better. He's got all the tools." Grady and Grandy, then, are inextricably linked. They are rare common threads on teams that are otherwise quite disparate -- the Tigers built on payroll and power, the Indians on pitching and prodigies. Of course, we're not talking about Dolly the Sheep here. Sizemore and Granderson aren't outright clones of each other. So what follows is the "tale of the tape" on these two emerging stars, whose performances this season will go a long way toward dictating the outcome of one of the game's great budding rivalries. First things first: Sizemore and Granderson have both found a home at the top of the lineup, but neither player is a prototypical leadoff guy. Sizemore has hit at least 22 homers and driven in at least 76 runs in each of his three full seasons. Granderson hit 19 homers and drove in 68 runs in his first full year in '06, then hit 24 homers with 78 RBIs last year. In '07, Sizemore significantly increased his walk total from 78 to 101, blowing away Granderson's 52 walks. He had a .390 on-base percentage to Granderson's .361 mark. But with Sizemore's more steady eye came a less potent bat, as his average dipped from .290 in 06' to .277 in '07 and his extra-base total dropped from 92 (28 homers, 53 doubles, 11 triples) to 63 (24, 5, 34). Granderson, meanwhile, became just the third player in MLB history to record 20 steals, 20 homers, 20 triples and 20 doubles in a single season. His average jumped from .260 to .302. Granderson scored more runs (122 to 118) but has a stronger supporting cast. Sizemore stole more bases (33 to 28) but faded in that department in the second half (nine swipes after the All-Star break) while Granderson improved (17 after the break). It's a tough call, but we'll give the No. 1 nod to Granderson, by virtue of his .313 (78-for-249) average and .360 OBP last season with none on and none out, against Sizemore's .249 average (65-for-261) and .349 OBP. EDGE: Grandy The Ripken factor: Granderson missed just four games last season, yet he still finishes a distant second in this category. Sizemore has played in 358 straight games since Aug. 26, 2005. That's the longest active streak in the AL and the second-longest active streak in the Majors, behind Juan Pierre's 434. Last season, Sizemore started 158 games to Granderson's 140. Grandy's holdup is the time he's spent on the bench when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. EDGE: Grady Southpaw success: This had been an Achilles' heel for both players in the past, but Sizemore made great strides against left-handers in '07. Carrying a career .223 average against lefties heading into the year, Sizemore hit .284 (59-for-208) off them last season. "I think you're going to see Grady every single year trying to get better," Tribe general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Every year, he's going to address perceived limitations. He's never going to be satisfied that what he's doing is good enough. His desire is to constantly improve." Granderson, meanwhile, took a step back in this department, batting .160 (19-for-119) off left-handers -- a significant decline from his previous career average of .231 (40-for-173). Regardless, the Tigers had enough faith in him to begin letting him start more games against lefties in the second half. "I think he'll hit left-handed pitching," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. "He'll continue to make adjustments. People forget he's only got two years at the big-league level. He'll work hard to do everything he can to get it done." For now, though, Sizemore's work has clearly paid off most. EDGE: Grady The K conundrum: Let's face it. Neither of these players is a stranger to the strikeout. Granderson has struck out in 23.5 percent of his plate appearances (366 strikeouts in 1,557 plate appearances); Sizemore in 20.1 percent (474 K's in 2,364 PAs). But Granderson showed more improvement in this area in '07. He struck out 141 times in 676 plate appearances, cutting down his strikeout frequency by nearly five percent from '06. Sizemore's percentage remained relatively stagnant. He struck out 155 times in 748 appearances. Then again, Granderson's strikeout total would have been higher if he faced as many left-handers as Sizemore. So let's just call it even, shall we? EDGE: Push Gauging the gloves: These guys are both "web gems" waiting to happen. They can scale the wall or slide across the grass in pursuit of batted ball with the best of 'em. Sizemore has a 2007 Gold Glove to show for his feats in the field, but give Granderson credit for patrolling that expanded outfield at Comerica Park with aplomb. Defense isn't the easiest area to address in a forum such as this, but the stat geeks will tell you Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimism Test Algorithm) gave Granderson 25 fielding runs above average in '07, versus Sizemore's minus-5 mark. And the scouts will tell you Granderson has the stronger of the two arms. EDGE: Grandy All about attitude: You'd be hard-pressed to find a player with a stronger work ethic than these two. Their hustle and dedication are second to none, and that's evident to anybody who watches them play. "[Sizemore's] primary motivation on a daily basis is to play, play hard, play the right way and win," Shapiro said. "To have one of your best players exude those attributes on a daily basis is immeasurable in value." Said Dombrowski of Granderson: "He has leadership qualities, and he's the type of individual that represents your organization well, off the field. Really, in recent times, he's the best young positional player we've had come through the system." EDGE: Push The final tally: Well, go figure. We have a draw. Admittedly, that's by design, because most teams would salivate over the opportunity to land one of these guys. Those other teams will have to wait a while, though. Sizemore and Granderson are both locked into their clubs for the long haul. In 2006, Sizemore signed a six-year, $23.5 million deal through 2011, with a club option for '12. It was, at the time, the largest deal ever for a player with fewer than two years of Major League service. Granderson recently signed a five-year, $30.3 million extension through 2013, with a club option for '14. "I don't think you can go wrong with either one of them," Dombrowski said. "They're fun to watch and good players to build around. I'm sure it's a rivalry a lot of people look forward to watching for a while." Said Shapiro: "For me, they represent some of the reasons to be encouraged about the future of the game. They're tremendous athletes, game-changing talents, and their character matches all those attributes. I'm not going to get down to saying which is better, because they're two of the best." Perhaps the AL Central standings will help settle the matter in '08.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.