Randal Grichuk's Resurgence Is Coming at the Perfect Time for St. Louis
In St. Louis, the Cardinals have been left for dead about seven different times this season. The defense has failed them. The pitching has struggled, at times. Injuries to sluggers Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter should have been too much to overcome. And two Cardinals who are regulars in this September lineup have made more than one trip to Triple-A Memphis in 2016.
Slugger Randal Grichuk is one of those guys. He has been demoted twice in 2016, and after his second demotion, he's come back with a vengeance, slugging 11 home runs since August 11th. His power surge has helped keep the Cardinals in the hunt for a playoff berth as they are now tied with the San Francisco Giants for the last Wild Card spot.
Grichuk's performance, however, has come with some strange peripherals. Let's dig into the numbers and see how he's turned around his season.
Grichuk was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, and he became a Cardinal in the David Freese trade. Grichuk was dealt -- along with Peter Bourjos (you can't steal first, Peter) -- to the Cardinals for Freese, and Grichuk's previous claim to fame mostly came from being selected one pick before Mike Trout (the Halos had back-to-back picks).
Grichuk has shown fairly elite power numbers across all levels, so his recent power showcase shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. At any level where he's received at least 100 plate appearances, Grichuk's lowest ISO was .155 with the Cardinals in his rookie season in 2014.
Falling on Hard Times
Grichuk has been demoted twice in 2016 -- once in June and once again in early August.
In a quick glance at his first half, Grichuk did show a lot of positives, including better plate discipline. His walk rate was up, evidenced by a 10.7% walk rate in April, and he cut back on the strikeouts, fanning out only 22.7% of the time in the first half of the year.
All positives, right?
However, with the new, more patient approach, his raw slugging ability vanished. Grichuk sported a .425 slugging percentage and .199 ISO in the first half, including a June which was absolutely atrocious. He struck out 25.6% of the time in June with a .114 batting average and .143 ISO. That earned him a free trip to enjoy all the barbecue he wanted in Memphis.
Grichuk was recalled on August 11th, quite frankly, out of necessity. Slugger Matt Adams went on the disabled list, and St. Louis needed another bat.
Grichuk made the most of his opportunity, and baseballs were archenemy number one. Grichuk has slugged 11 home runs since his second recall, and despite seeing just 68 plate appearances, August was arguably his most productive month of the season.
|Plate Appearances||Home Runs||Average||BB%||K%|
In the second half, his ISO is up to .316 while his slugging percentage is a robust .575.
He has continued his power surge in September by mashing four home runs with a 370 wOBA this month.
Number 2⃣3⃣ for number 1⃣5⃣. #STLCards pic.twitter.com/953F6Y2bQl
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 20, 2016
But what sticks out above, in addition to the home runs, is the low walk rate and high strikeout rate. Adjustments be damned, Grichuk has eschewed his patient approach from early in the year. A quick look at Grichuk's swing profile shows that after his most recent recall, he's basically swinging at everything, per the heat maps from FanGraphs.
The second heat map is Grichuk's swing percentage since he was called back up the second time, and it shows that Grichuk has expanded his strike zone significantly, especially on pitches on the inner half of the plate. So far in 2016, per Baseball Info Solutions, Grichuk has swung at 36% of pitches outside of the zone, an increase of 1.6% from his mark in 2015 and an increase of 3.6% from 2014.
Even in an age with higher strikeouts, the 2016 league average strikeout rate is 21.1%, and the league average walk rate is 8.2%. Grichuk is far worse in both of those categories, sporting a 5.8% walk rate and 28.4% strikeout rate this season.
But can you argue with these results? Over the last 30 days, Grichuk is in some pretty elite company in terms of hard-hit rate.
|4||David Ortiz||Red Sox||49.4%|
Back to His Old Ways
It appears as if Grichuk tried to make some adjustments heading into 2016, walking more and striking out less while seemingly taking hacks at better pitches. It didn't work, and it looks like he and the Cards decided the old Grichuk was better.
While his walk and strikeout rates are far worse than league average, reverting to his aggressive approach has clearly brought Grichuk some success in recent months. With a 118 wRC+ over the last 30 days, he's been a pretty valuable asset to a Cardinals' offense that has dealt with a lot of bumps and bruises this season.
There certainly are some negatives with his approach. For one, Grichuk's on-base percentage is .289, and any hitter with an extremely low walk rate will be overly reliant on batted-ball luck, which is hurting him as he owns a career-low .285 BABIP. However, when Grichuk has made contact lately, good things have happened -- even if there are a lot of swings and misses to deal with along the way. If he can keep making hard contact as consistently as he has in the second half, he won't be making any more treks to Memphis.