Yasmani Grandal Has One of the Wonkiest Slash Lines You’ll Ever See

I love wonky early-season slash lines, the kinds of combinations that make you scratch your head and consider what exactly had to happen to get to this point. It’s pretty easy to put Yasmani Grandal’s start in that category: Through 22 games and 91 plate appearances, Grandal is hitting .113/.378/.242, slugging two homers and posting a… 102 wRC+?!?

Yes, you read that correctly. Through games on Sunday, Grandal has just seven hits and has the worst batting average among players with at least 80 trips to the plate. And yet he’s also managed to be an above-average hitter by wRC+. There’s truly some wild stuff going on here.

Of course, none of this is sustainable. Grandal has faced some pretty horrible BABIP luck, and as Dan Szymborski noted in his article yesterday, he is the fourth-largest underachiever in actual BABIP (.119) versus ZiPS-developed zBABIP (.261). Plug that figure into his balls-in-play total and you’d find that Grandal should have more than 13 hits this season, giving him a more-respectable-though-still-not-great .210 batting average.

But what is most interesting about Grandal’s start isn’t that he’s faced such poor BABIP luck; it’s that he has still managed to be a productive hitter in spite of it. Grandal has walked a whopping 27 times to start the season, a near-30% walk rate and a figure that leads baseball by a rather healthy margin. As of this writing, Max Muncy is the only other player who has amassed more than 50 plate appearances with a walk rate above 20%, and he’s still more than six points behind Grandal. Since 1901, Grandal’s 27 walks in his 22 games are tied for the 16th-most walks in any player’s first 22 to begin a season, but he’s one of just five players to do that while also batting under .150.

Though there are admittedly plenty of qualifiers here, Grandal has the worst batting average of any player with at least 20 walks in their first 22 games since at least 1901, creating what might actually be the wildest not-so-early-season slash line you’ll ever see:

Lowest Batting Averages, 20+ BBs in First 22 G
Player Season BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Yasmani Grandal 2021 27 .113 .378 .242 .620
Sammy Strang 1908 20 .119 .413 .119 .532
Carlos Santana 2014 20 .133 .316 .213 .529
Nick Johnson 2010 22 .134 .363 .224 .587
Joe Ferguson 1974 21 .147 .348 .235 .584
John Mizerock 1986 20 .150 .435 .225 .660
Jack Cust 2008 20 .161 .373 .242 .615
Gavvy Cravath 1909 22 .164 .403 .180 .621
Joe Morgan 1967 21 .164 .344 .274 .618
Morrie Rath 1913 22 .167 .362 .167 .527
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

It’s not totally surprising to see Carlos Santana on this list, considering that he has become one of baseball’s primer plate discipline players while also maintaining a career .266 BABIP. Only 27 times has a player hit under .200 while walking at least 20 times in their first 22 games; Santana has done it twice, including last season, when he started 2020’s shortened campaign by hitting .179/.415/.254 with exactly 27 walks (à la 2021 Grandal) in his first 22 games.

Grandal’s walk prowess has actually picked up of late; as my friend Jeremy Frank noted on May 8, Grandal became the second American League player to walk 13 times in a four-game span, joining only Babe Ruth. Over his last five games, Grandal has hit .000/.636/.000, posting the highest OBP ever in a five game span without a hit. It’s rather comical to look at Grandal’s cumulative walk and hit totals this season; even though he doesn’t have a hit this month, Grandal is still running a 122 May wRC+:

So how exactly can something like this happen? It’s a fair question. Perhaps Grandal took Ben Clemens’ advice, who, in his recent article about José Iglesias, suggested that hitters might be better off if they swing less often, given that swings yield poor outcomes more often than they yield good ones.

Of course, hitters have to swing eventually, but Grandal has pretty much opted not to. He has swung at just 26% of the pitches he’s seen so far, which unsurprisingly the lowest rate in baseball. His pitch recognition isn’t first — even though he has the lowest swing rate overall, only 69% of his swings come at pitches in the zone, putting him in the 35th percentile among hitters with at least 100 swings. Plus, his choosiness isn’t necessarily leading to sky-high contact rates on the pitches he does swing at. It also isn’t leading to ridiculously high quality of contact figures when he makes contact. Rather, Grandal has seemingly just decided to become the most passive hitter in baseball and see what happens; his zone rate isn’t even that far below what it was last year, either, though it is still the 11th-lowest mark in baseball.

So when does Grandal swing? It’s pretty much only when there are two strikes.

In all non-two-strike counts, Grandal will swing at roughly one out of six pitches. In two-strike counts, he still doesn’t swing that much, but he’s at least above 50 percent. Grandal actually isn’t the hitter to increase his swing rate by the highest margin when the count includes two strikes, though he does tie for third with Michael Brantley:

Largest Increase in Swing Rates in Two-Strike Counts
Player Swing%, 2 strikes Swing%, Other Counts Difference
Tommy La Stella 76.7% 22.7% 0.540
Nick Madrigal 76.3% 36.1% 0.402
Yasmani Grandal 54.6% 16.7% 0.379
Michael Brantley 75.0% 37.1% 0.379
David Fletcher 67.5% 30.4% 0.371
Kyle Farmer 68.8% 32.8% 0.360
Donovan Solano 76.4% 40.6% 0.358
Daniel Vogelbach 59.2% 23.5% 0.357
Jason Heyward 75.8% 40.8% 0.350
Eric Sogard 68.2% 33.5% 0.347

What’s even more incredible is when we add another column to this table: percent of two strike swings at pitches in the strike zone. Of Grandal’s 53 swings in two-strike counts, 38 were “correct” swings, swings at pitches inside his strike zone. This 72% rate puts him in the top 20% of all hitters, and also represents just one of three players from the above table to have more than 70% of swings at their two-strike pitches come at those inside the zone. In short, Grandal is still not swinging freely here; he’s correctly choosing which pitches to swing at at a very good clip.

Largest Increase in Swing Rates in Two-Strike Counts
Player Swing%, 2 strikes % of 2 Strike Swings In-Zone
Tommy La Stella 76.7% 68.2%
Nick Madrigal 76.3% 63.4%
Yasmani Grandal 54.6% 71.7%
Michael Brantley 75.0% 57.1%
David Fletcher 67.5% 55.3%
Kyle Farmer 68.8% 56.8%
Donovan Solano 76.4% 59.5%
Daniel Vogelbach 59.2% 73.8%
Jason Heyward 75.8% 47.8%
Eric Sogard 68.2% 77.8%

And then there’s Grandal’s whiff rate. When he has chosen to swing in these two-strike counts, he’s only missed 26% of the time, a rate that is right around the 50th percentile. That’s why his strikeout rate is only 21%.

Grandal chooses to swing when he’s most likely to strike out, swings mostly at pitches that are in the strike zone, and whiffs at roughly a league-average rate. And because he has only seen 37.5% of all pitches in the zone this year, the strategy has more-or-less “worked.” He’s maintained net-positive production, though I do wonder what will happen when the cat-and-mouse game catches up. When pitchers start pouring more pitches in the zone to Grandal, will he swing more? How long will that adjustment period last? And, in the process, will he experience any better BABIP luck? These are all important questions that will likely be answered by the end of the season, but for now, let’s marvel at the fact that Grandal has managed to be an above-average hitter despite only hitting .113.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

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2 years ago

This might be driven in part by health. Grandal’s been dealing with a lingering right knee issue, which rarely gets rest at his position. He may not feel capable of hitting like he has throughout his career, so he’s swinging very little to 1) minimize the bad outcomes likely given his health and 2) put less strain on that knee.