It’s hard to like what Randal Grichuk has done at the plate so far, but the sophomore is a better player than he was last year.
It’s seems like most people find it hard to watch Randal Grichuk hit this season. It’s hard to watch all of the ground balls. It’s hard to watch the lack of line drives. It’s hard to watch a player struggle to hit .200. And it is even harder to watch him bat in the middle of the order and be a constant source of outs. However, while Grichuk’s traditional statistics may be poor, he has been a much more disciplined and balanced hitter, and that bodes well for the long-term.
Grichuk’s plate discipline was non-existent in 2015. In 350 plate appearances, he struck out 31.4 percent of the time while walking only 6.3 percent of the time. Both of those rates are well below average, and it would have been very difficult for Grichuk to maintain decent production while striking out that often and getting on base that rarely.
Even though it was reasonable to expect Grichuk’s strike out rate to come back down to his minor league rate (around 22 percent), there was some real concern that he would never have enough plate discipline to draw walks and contribute offensively when he wasn’t hitting.
This year has been a much different story, as Grichuk has been drawing walks more than ten percent of the time, which is an above average rate, and his strikeout rate is down to 23 percent. He has been swinging at balls about five percent less often, and has even been more patient on pitches inside the strike zone. His increased selectivity has not translated into a higher batting average and more run production, but he is clearly making the adjustments that he needed to make after his rookie season.
Randal Grichuk deposits a home run inches beyond the glove of the player he was drafted ahead of — Mike Trout. #stlcards
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) May 11, 2016
In addition to chasing balls less, Grichuk has been making contact more often when he does reach outside the zone, which is the biggest sign of encouragement in terms of whether or not his newfound plate discipline is sustainable.
If he is making contact more often on balls, then he has definitely gotten smarter at chasing pitches. When he does chase pitches, Grichuk is chasing balls that are at least close enough that he can get the bat on the ball. That means that he is no longer just swinging at anything, which is a change that he needed to make if he wants to be a key contributor to the Cardinals’ offense going forward.
Of course, the question everyone really wants the answer to is what is going on with his production? Less strike outs and more walks should mean better production, but that hasn’t been the case for Grichuk so far. I hate to just point to one number and say that it explains everything, but Grichuk’s batting average on balls in play in currently .214.
By the end of the year, that number should be much closer to .300 than .200. I know that his hard hit rate and his line drive rate have decreased from year one to year two, but those numbers should have gone up due to the fact that he has been more selective. Given that more of his at-bats are ending on pitches in the zone, I think that he will start making better contact soon, and that will lead to an increase in his traditional statistics.
It’s easy for Cardinals’ fans to be mad at Grichuk right now. To say that he has underperformed so far this year would be quite an understatement. However, he has still been a better ballplayer this year than he was in 2015. The disciplined version of Grichuk has a much higher chance to be successful than the one that swings at everything.
He is also using the whole field more this year, which usually leads to an increase in batting average, since players can do a little better on pitches to the outer half of the plate. It will take better results to show that Grichuk is really a better hitter now than he was a year ago, but his approach really has improved dramatically, and the results should soon follow.
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