Randal Grichuk’s Doing Something Very Unusual

I write a lot about player adjustments. I write so often about player adjustments I start to get a little self-conscious about it. I just do it because I love doing it, and because sometimes I forget what else there is to cover. I love it when a pitcher tries to add a new pitch. I love it when he adjusts an old pitch, or when he starts using the same pitches in different ways. It interests me when a hitter starts putting more or fewer balls in play on the ground. Or, there are the cases where hitters pull the ball more, or spray the ball more. There are so many types of adjustments. There’s one in particular we very seldom see. One we also dream about players making. Randal Grichuk, for his part, is giving it a go.

Grichuk has had a familiar hitting profile: big power, but limited by wavering control of the strike zone. He’s been the hitter equivalent of a talented pitcher with overwhelming stuff but inconsistent command. Those pitchers can still be valuable, but more often than not, they never figure out how to throw strike after strike. And, even more often than not, aggressive hitters tend to stay aggressive. It’s easy to observe when a guy is swinging too much, but it’s not an easy thing to improve.

In his last 10 games, Grichuk has drawn nine walks. He’s struck out six times. To put it another way, Grichuk has drawn a quarter of his career walks in the most recent 7% of plate appearances. Obviously, it’s too soon to say anything for certain, but it’s incredible we’re even here in the first place.

There’s a story to go along with this, that’s made the Internet rounds. The article was published Monday, and it was written by Derrick Goold. The gist is that discipline has been the one thing Grichuk has worked most hard on lately. He got off to a terrible start, so he began taking time in front of a pitching machine, trying to better identify balls and strikes. There’s no use in my trying to quickly summarize the article — you should definitely read it, because it’s great. But the Cardinals have had Grichuk try to improve his understanding of the zone, and there have been immediate returns.

Since beginning with the drills, Grichuk has seen 75 pitches in the PITCHf/x strike zone, and 84 pitches out of it. Compared to career rates, he’s been similarly aggressive within the zone, but he’s been controlled without it. He’s swung at 17 of those would-be balls. At his career rate, he would’ve swung at 29. Of course, that’s a difference of just a dozen swings, but it feels like it’s something. For reference, here’s Grichuk’s entire career, shown over 10-game averages.

grichuk-10-game-stretches

Lately, by Z-Swing%, Grichuk is only a little bit down. By O-Swing%, however, he’s well down from the norm. The most recent 10-game stretch is actually Grichuk’s lowest point. In the closest previous 10-game stretch, Grichuk saw just 33 pitches out of the zone, so the sample was a lot smaller. It is important to understand that these numbers fluctuate, and Grichuk has appeared disciplined by this measure before. But this is also some new territory. Grichuk hasn’t looked this disciplined, statistically, before. So even though it’s a week and a half, it’s notable. This looks like something, and it’s something countless players have struggled with.

Here are all the pitches from the 10-game stretch. This doesn’t show anything about pitch type or context or what have you, but it’s enough to just see swings and non-swings. Here’s Grichuk’s recent zone:

grichuk-swing-take-plot

It’s not like he’s eliminated swings at balls, but there are plenty of takes around the borders. There’s an enormous cluster of swings in the zone right over the plate. Grichuk hasn’t been challenged much low and in. Not in the past 10 games. But he’s been good about avoiding swings at the bulk of the pitches over and beyond the outer third. That’s mostly been Grichuk’s focus, and, so far, so good. He has more walks than strikeouts, and he’s slugged .517.

For whatever it’s worth, this is a sample plate appearance. Here’s Grichuk drawing a walk, which, previously, he very well might not have drawn.

grichuk-example-pa

One plate appearance doesn’t tell you very much, but Grichuk laid off a first-pitch fastball over the heart. He laid off a second-pitch fastball just off the edge. After swinging through a changeup, he easily took a fastball in the dirt, then he avoided swinging at a 3-and-1 heater up and over. That last one could’ve been tempting, but Grichuk thought better. Consciously or subconsciously, I don’t know.

I’m going to guess this isn’t the first time Grichuk has tried to harness his aggression. Or at least, it’s not the first time he’s had his aggression targeted. It’s not like the Cardinals just realized he’s had a tendency to over-swing. But it could be something about the approach this time allowed it to click, where it didn’t click before. Or! Maybe it hasn’t clicked, and this is anomalous! 10 games. It’s just rare you see a plan implemented, and then it pays off right away. Grichuk specifically worked on his eye. He’s also worked on his mental approach, which can never be discounted. Since trying to become a new hitter, Randal Grichuk has resembled a new hitter. You can’t say it’s not intriguing.

I’m going to get wayyy ahead of myself, just for fun. Let’s just pretend like Grichuk’s new O-Swing% is for real. Pretend he’s going to run a 20% rate this year. That would be a drop from last year of about 16 percentage points. Since 2008, the biggest season-to-season drop in O-Swing% is 12 percentage points, given a minimum of 200 trips to the plate in successive seasons. The second-biggest is under 11, and the third-biggest is under 10. These rates tend to stay fairly stable. One easy way to shave points off your O-Swing% is to also shave points off your Z-Swing% by just swinging less in general, but Grichuk has still gone after strikes, two-thirds of the time. I’m not saying he is disciplined now. I’m saying if he were a disciplined hitter, this is what he would look like.

I’m interested in all adjustments, but I’m particularly interested in this one because it’s so unusual. Specifically because it’s so unusual, we have to keep a close eye on it. Could all turn out to be a blip. It’s just worth giving some benefit of the doubt, and then seeing if opposing pitchers decide to attack Grichuk differently. Maybe they’ll find a part of the strike zone he doesn’t want to cover now, and then he’ll be exposed until he swings. Then he’ll be predisposed to swing more often, and so on and so forth. You see how baseball is cyclical. Just think about what we have. Randal Grichuk had one big weakness. He’s successfully taken some measures to eliminate it. This isn’t just any old change. This is maybe the hardest one to make.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Beer
8 years ago

Pitchers hate it!

Dick Monfort
8 years ago
Reply to  Beer

Walk #9 Will Blow Your Mind!!!