Grichuk Plugs Arizona’s Last Hole

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick wants many things. Mostly, hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money with which to renovate his team’s aging and leaky home ballpark, but also, incidentally, a World Series. The D-backs came close last year, and even though they fell at the final hurdle, the outlook of the ballclub is optimistic. Their entire core is back, and young stars like Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno should only improve with time. This offseason, Arizona has traded for third baseman Eugenio Suárez and signed lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez to improve its rotation. Brandon Pfaadt should have a stronger sophomore season, and global top-10 prospect Jordan Lawlar should break into the lineup at some point this season.

Finally, the Diamondbacks have upgraded their designated hitter spot, which was a bit of a wild card last October. The most recent addition came this weekend, when they signed Randal Grichuk to a one-year deal worth $2 million in guaranteed money.

Grichuk will be the right-handed foil to fellow free agent signing Joc Pederson. As an aside, I’d like to register my objection to the Diamondbacks signing Joc Pederson when they already have infielder Jace Peterson under contract. That should be against the law. I’m going batty over here because the Tigers have both Jackson Jobe and Jace Jung in the upper minors, while Jace Jung’s brother Josh Jung is also a big leaguer. Then there’s Brett Baty, who in my mind is the unnamed third Jung brother because he’s also an alliteratively named third baseman from Texas.

I’m just saying, if Arizona could just trade Jace Peterson for an equivalent utility infielder, that’d make things easier for a lot of people.

Last postseason, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. played every inning for the Diamondbacks in left field, while Corbin Carroll played most of their innings in right. Carroll started three games in center before moving to right mid-game, and he also got pulled during garbage time of Arizona’s 10-0 loss to the Phillies in Game 2 of the NLCS. Every time Carroll started in center — Games 3, 4, and 7 of the NLCS, all against left-handed starters — Tommy Pham started in right. Evan Longoria, the normal starter at third base, DH’d. Alek Thomas entered each of those games as a late substitution and started every other game in center. The left-handed hitting Pavin Smith started one game in the NLCS, but frequently came in mid-game to pinch-hit against righty relievers.

The non-Carroll, non-Gurriel members of that rotation were a bit of a mess in the aggregate, though it worked out for the most part because, while Smith, Pham, and Thomas all ran hot and cold, they came up with big hits at the right time.

Surely, Mike Hazen and his merry men didn’t want to leave things to chance again. Here’s what the non-Carroll, non-Gurriel members of the third base/outfield/DH rotation did against left-handed pitching with the Diamondbacks last year.

What the non-Carroll, non-Gurriel Members of the Diamondbacks’ 3B/OF/DH Brigade Did Against LHP
Evan Longoria 51 116 5 9.5% 28.4% .231 .302 .433 .316 96
Emmanuel Rivera 50 99 1 7.1% 16.2% .289 .333 .378 .311 93
Tommy Pham 27 68 1 8.8% 17.6% .230 .294 .361 .286 77
Alek Thomas 50 81 2 2.5% 27.2% .143 .175 .260 .189 12

Thomas, with his wRC+ of 12 against lefties in the regular season, didn’t start against the Phillies’ left-handed starters, but he did start playoff games with Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Heaney, and Jordan Montgomery on the mound. That’s bleak.

Let’s swap Rivera for Smith and see how they fared against right-handed pitching.

What the Non-Carroll, Non-Gurriel Members of the Diamondbacks’ 3B/OF/DH Brigade Did Against RHP
Tommy Pham 49 149 5 8.1% 25.5% .246 .309 .440 .320 100
Pavin Smith 65 186 6 16.7% 17.7% .196 .335 .346 .310 93
Evan Longoria 55 121 6 9.9% 33.1% .215 .289 .411 .301 87
Alek Thomas 112 321 7 5.3% 19.9% .253 .297 .404 .301 86

Better, but not awesome.

Fortunately, this is an area that’s easy to improve. Thomas is the only member of this group who figures to remain in the lineup regularly in 2024, and his bat has never really been part of his value proposition. It’s mostly something you put up with to get his glove and his legs on the field. Smith and Rivera remain with the organization, but likely in reduced roles.

And then there are internal reinforcements. Jake McCarthy missed the postseason because of a strained oblique. He’ll be back. Lawlar’s arrival will lead to someone from the middle infield group getting kicked into the mix at either third base, outfield, DH, or all three. There’s also young corner infielder Ivan Melendez, who only made it to Double-A last year and isn’t on the 40-man roster yet. Nevertheless, I feel like mentioning him because at the University of Texas he hit .387/.508/.863 with 32 home runs in 67 games, and had one of the greatest nicknames in baseball: The Hispanic Titanic.

The newcomers are upgrades. Suárez strikes out a ton, and at 32, he is closer to the end than to the beginning. But Longoria is old enough to know how to use a rotary phone. That probably wasn’t tenable for another season.

So let’s see what the Diamondbacks can cobble together, assuming Thomas still gets the lion’s share of playing time in center field.

The New Guys, Against LHP in 2023
Randal Grichuk 70 134 8 9.0% 12.7% .328 .388 .607 .415 155
Eugenio Suárez 76 158 3 13.9% 33.5% .252 .361 .382 .330 114
Joc Pederson 38 52 1 15.4% 28.8% .186 .327 .279 .285 80

Pederson will probably need to be platooned, but that’s fine, because Grichuk kills left-handed pitching. Against righties, Suárez takes a dip but is still a league-average hitter overall, while Pederson takes over for Grichuk.

The New Guys, Against RHP in 2023
Joc Pederson 118 373 14 13.1% 19.8% .241 .351 .435 .337 115
Eugenio Suárez 160 536 19 9.0% 30.0% .227 .312 .394 .308 99
Randal Grichuk 114 337 8 5.0% 23.4% .244 .294 .401 .300 79

There’s an additional bonus: Grichuk can play center field, in a pinch, if you squint really hard. At least, the Rockies thought so: In 2023, they gave him 52 starts in the outfield, 17 of them in center. The year before, Grichuk started 48 times in center. So Torey Lovullo can, if he so chooses, opt for an extremely offense-heavy alignment that puts Grichuk in center field against lefties.

This trio of newcomers is more expensive than the group it replaced. Pham and Longoria made $10 million combined — and Pham was only on the Diamondbacks for the last two months of the season. Everyone else was pre-arb. Pederson, Grichuk, and Suárez will make a combined $22.3 million in salary in 2024, plus a combined $5.5 million more in buyouts, as all three have either a club or mutual option at the end of the season. And the Diamondbacks had to send two players to Seattle to get Suárez in the first place.

But instead of going into the playoffs needing to cobble together eight to 12 at-bats a game from whatever they could scrounge up from the back of the 40-man roster, the Diamondbacks now have a stable, all-situations starter at third and a really good platoon at DH. It’ll cost twice as much money, but it’s twice as good a solution.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic,, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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1 month ago

I was going to point out that Grichuk has been just mildly better (.822 vs. .735 OPS) against lefties for his career. But actually, he’s been much better against them three of the last four seasons. He had a couple of season early in his career where the OPS against righties was about 100 points higher than against lefties.
So yeah, it appears that he is a lefty-masher now.