2019 Player Profile: What to Make of Randal Grichuk
I’ve spent the offseason looking at players whose fantasy stock was elevated or depressed by surprising 2018 seasons. This particular post is in the same spirit, but it might not be in the same genre. In the aggregate, Randal Grichuk’s season was not entirely eye-catching. He hit .245/.301/.542 with 25 home runs- fine (Grichuk’s third consecutive season exceeding 20 home runs), but unspectacular. Yet Grichuk’s clustering caught my attention. After hitting .206 in the season’s first half, Grichuk hit .280 with 14 home runs and 36 extra-base hits after the All-Star Break. We’ll dive in to see if Grichuk’s quiet late-season dominance portends much for his future.
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Rhys Hoskins. Edwin Encarnacion. Manny Machado. Freddie Freeman. All four are great hitters. All four were worse hitters than was Randal Grichuk in the second half of last season. Grichuk’s profile has seemingly been set in stone for a while- a ton of power offset by a few too many strikeouts. Grichuk posting his lowest full-season strikeout rate in 2018 is encouraging. His in-character 70% contact rate is decidedly less so. Also of some concern would be his September uptick in punchouts. There’s no cutoff date at which Grichuk figured out how to stop striking out permanently. Still, a glance at Grichuk’s rolling 50-game strikeout rate shows that, for a time last year, Grichuk managed one of his best stretches at keeping the ball in play.
So can we see what adjustments Grichuk made in 2018? In the aggregate, there doesn’t seem to be a ton here. He cut back on his two-strike swing-and-miss rate from last season, but he failed to sustain a similar improvement from 2016. Isolating by halves, though, we can see a bit more of a process change. It seems that Grichuk better focused the pitches he wanted to attack. Consider his swing heat map from the first half.
Versus the second.
No doubt, Grichuk was better at isolating pitches middle-away. Probably related, per Statcast, Grichuk was better than ever at hitting fastballs for power in 2018, a trend only expounded upon in his white hot second half. Yet there might be room for exploitation here. While Grichuk was in the top quartile in hitting softer fastballs (those thrown at 93 MPH or slower), he was in the bottom quartile at handling high velocity (94 MPH and above). Nor is this unique to 2018; Grichuk has posted below-average numbers against high velocity in each of the past three seasons. As might be expected, much of Grichuk’s power damage has come on low-velocity fastballs. He’s hit 56 home runs against fastballs the last four years; only 14 have come on pitches 94 MPH or faster. His swing just seems ill-equipped to handle elite heat.
For astute daily owners, Grichuk’s split might make him an interesting streamer. If he’s facing a soft tosser, you can comfortably plug him in and hope for a home run. If the opposing starter is a power arm, he’s best suited on the bench. In weekly leagues, he’s a bit more volatile, but he’s not without upside. For one, it is possible that his improved strike zone discipline from the second half of last season might indicate that he’s taken some strides as a hitter. After all, he’s still only 26 years old. Even if you (understandably) don’t want to rely on small sample heat maps, Grichuk might project better than you think. Steamer forecasts a career-best 28 home runs in 2019, which, even with a pedestrian .243 projected average, makes for a useful power option.
But I think Grichuk’s most interesting value is in his high-low velocity splits. For owners who have the luxury of altering their lineups daily in response to opposing probable starters, Grichuk could be selectively deployed to maximize his value. Randal Grichuk isn’t the sexiest fantasy option for 2019, but he’s probably a more useful one than you realized.
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