Through nearly two months in his first campaign as a full-time left fielder, Randal Grichuk has been terrible. Through May 23rd, Grichuk has been worth negative 0.2 WAR, meaning he’s performed worse than you’d expect from “a player that would cost you nothing but the league minimum salary to acquire. Minor league free agents, quad-A players.” Part of this drop in value is his short sample defensive metrics, which see him as a below average left fielder. The bigger problem, though, is his ice cold bat.
When Randal Grichuk received his first *full-time* opportunity in 2015, he looked like a future star. He accumulated 3.1 WAR in 350 plate appearances, which put him on pace for 5+ WAR over a full season. His value largely was a product of his performance at the plate, where he registered a 137 wRC+ (37% above league average).
There were some warning signs then, of course. For one, a .365 BABIP made Grichuk a regression candidate. A .272 isolated-slugging percentage flashed Grichuk’s tantalizing power potential, but it was also more than 30 points higher than his career best ISO at any minor league stop where he received 100+ plate appearances. Was that power real?
Randal Grichuk again received full-time duties in 2016. In 478 plate appearances, he was worth 2.2 WAR – still an above average player, but far from his 2015 pace. His wRC+ dropped 35 points to 102, which indicates he was essentially a league average hitter. His BABIP fell to .294 and his ISO regressed to .240.
In 2017, Grichuk is once again getting full-time duties. His wRC+ is down another 20 points to 82 (18% below average), his ISO is down to .166, and his .311 BABIP doesn’t indicate he’s getting unlucky. His strikeout of 27.4% is 22nd highest among 183 qualified hitters, though it is “down” slightly from his 2015 and 2016 levels. Grichuk no longer looks like a future star and it’s up for debate whether he’s even a full-time player.
The main problem for Randal Grichuk is, obviously, his declining production at the plate. Pitchers have found his holes. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to make quality contact; hence the regression in ISO and BABIP.
We all know Grichuk’s tendency to swing and miss at the low, outside breaking balls (left heatmap, since 2015). It’s a massive hole that most pitchers can fairly easily exploit. But he has another massive hole on fastballs above his hands (right heatmap, since 2015). Put them together, and his whiff heatmap looks like this:
That’s approximately three-fourths of the plate where Randal Grichuk really struggles to make contact. His map is a pitcher’s dream: he can go with the fastball up almost anywhere across the plate or with sliders that dive low and away. He just can’t miss between the knee and hip on the inside corner. Pitchers do miss sometimes, and when they do, Grichuk has to take advantage. Sometimes he does.
Here, you can see the quarter of the zone that Grichuk actually covers. This time, he smacked a ground-rule double. You can also see the problem he has with the rest of the strike zone.
As it turns out, it’s really not that hard for pitchers to execute against a guy with this many holes. Tom Koehler took advantage on May 10th by throwing the exact slider that literally everyone knows Grichuk can’t hit.
This pitch is perfectly located so that it starts over the middle of the zone before breaking just outside, past one quarter of the plate Randal Grichuk can’t hit.
That’s just one pitch, though, and just one way to get Grichuk out. A few days earlier, Julio Teheran illustrated just how easy it is to get him over a full at-bat.
Teheran actually misses his spot here – he’s aiming for Grichuk’s low-outside hole and misses over the plate. Yet, he misses away from the inside corner so Grichuk swings right through a hanger. Grichuk needs to capitalize on pitcher’s mistakes, and here he fails to do so.
For the second and third strike of the AB, Teheran used his fastball to climb the ladder into Grichuk’s hole at the top of the zone. The second strike isn’t located all that well, basically waist high in the middle third of the plate, but it’s still in an area Grichuk can’t hit. Teheran finishes the affair with a fastball at the top of the zone, exactly in Grichuk’s biggest hole.
Keep in mind, too, that Teheran hasn’t been good this year, with an ERA, FIP and xFIP all around 5.50. The fastballs were each only 92 mph, which is about 1 mph below average. Teheran isn’t blowing anyone away, his pitches weren’t located all that well, and Randal Grichuk still didn’t stand a chance.
The book is out on Randal Grichuk. It’s been out since 2015. Yet, he’s failed to adapt. Consequently, his wRC+ has dropped more than 50 points since his great 2015 campaign.
The St. Louis Cardinals have two backup outfielders in Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez who have performed in short stints when healthy. They also have Harrison Bader and Nick Martini running well above average batting lines in Memphis. Both Bader and Magneuris Sierra look like they will soon be mainstays alongside Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty.
Randal Grichuk is running out of time to prove he’s a starting MLB outfielder, and the Cardinals have outfield depth throughout the organization. If Grichuk fails to patch his holes, he might be running out of time in St. Louis.