Add Yasmani Grandal to the Roll of Injured White Sox

The White Sox have spent the past two months atop the American League Central despite a lineup that’s been nothing close to whole. On a more or less monthly basis, the team has lost a key member of its starting lineup to the Injured List, beginning with left fielder Eloy Jiménez, who ruptured his left pectoral tendon just before Opening Day, and followed by center fielder Luis Robert, who strained his right hip flexor in early May, and then second baseman Nick Madrigal, who tore a pair of hamstring tendons in early June. Now they’ll be without Yasmani Grandal for at least the next four to six weeks, as the switch-hitting catcher tore a tendon in his left knee.

Grandal was already banged up, having departed last Friday’s game in the middle of the fifth inning due to tightness in his left calf. He didn’t play again until Monday. While batting in the sixth inning against the Twins’ Caleb Thielbar, his left knee buckled as he checked his swing on a high 0-2 fastball. He hobbled out of the batter’s box and was soon rolling on the grass in apparent agony, pounding his fists on the ground before being tended to by the White Sox’s head athletic trainer, James Kruk. Initial hopes that he had merely suffered a cramp were doused by manager Tony LaRussa, who in his postgame comments said that Grandal was on crutches in the clubhouse.

The White Sox called the injury a calf strain at the time, but on Tuesday, Grandal was diagnosed with a torn tendon. “I just think it was the twist he made as he made his swing,” La Russa told reporters. “Something got caught. It didn’t free up. You make a turn on it and it got caught and something popped.” The manager said that Grandal would return to Chicago to get a more complete diagnosis. [Update: Shortly after this was published, the White Sox announced that Grandal underwent surgery to repair the torn tendon, and that they will provide an updated timeline, though doctors “continue to expect Grandal to return during the 2021 regular season.”]

This is yet another significant blow for the White Sox to weather. The 32-year-old Grandal is hitting .188/.388/.436; despite that low batting average, his 134 wRC+ leads the White Sox and ranks fourth among all catchers with at least 100 PA, behind Buster Posey (165), Max Stassi (153), and Omar Narváez (140), all of whom have batting averages over 100 points higher. Meanwhile, Grandal’s 14 homers rank second on the White Sox behind José Abreu’s 15 and are tied with Gary Sánchez for third among catchers, behind Salvador Perez (20) and Mike Zunino (18).

About that batting average… On May 11, Devan Fink covered Grandal at a time when he was hitting .113/.378/.242 — one of the most ridiculous stat lines you’ll ever see — through his first 91 plate appearances, for a 97 wRC+. In 155 PA since, he had hit a far more normal and more potent .227/.394/.538 for a 155 wRC+. Even considering his whole stat line to date, Grandal’s 134 wRC+ is by far the highest of any player whose batting average is still on the interstate (to use YES Network broadcaster Ken Singleton’s term):

Highest wRC+ with Batting Average Below .200
Name Team Season PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Yasmani Grandal CHW 2021 246 14 .188 .388 .436 134
Roger Repoz CAL 1971 360 13 .199 .333 .374 107
Carlos Pena TBR 2010 582 28 .196 .325 .407 105
Chris Carter HOU 2015 460 24 .199 .307 .427 105
Mark McGwire STL 2001 364 29 .187 .316 .492 104
Matt Olson OAK 2020 245 14 .195 .310 .424 103
Derek Dietrich CIN 2019 306 19 .187 .328 .462 102
Curt Motton BAL 1968 254 8 .198 .298 .341 100
Max Muncy LAD 2020 248 12 .192 .331 .389 100
Carlos Pena TBR 2012 600 19 .197 .330 .354 98
Jack Hiatt SFG 1969 245 7 .196 .352 .325 97
Andre Thornton CHC/MON 1976 327 11 .194 .323 .373 97
Mark Reynolds ARI 2010 596 32 .198 .320 .433 96
Rob Deer DET 1991 539 25 .179 .314 .386 96
Carlos Santana CLE 2020 255 8 .199 .349 .350 96
Mike Schmidt PHI 1973 443 18 .196 .324 .373 95
Jimmy Macullar BAL 1885 373 3 .191 .306 .278 95
Chris Davis BAL 2014 525 26 .196 .300 .404 94
Harmon Killebrew KCR 1975 369 14 .199 .317 .375 94
Tom Tresh NYY 1968 590 11 .195 .304 .308 93
Lou Criger BOS 1905 377 1 .198 .322 .272 93
Luis Valbuena LAA 2017 401 22 .199 .294 .432 93
Miguel Sanó MIN 2021 242 14 .195 .281 .428 93
Steve Balboni NYY 1990 307 17 .192 .291 .406 93
Minimum 240 plate appearances.

I extended the list to include Hall of Famers Schmidt (a rookie in 1973) and Killebrew (in his final season), last year’s edition of Santana, and this year’s edition of Sanó. Nobody is within 25 points of Grandal’s wRC+. He sits atop the list thanks to his power (his .249 ISO is 23rd in the majors among players with at least 240 PA) and his patience (his 24.2% is tops by nearly five points), and in spite of a .189 BABIP, the lowest at that cutoff.

As for that BABIP, Grandal has gotten a very raw deal. By Statcast, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever, with a 93.4 mph average exit velocity (96th percentile), 52.5% hard-hit rate rank (93rd percentile), and 14% barrel rate (89th percentile). He’s well behind his .220 xBA and .458 xSLG, mainly because while batting from the left side, he’s hit for a major league-worst -15 wRC+ against infield shifts:

Lowest wRC+ vs. Infield Shifts, Left-Handed Batters
Yasmani Grandal CHW 80 .152 .150 .177 -15
Francisco Lindor NYM 97 .149 .146 .170 -14
Cesar Hernandez CLE 68 .194 .191 .239 10
Ian Happ CHC 91 .220 .220 .242 25
Carlos Santana KCR 159 .224 .220 .263 26
Rowdy Tellez TOR 91 .220 .220 .275 30
José Ramírez CLE 133 .215 .211 .300 31
Victor Caratini SDP 79 .218 .215 .269 31
Marwin Gonzalez BOS 92 .233 .231 .278 32
Jeff McNeil NYM 83 .229 .229 .241 32
Minimum 50 plate appearances against infield shifts.

As interesting as all of that is, the White Sox will have to make do without Grandal until at least early to mid-August. In addition to his impactful bat, they’re losing a quality defender even if Grandal’s 1.1 framing runs is below last year’s mark of 4.0 as well as his double-digit framing runs totals in six of his first seven seasons. Backup Zack Collins, who has hit .225/.321/.375 (97 wRC+) in 138 PA and started behind the plate 32 times, will get the bulk of the duty in Grandal’s absence. Collins’ -6.2 framing runs is the majors’ third-lowest mark, but La Russa lauded his handling of the pitching staff and his game preparation.

To fill Grandal’s roster spot and back up Collins, the team recalled Seby Zavala from Triple-A Charlotte. The 27-year-old Zavala, who played five games with the team in 2019, is a 40 Future Value prospect whom Eric Longenhagen described as “a viable defensive catcher with above-average raw power [who could] run into as many as 10 homers as a full-season backup” while cautioning that he could also “strike out so much that it will be detrimental to his offensive output relative to the average big leaguer.” On that note, Zavala was hitting just .178/.291/.339 at Charlotte while striking out 42.6% of the time.

In theory, the White Sox could let Yermín Mercedes grab a piece of the action behind the plate, but first they’d have to bring him back from Charlotte, as he was optioned on Friday. Mercedes’ .415/.455/.659 April line was one of the spring’s fun stories, and he was batting .340/.386/.525 (150 wRC+) as recently as May 27. A 1-for-30 skid took the shine off those numbers, however, and he hit just .128/.209/.154 in 86 PA from May 29 through June 30 before being demoted. That the Sox have let him catch a total of two innings suggests that they don’t have great confidence in his abilities behind the plate, but it’s worth noting that he’s caught two full games since his demotion, his first regular season starts behind the dish since September 1, 2019.

More likely than a turn to Mercedes — particularly given Grandal’s surgery — is the addition of a catcher before the trade deadline, most likely a more tested backup than Zavala. I’ll set the over/under at Alex Avila, who played for the White Sox in 2016, and was last spotted making an emergency start at second base for the Nationals.

As for the other injured White Sox regulars, Madrigal is done for the season, and finding a replacement for him is one of the team’s top deadline priorities, but both Jiménez and Roberts should return in the coming weeks. Jiménez was cleared to resume baseball activities in mid-June and could start a rehab assignment soon, with a return in late July or early August, while Robert was cleared for baseball activities last Tuesday and could start a rehab assignment later this month, with a mid-August return possible.

On the subject outfield depth, on Wednesday the White Sox activated Adam Engel, who bopped three homers in 10 games while filling in for Robert last month before straining his right hamstring. In their corresponding roster move, they designated Adam Eaton for assignment. In his second go-round on the South Side, the 32-year-old Eaton had hit a disappointing .201/.298/.344 (82 wRC+) while making 48 starts in right field and one in left. The team has used seven other players in right this season, led by Leury García with 15 starts. Rookie Gavin Sheets, a 2017 second-round pick who debuted on June 29, will probably get a longer look there; in eight games thus far — four starts at DH, three in right, one at first base — the 25-year-old lefty swinger has hit .296/.355/.630 with two homers. Speaking of Sox outfielders, check out this amazing catch by Billy Hamilton from Tuesday night.

With a 6 1/2-game division lead, the White Sox are in the AL Central driver’s seat, with a 93.6% chance of bringing home the division flag according to our Playoff Odds. The loss of Grandal will sting, but so long as he returns on schedule, and that Jiménez and Robert return as well, the team should be fine.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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2 years ago

Grandal’s slash line this year is truly one of the oddest I’ve ever seen as a baseball fan. I’d love a bookend to this article though regarding the starting pitching of the Sox. I know this article is about the ridiculous amount of high profile injuries the Sox have dealt with, but the Sox starting pitching is why they are in first in the AL Central. Over SPs who have thrown 80 innings, all 5 Sox starters are in the top 62 of WAR (Rodon at 4, Lynn at 15, Cease at 20, Giolito at 39, Keuchel at 62). Having those guys be as reliable as they are, eating up the innings they are, is what is allowing an offense with little punch to scrape by.

2 years ago
Reply to  JimTrots

In fairness, being first in the AL Central is like winning the MAC.

The White Sox are in 1st in that division despite playing .400 baseball against teams with winning records (that’s essentially the Texas Rangers). They have a +94 run differential, but that’s +104 vs. teams with sub-.500 records, which has been 45 of their 85 games thus far.

The White Sox need to find a way to develop some better-than-replacement level depth, and do so quickly.