Where Did This Trent Grisham Come From?

Playoff Trent Grisham shows potential for more from the CF.

Elephant in the room: I’m going to say positive things about Trent Grisham. Trent Grisham bunted away the Padres’ season with multiple runners on in the ninth inning of Game 7 in the National League Championship Series. It was problematic. Even I, a staunch opponent of the bunt, understood it on some level. This will get addressed, but let’s get to some Grisham-specific context before I start the balancing act of wondering what Grisham could be moving forward.

A Sucker for Fine Defense

It’s a longstanding bit among those who know me outside of whatever persona I’ve established online that I enjoy two specific baseball archetypes. The first is the super-utility guy who can play all over but may or may not be able to do anything offensively; Josh Harrison; Tyler Wade; you get the idea. The second is the elite defender who can’t hit worth a lick — which is why I’ve grown so enamored with Trent Grisham over the years.

I spend a lot of time watching the San Diego Padres. The West Coast proximity helps. So does insomnia. At least once a game, Grisham does something amazing in center field. It doesn’t have to be some obscene diving catch, either. His reactions, instincts, and path to the ball in the outfield are an absolute pleasure to watch. His offense? Not quite as much.

The Duality of Grisham

Prior to arriving in San Diego, Trent Grisham, oddly enough, was known for one very significant defensive miscue while in Milwaukee. His misplay on a Juan Soto single catapulted Washington past the Brewers and onto an eventual World Series (a hilariously ironic note that didn’t click until I rewatched that clip, all three players involved in that play — Grisham, Soto, and Josh Hader — are Padres now). His arrival in San Diego prior to 2020 has brought nothing but defensive stability. He won a Gold Glove in 2020 and is a finalist again this year. He finished 2022 in the 99th percentile in Outs Above Average, which seems good.

But while his work with the glove in three seasons has been excellent, the offense has left a lot to be desired. This is true to the point where the trade with Milwaukee, which involved Zach Davies also heading west and Luis Urías & Eric Lauer heading to the Brewers fell heavily lopsided in the latter’s favor this year. Davies is long gone from San Diego. Urías is a capable infielder who has a pair of 2.0+ fWAR seasons under his belt. It’s Lauer’s 2022 emergence that really shifted the balance, but it all worked in conjunction with the fact that Trent Grisham really can’t hit. Or can he?

In 2021, Grisham was a slightly above-average bat. His wRC+ came in at 103. He reached base at a decent-enough .327 clip and hit 15 homers. When you’re providing elite defense, that’ll play. But even those modest numbers took a tumble in 2022.

Grisham’s wRC+ in 2022 sunk to just 83, he ISO’d only .157, and he punched out almost 29 percent of the time. His contact rate dropped about five percent between 2021 and 2022, while he both went outside of the zone more to swing and whiffed at a higher rate. And his BABIP didn’t help when the ball did find its way into play, as it came in at a paltry .231. It was bad all around. There were some fleeting moments of power mixed in there. But the long and short of it is that Grisham’s woes fell directly in line with the Padres’ massively inconsistent offense.

There are a number of different things we could litigate as to what plagued Grisham during the regular season. We just don’t have the space to do that here. Especially when the postseason is showing that perhaps, maybe, possibly Trent Grisham has some offensive upside?

“If He’s A Good Hitter, Why Doesn’t He Hit Good?”

By the time the NLCS was over and the San Diego offense, predictably, spent three games disappearing, Grisham’s numbers don’t look great. In that sample, he ended up at a .205 average, a .311 on-base, and a wRC+ of 111. All improvements off his regular season stats, to be sure. It’s what he did prior to the NLCS, though, that has me intrigued for him moving forward.

Between the Wild Card round against the Mets & the NLDS against Los Angeles, Grisham hit .381. He reached base at a .500 clip. All three of his postseason homers came across those seven games. He also walked 17 percent of the time. There was an element of patience there. He fouled off tough pitches with aggressive swings. He battled in a way that we didn’t really see during the regular season and certainly didn’t see against the Phillies in the subsequent five games.

But does this, ultimately, mean anything? An underwhelming offensive player goes on a nice little run. Are we meant to believe in more? Probably not. At least at this point.

However.

There is likely some merit in thinking that Grisham could elevate his game with a more aggressive approach. Grisham struck out in almost 29 percent of his plate appearances during the 2022 regular season. That came with one of the lowest out-of-zone swing rates in the league (23.0 percent). His called strike percentage, at 21.6 percent, was the fourth-highest among qualifying players. His CSW%, at 30.8, was also the fourth-highest. Grisham also didn’t contact at a particularly appealing rate (75.7). When you’re swinging at the league’s third-lowest rate (37.9) and avoiding pitches outside of the strike zone, that’s a positive trend. When you’re racking up called strikes and not making great contact, that’s not one.

Those deep counts also limit your ability to make flyball contact. You’re going to be more susceptible to a pitcher’s pitch, and that pitch is headed straight for the infield grass. Grisham put the ball on the ground to the tune of a 43.3 percent rate this year, the highest of his career. Of additional note, teams shifted against Grisham 64.4 percent of the time, one of the higher rates against big league hitters in 2022. So the two things that could work in his favor for 2023? More aggressiveness, more flyballs, and the elimination of the shift.

That Bunt, Though

I hate to say it. I understand the bunt. A high groundball guy hitting. Down one run. Wet grass. Two on. I understand the thinking from Grisham. Do I understand to the point of agreeing? I haven’t decided yet. It probably doesn’t matter when you’re against a squad with Team of Destiny vibes, like Philly has. But it was a tough look for Trent Grisham in a season of them.

In any case, Grisham is probably closer to the guy we saw pre-2022. Decent hitter. Maybe league average, if not slightly above. But those changes to the approach, along with the elimination of the shift, could pay dividends for him as an offensive player moving forward. Then again, I also thought Nick Ahmed could be a solid hitter, too. Look where that’s gotten me.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. A former high school English teacher, Randy now works in the corporate world and resides in Arizona.

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