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Randal Grichuk, ground balls, and tall socks

He had one of the highest groundball percentages in baseball.

Welcome to the 2022 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2022. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 21, Randal Grichuk: 0.3 rWAR

When the Colorado Rockies traded Raimel Tapia to the Toronto Blue Jays for Randal Grichuk, I first went to Baseball Reference. (More on that in a minute.) Then I checked out Grichuk’s Instagram to get a sense of, well, who he is as a person. The feed was a predictable day-of-a-trade mix of congratulations and good byes.

But one stood out: The Instagram story posted by Grichuk’s barber.

Even though the story is gone, the image remains vivid in my mind. Grichuk sits in the barber chair smiling and sporting a fresh cut. The barber (whose name I don’t remember) stands behind Grichuk holding up a pair of clippers, his head perfectly encircled by the glow of a ring light, an angelic barber sent to earth to ensure baseball players have immaculate grooming.

And, hey, as Erasmus put it centuries ago, “Clothes make the man.” That is, if a player who look good plays better, what’s not to like?

When Raimel Tapia headed north, he took with him that trademark swagger — and a tendency to hit ground balls... so many ground balls. In getting Grichuk, the Rockies hoped they had replaced Tapia’s slap-hitting with a power slugger. That’s not exactly how things worked out.

How Was Grichuk in Terms of Offense?

The Rockies knew what they hoped for in trading for Grichuk. Here’s what they got, as shown by Baseball Reference:

This table shows Randal Grichuk’s career stats.
Randal Grichuk’s Career Stats
Baseball Reference

What stands out? In 2022, Grichuk’s runs and hits were up, but the power that the Rockies craved was not consistently present. Grichuk did hit 19 home runs in 2022, but that total is lower than previous years, save his second season.

Instead, Grichuk found himself, like Raimel Tapia, hitting the ball into the ground a lot.

This graphic shows that Grichuk’s GB% significantly increased in 2022.
Randal Grichuk’s GB%.
Baseball Reference

His GB% of 50.4% is the highest of his career — 11 points higher than in 2021. He had the eighth-highest GB% in baseball (behind, among others, Brendan Rodgers at sixth). Coors Field rewards players who hit the ball in the air; those who hit it on the ground, not so much. And ground balls can result in double plays. This was a problem for the 2022 Rockies, who had 139 GDP — only the Washington Nationals had more. Grichuk hit into 12 of them.

When trading for offensive power, it’s really not what you want.

The numbers suggest Grichuk experienced the Coors Effect in a big way though that's’ not how he sees it.

“In game I don’t really feel much different,” Grichuk said, “but I like the stadium, and I like the atmosphere.”

His offseason training plans are fairly standard.

“Obviously, all the generic things, right?” Grichuk said. “Get stronger. Stay healthy. I want to work on my swing a little bit to put the ball in the air a little bit more.”

But he also acknowledges that his ground-ball rate is up.

“Yes, it’s definitely higher than it’s been before,” he said, though he’s unsure as to why. “I don’t know. It’s one of the things that you just kind of see, and ask people, and see if it’s something mechanically, or just work on lifting the ball a little bit more in the offseason.”

Okay, How About the Defense, Then?

The Rockies liked Grichuk’s defense a lot. Check this out:

This graphic shows the innings logged by Rockies outfielders — Grichuk has the most.
Colorado Rockies Outfield Innings Played in 2022

Randal Grichuk logged a whole lot of innings in the outfield — 1143 13 to be exact. No outfielder even approached Grichuk in terms of in terms of innings played. DRS indicates he is an okay defender though he’s clearly better in right than center. (He’s also a better right fielder than Charlie Blackmon.)

Takeaway: Based on innings played, the Rockies really like Randal Grichuk.

And let’s not forget that June game against the Marlins that saw the Rockies losing 14-0 and Grichuk taking the mound, his first time to pitch since high school.

Grichuk threw 10 pitches, six for strikes, and finished the evening with an ERA of 0.00 and a GB% of 66.7%.

Okay, So What’s the Deal with the Tall Socks?

It’s not the kind of swagger Tapia featured, but Grichuk brought with him his own look. Let’s start with the glasses, which have a story.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies

“I got LASIK, done 11 years ago now,” Grichuk explained. “And I kind of felt like this offseason a couple of times. I drove at night, and it was just a little little blurry. But I didn’t put much thought to it. And spring training we played a night game against the Brewers, and I noticeably could tell at the plate that I couldn’t see as well.”

Grichuk visited an optometrist, who gave him a prescription for contacts. But there was a problem: “They actually ended up being wrong prescription. I got a new prescription out here, and they just didn’t really sit well.”

That would be a challenge for any professional athlete, but especially a baseball player.

“I have astigmatism,” he continued, “so I didn’t know if the contact just didn’t sit well on my eye after the surgery or what. Obviously, in the season, you don’t want that to be the focal point of your day, and you’re in-game thinking about it. So I got these glasses, and they work good. [I] struggled a little bit early on to grasp the depth perception of it.”

As a bifocal wearer myself, I wanted to learn more.

Grichuk explained, “Everything just felt super close. So digging in the box kind of made me nauseous early because, it was like, ‘Whoa. It seems closer than it actually is.’ Obviously, viewing the pitcher, and the ball coming at you felt closer than it was. That took a few weeks, and I got that under control.”

But now, the adjustment is complete: “Yeah, I feel good with them,” Grichuk said.

So what about the look that takes tall socks to the extreme?

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers
This picture isn’t from the Rockies-Padres game, but notice how Grichuk’s style choices set him apart.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

There’s no fashion ethos at work, no behind-the-scenes stylist. It turns out, Randal Grichuk is just a spontaneous kind of guy.

“Just whatever I feel like that day,” Grichuk said in explaining his uniform choices. “Sometimes I get tired of the same look, and I get bored, so I switch it up.”

On the day I spoke with Grichuk, he said it was probably a “pants-up” day, but then gave himself some flexibility.

“Probably. I don’t know. We’ll see once I start getting dressed.”

(It was, in fact, a pants-up day.)

Final Thoughts

Grichuk seems to have found a new barber to replace the one he left in Toronto. But now, he needs to find the power at the plate he appears to have left there as well. If he does, he can be a solid contributor to the Rockies’ offense.