If you are a Chicago White Sox fan, or just happen to be watching Yasmani Grandal, you might disagree with the title of this article. And undoubtedly, the results are not really there yet. He’s hitting .127/.333/.273 with just two home runs. That production is good for a 91 wRC+, or 9% below the average hitter. But in a game revolving around statistics, result-based stats aren’t always a solid indicator of how well a batter is hitting. There is a ton out of their control that factors into the outcomes! So, while Grandal’s wRC+ may be the lowest of his career, here’s why it isn’t an accurate indicator of his approach to hitting.
Grandal has always had tremendous on base skills—evident by a career 14.2% walk rate across more than 3500 plate appearances—but his strike zone control has taken another step forward in his age-32 season.
Grandal was in the 92nd percentile of hitters by walk rate last season, but now he’s walking 8% more often. His 23.3% walk rate is currently MLB’s second best mark (min 70 PA), only 0.8% behind Max Muncy. But what may be even more impressive is how Grandal has been able to cut down on the strikeouts so drastically. Last season, Grandal’s strikeout rate put him in the league’s 14th percentile of hitters. This season his strikeout rate (19.2%) is below 20% for the first time since 2013. He is one of only 16 hitters with more walks than strikeouts and his BB-K rate of 4.1% is second to only Carson Kelly.
The main contributor to these improved results is pretty simple: Grandal is not chasing pitches out of the zone. Grandal has the 12th best chase rate in MLB, placing him in the 96th percentile of all hitters.
|Zone%||Chase%||Swing%||1st Pitch Swing%||Whiff%|
Although Grandal is seeing strikes at almost the same rate, he’s swinging and chasing a whole lot less. This more passive approach is helping Grandal find his way on base so often that he has a .333 OBP while batting just .127. Even more impressive is his xOBP that places him in the 92nd percentile of hitters. But this improved discipline is not just aiding his walk rate, it’s also a lead contributor to his improved strikeout rate. Grandal’s whiff rate in two-strike counts (12.5%) ranks him in the 83rd percentile and is an incredible improvement from his 27th percentile ranking in the same metric last year (19.1%). Grandal’s elite control of the strike zone is a telltale sign of good things to come.
Quality of Contact
Grandal has never been someone to hit for a high batting average, which doesn’t really matter for a hitter who can hit a sub-.250 and still consistently produce an OBP above .330 and a SLG above .450. However, Grandal is hitting the ball much, much, better than his .127 average says. His .221 xBA still isn’t great, but Grandal has the seventh worst difference between BA and xBA and the league’s worst BABIP (.128), which suggests his contact deserves far better results. Additionally, his wOBA to xwOBA differential of -.086 also suggests Grandal is underperforming. His .378 xwOBA this season is the highest he has posted in his career. Perhaps it is being carried by such an impressive walk rate, but Grandal is also posting the highest hard-hit rate of his career, hitting a ball hard 54.4% of the time. This mark places him in the 88th percentile of the league. Furthermore, Grandal has a DHH rate of 30%, which is the league’s 21st best mark. These metrics are more accurate indicators of how well he is hitting than some result-based stats may suggest.
So, why isn’t Grandal finding success with all his hard contact? Well, Grandal has a case of the Marcell-Ozunas. If you don’t understand the reference, take a look at Ozuna’s batted ball metrics during his time with the Cardinals. Grandal is smoking the ball, but he’s hitting it right into the ground.
If Grandal had a batted ball profile similar to any of his prior seasons—which are so similar that 2021 looks like a clear outlier—his results would already be here. His middling 55th percentile barrel rate would be much improved and we’d be seeing him hit for a lot more power. Grandal isn’t pull-happy and he doesn’t have a hole in his swing by any measure; he is just hitting the top of the baseball too much. Grandal’s average launch angle the past three seasons have been: 14.1°, 14.2°, and 15.6°. But this season, Grandal’s is sitting at 10.6 degrees. And this is really encouraging because it should be an easy adjustment for a hitter as knowledgeable as Grandal.
Maybe Grandal needs a mechanical adjustment or maybe he just needs to keep on keeping on—I can’t say for sure. But of the quantifiable things a hitter can control, Grandal is doing just about everything well. The approach is there and the results are bound to come around sooner or later… so long as the old man filling out the lineup card doesn’t bench him because, you know, batting average!
Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire