When John Mozeliak passed on the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo, it became clear that one of the Cardinals’ current players would have to develop into a feared, middle of the lineup hitter. Going into 2016, Randal Grichuk seemed poised to be just that guy. He started slow, and his numbers at the end of the year weren’t where he, or the team, expected them to be. He finished with a .240 average, but slugged 24 homers in what didn’t amount to a full season (he was demoted in July).
When you break his numbers down by month, it looks like this:
As you can see, he really only had two bad months, April and June. Every other month, his average was higher than his season average (.240) and slugged over .450. His success didn’t correlate to walk rate or strikeout rate, either. He struck out much more in the second half, and he only walked 1.5% in August, his best month. 2016 was exemplary of Grichuk’s streakiness, and not indicative of his talent.
Matheny spoke of allowing Grichuk to “find himself” last August, and it appears to have helped. Grichuk’s two highest SLG% came in the last two months, after Matheny set him free.
Grichuk is one of the most aggressive hitters in the Cardinals lineup. The first image shows Grichuk’s swing rate at each location, and below is Carpenter’s.
Grichuk chases at a much higher rate than Carpenter. Grichuk swings at pitches below the zone at roughly the same rate Carpenter swings at pitches that are “middle-middle”. I don’t expect Grichuk to match Carpenter’s eye, but he needs to emulate Carpenter’s patience more than he did last year.
While Grichuk swung at an extremely high rate, he made contact at well below league average over the first month of the season. Unsurprisingly, an increase in contact rate correlated in an increase in production. Keeping in mind that Grichuk’s best three months by SLG were August, September, and July, here’s his contact rate as the season progressed:
While his contract rate decreased rather drastically over the last couple of weeks, he certainly made more contact in the second half than the first. In fact, his production was slightly lower over the final two weeks than all of September (.421 SLG to .486).
Strikeout Rate and Walk Rate
Unlike Matt Carpenter, Grichuk’s value doesn’t come from his ability to get on base. The Cardinals should want Grichuk to be putting the ball in play, since those are often home runs or doubles. In April, both Grichuk’s K% and BB% were near season highs. Its not surprising that his slugging atrophied.
What is surprising, however, is the spike in K% he experienced in August. In Grichuk’s most productive month, three things occurred: he made more contact than any other month, walked less than any other month, and struck out more than any other month.
Grichuk has the tools to be a perennial All-Star, and an anchor of the Cardinals lineup. To do so, he will have to develop a knowledge of the strike zone he has yet to show. Turning some of those strikeouts into walks will make him a more diverse hitter, and much more difficult to attack. A more patient Grichuk would force pitchers to challenge him, and Grichuk usually wins.
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