We waited so long for Opening Day, and then were treated to a postseason atmosphere. The game was a battle to the end. Just when we thought we had skirted danger and put the game away, the Cubbies struck back. But the Cardinals didn’t let us down and sent us home happy with a walk-off. Smack dab in the middle of all this action was Randal Grichuk. An 8th inning homer and the walk-off “single” in the 9th. Don’t let his spot in the season’s first lineup fool you (8th? c’mon Mike!), this guy is going to bring it this season.
Last year was a bit of a trial for the still young Grichuk. In spring training the team assigned Jim Edmonds to him, hoping to mold him into the next great CF. He was then planted in the cleanup spot out of the gate. By all accounts, he was supposed to be the man. He faltered. I believe that Grichuk was pressing big time to start off 2016. Now, Spring Training stats are what they are, but in ’16 Grichuk had one of the best camps on the team. He put up a strong slash line of .304/.360/.565 in 46 AB’s. He struck out plenty, tying Matt Carpenter for the team lead with 16 (Marp did it in 48 AB’s), but it wasn’t particularly alarming. Strikeouts are a given with Grichuk, but overall he performed well in a pressure free environment.
The Downward Spiral
His play did a 180 when the games started to count. In his first 4 games of the regular season he went just 1 for 14 with 8 SO’s. Suddenly he started making adjustments in-season. Derrick Goold told us all about it. For a nine game stretch, from April 10th through the 20th he slashed .250/.432/.536 with 9 BB’s up against 6 SO’s in 37 PA’s. He seemed to be trending the right direction, perhaps a breakthrough on plate discipline. It caught the eye of Jeff Sullivan and he published a detailed article on April 21st. Ironically, he wouldn’t draw another walk in the 11 games after that article came out. In fact, he would slash just .200/.195/.425 (yes, his OBP was lower than his BA) over those 11 games with 10 SO’s.
We know where the story goes from here. He would struggle to find any consistency and eventually end up taking two trips to Memphis. What I see from him in early 2016 is a player pressing out of the gate, failing and then making rushed adjustments to try to correct issues on the fly. When those adjustments failed, he tries something else and keeps pressing harder and harder, spiraling his issues out of control.
After returning from his second trip to Memphis Grichuk reverted back to his 2015 form. In 48 games from Aug 11th to October 2nd he would slash .275/.303/.579 with 12 HRs and 16 2Bs. Yes he struck out 63 times in 185 PA’s (34%), but this was in line with his 2015 slash line of .276/.329/.548 with a 31% strikeout rate.
After four frustrating months and two demotions he reached his breaking point and just let loose. He was finally able to step back from all the failed adjustments and just play baseball. This is the player I think we can expect to see in 2017.
Where’s He Hitting?
Mike Matheny slotted Grichuk in the 8th spot for Opening Night. I didn’t love it but I wasn’t up in arms about it either. The move really paid off as he batted in two pivotal spots late in the game. However, I don’t want to see him there, hopefully, ever again. We really don’t need another Aledmys Diaz situation with a dangerous hitter being wasted by batting 8th. I do see some merit to starting him down in the order early in the year. Going back to the premise that he was pressing like crazy when thrust into the 4 spot early last year, it could serve him well to get in a groove while batting in a less pressurized slot. I like him 7th for now, but once he gets rolling he needs to be in the 5 (or possibly 4) hole.
Although it doesn’t equate to SB, his footspeed would be an added bonus in front of Molina, making the hit-and-run an intriguing option. I’ll give Matheny a pass for not batting him 4th on Opening Night. Matheny has had no luck with the cleanup spot for Game #1 anyway. In his 6 opening days his #4 hitters have combined to go just 4 for 24 with 2 walks and 11 strikeouts. Ouch.
Why I’m Bullish
You have to accept that Grichuk is going to strikeout, alot. But he is also going to hit the ball hard as his HARD% – right around 40% in his career – is well above league average. By hitting the ball hard he has created his own “luck”. He’s had above league average BABIP for most of his time in the big leagues. In 2015 this was at .365. Up until his second demotion in 2016 his BABIP was a meager .257, but after his return on Aug 11th he posted a .359 mark through the end of the season. This gives me hope that expecting a .275 batting average is not unreasonable.
All of his numbers post-Memphis in 2016 match what he was doing during 2015. That season was shortened due to an elbow issue and he only played in 103 games. Because of that his counting numbers don’t look particularly impressive, but the ratios play out. The evidence is there that he went back to his 2015 approach at the end of last season, and though it is not perfect, it makes him a very productive player. When Piscotty is right and can be slotted in the cleanup spot, the Cardinals can feature 4 consecutive players sporting .350+ OBP’s. Sit Grichuk and what should be 40 HR power over a full year – he hit 30 total between STL/MEM despite his struggles in ’16 – behind those four and he will produce a gawdy RBI total.
Opening Night was awesome and it’s fair to temper expectations, but go ahead, get pumped about Randy with the good hair.
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