After years of teasing us with his power potential, Grandal finally delivered in 2016. He hit 27 home runs, finishing second in power just behind Evan Gattis. Most of that damage came over the final three months where Grandal hit 20 home runs over 213 at bats. He still batted just .228, but you take the good with the bad sometimes at the catcher position. Not bad for a guy that was an afterthought in drafts and snagged off waivers by many.
As we begin our preparation for the 2017 we see Grandal moving up draft boards. He is currently the 8th catcher off the board in NFBC draft, and that lines up nicely with his *spoiler alert* number eight ranking on our upcoming catcher rankings (out this Sunday). He was ranked inside the top-10 by everyone on the panel – everyone except yours truly. People are expecting a repeat, but I see some power regression in his future.
Grandal saw his ISO jump in 2016 to .249, ranking second among catchers with 300 plus plate appearances. The hard-hit rate also increased to .38.9 percent, besting his previous season high of 35.8 in 2014. His hard-hit rate ranked third among catchers, being bested by Welington Castillo and Tyler Flowers. The increased power and hard hit rate give the appearance of similar power in the future. Unfortunately there are a number of red flags that need to be considered.
Up first are the strikeouts. It appeared he had turned the corner in 2015, lowering his strikeout rate to 21.6 percent. Last season it was back up to 25.4 percent, just a few ticks shy of the 26 percent he put up in 2014. At least he first pitch strike rate dropped down to 50.3 percent. That’s not just first among catchers, but first in the majors to everyone with at least 300 plate appearances. Most of this is due to pitchers avoiding that first big pitch trying to avoid his power stroke. The swinging strike rate went up to 10.1. This is the first time being in double digits and almost in line with the 9.9 percent he had in 2014. It also erased all the gains made from 2015 which is now looking like an outliner.
We saw more power thanks to the ISO and hard-hit rate, but the fly ball percentage only inched up. His 39.3 percent rate was a career high, but it was just one point higher than his previous career best 38.1 percent in 2014. There was also some luck involved with the power as Grandal crushed his 2014 HR/FB% by 11 points, posting a 25.2 percent mark – highest among catchers. Even if you factor in the increased hard-hit rate that number is unsustainable and is due to decline.
While Grandal’s swing rate, both inside and outside the zone, lined up with his career rates average, the contact rate sunk to a career low. Only three catchers with over 300 plate appearances had a lower contact percentage than Grandal’s 74.3 percent mark. Also, only two catchers from that group had a lower swing percentage. The solution could be a simple as a more aggressive approach. This could potentially backfire, though, given his already high strikeout/low contact profile.
A career worst contact rate would help explain Grandal posting the lowest BABIP (.250) of his career – both major and minor. Looking at his 2014 season, it’s hard to be optimistic that a BABIP rebound, and subsequent batting average increase, will happen. In 2014 Grandal’s BABIP was .277, and yet he still only hit .225. I continue to compare last year to his 2014 season because he posted a similar strikeout rate, batted ball profile and plate discipline numbers both years. The only real difference was a few extra hard hit balls – that and a declining line drive rate.
Last year the LD% hit an all-time low of 16.1 percent. Just like last season’s 17.1 percent mark, Grandal ranked last among catchers, and this was the third straight year the LD% has fallen. Between the contact, strikeouts and LD% there is little chance that Grandal’s batting average cracks
.240, and .240 is being extremely generous. Occasionally he will have those big months like April (.295) and July (.324) – both months fueled by a 300+ BABIP – but the .114 in May and .229 in September are what you can expect more often than not.
As I stated in the previous paragraph, the only thing Grandal did differently in 2016 was hit the ball slightly higher. That’s it! No extra batting practice, no real change in his approach at the plate; just a little added muscle sprinkled with some luck. He was basically a poor man’s Chris Carter. Raise your hand – how many of you believe Carter will hit 40 home runs in 2017.
Grandal is good for power and RBIs. He was given a solid spot in the line despite a bad batting average because of his power. If the power drops so too will his spot in the batting order. When that happens the RBI total will fall to average levels making Grandal a fringe one category catcher. Basically it’s like going from Chris Carter to Ryan Howard. Yea, I’m sure that one made you think for a second. Is that power worth the replacement level counting stats and batting average drain?
Yesterday Josh Coleman recommended Grandal as an “adequate leading catcher regardless of format”. I beg to differ. In a one catcher league there are plenty of other safer options to target. I would rather reach a round or two early for Salvador Perez or J.T. Realmuto, or wait an additional one or two rounds for Martin, McCann or Castillo. None of those guys have much upside, but they do have a high floor and offer security with little risk.
Last year teams happily snatched Grandal, Gattis and even Yadier Molina off waivers. In 2015 it was Vogt and Hundley, and in 2014 Mesoraco, Gomes, Navarro. Remember A.J. Pierzynski and his 27 home runs in 2012? That same year Ryan Doumit hit .275 with 18 home runs. What did those waiver wire darlings from 2014 and 2015 do for a follow-up? If it was anything worthy you would remember.
Grandal isn’t an up and comer like Sanchez or Contreras. He’s 28 years old so we need to stop talking about his upside and accept what he is. He’s a poor contact hitter who strikes out too much that, on occasion like Chris Carter, put up an exceptional power season (for a catcher). Last year was his moment in the sun. Turn your draft attention elsewhere or just play the waiver wire while you wait for this year’s Craig Wilson – 2004 was one hell of a year.
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