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Randal Grichuk has been a different hitter so far

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

When the Rockies traded Raimel Tapia for Randal Grichuk before the season started, one of the reasons speculated by some as to why Colorado would be interested was Grichuk’s batted ball profile as a hitter. For his entire career up to 2022, the righty-hitting outfielder’s plan at the plate could be described in three words: hack, lift, pull. From his first full season in 2015 through 2021, Grichuk was a roughly league-average hitter, with his .245/.293/.475 line generating a 102 wRC+ (2% better than average), and he was almost a metronome in terms of this hitting style. Here’s what, up until this season, the Randal Grichuk (trademark) approach was all about:

  • Walk very little. His walk rate never went higher than 6.3% or lower than 5%.
  • Hit a lot of home runs. They’re good, right? His home run rate was just about always around 5%, far better than average.
  • Strike out quite a bit. Randal had a 26.5% strikeout rate during this time, significantly higher than average.
  • Pull the hell out of the baseball. Grichuk pulled 46.7% of his batted balls from 2015-2021, 36th highest out of 402 qualified hitters during this time.
  • Lift the hell out of the baseball. In those seven seasons, Grichuk hit just 38.5% of his batted balls on the ground, 88th lowest (out of 402 qualifiers).
  • Hit the snot out of the baseball. Grichuk barreled up 11% of his batted balls and his average exit velo was 90.1 MPH, both figures solidly better than the average hitter.

All in all, you got a hitter who was not going to either hit for average (thanks to the K’s and flyballs) or get on base a lot (low average, low walk rates), but who was going to hit for a ton of power, both of the home run and doubles variety, thanks to a whole bunch of hard-hit flyballs. It’s easy to see why parts of this profile would entice the Rockies. Groundballs at Coors Field behave the same as in any other ballpark, but if you can get the ball in the air, the ballpark provides a significant boost to your production, as Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon can confirm. Therefore, it seemed that Grichuk, a pretty extreme pull flyball hitter (much like Arenado was and continues to be), was in the perfect spot to outperform his peripherals. Right? Well... yes and no. Here’s what’s actually happened.

The Changes

In 2022, Grichuk has been, more or less, the hitter the Rockies thought they were getting as far as production goes. He’s hit for a 109 wRC+, which is actually a bit above his career average. The “no walks” approach? Oh yes, it’s here: a 4.2% walk rate so far, even lower than usual. The K’s? More or less in line, a 28.1% strikeout rate so far. The homers? Four in 96 PAs, so a 4.2% home run rate. A bit lower than usual, but still well above average, especially considering the baseball is a lot less juiced this year. So why the name of this piece? “Randal Grichuk has been a different hitter”? On the surface, he seems the same... it’s the way he’s getting to the bottom line results (a slightly above average batting line) that’s totally flipped:

What in the world happened here? Grichuk’s batted ball data so far in his first season as a Rockie seems remarkably similar to Raimel Tapia’s, the player he was traded for. He’s hitting an absurdly high number of groundballs, almost twice his career average, and is pulling the ball less than ever. Sure, he was already pulling the ball a bit less in the years prior to arriving in Denver, but that figure has taken a huge nosedive this season, and the groundball rate is almost scary to look at.

How’s he managed to stay productive, then? Grichuk is hitting .281/.323/.449 so far, good for a 109 wRC+, remember? Well, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .356 so far. If the season ended now, that would stand as the second-highest of his career, behind only his 2015 mark of .365. Grichuk has a history of middling BABIP numbers despite good power, as do most flyball hitters, but his change in approach has led to success so far. Whether that success can hold with his current batted ball profile, however, is cuestionable to say the least. Grichuk is currently running a .289 BABIP on groundballs compared to the .232 league average, and while it’s true that some of that is not luck, as Grichuk’s been punching the ball the other way against the shift a lot this season, even that kind of batted ball has been kind to him so far. Grichuk is 7-for-13 when he hits an oppo groundball this season (.538 BABIP), compared to a .417 BABIP for the average hitter.

This is all more an observation than a statement on Grichuk’s skill or productivity, of course. It’s only 96 plate appearances’ worth of data from this season, and you just do not see changes in approach this drastic this late in a player’s career. The 30-year-old is a seven-year Major League veteran, and he’s still around and playing well for a reason. I suspect he may return back to his usual approach to a certain extent sooner rather than later, but his weird start to the season has given me some awesome material for a Rockpile, and I sincerely thank him for it!

★ ★ ★

Home Runs and Drag: An Early Look at the 2022 Season | Fangraphs

I don’t know if you’ve heard (nobody talks about it), but scoring is down across MLB this season, and the main culprit seems to be that the ball is no longer juiced, and has returned back to pre-2015 levels of drag. Since the long ball was the one thing keeping scoring afloat with all the max-effort pitching going on, the ball carrying less is having a profound impact on the game.

Difficult decision on Sam Hilliard looming | Rox Pile

I’ve always been at the forefront of the Sam Hilliard supporters club, because he’s a good dude and an incredibly gifted athlete, but he hasn’t hit a lick this season, and with Elehuris Montero having nothing left to prove in the Minors, Charlie Blackmon remaining a fixture and Kris Bryant coming back in just a bit, could Hilliard be sent down?

On The Farm

Triple-A: Sugar Land Skeeters 20, Albuquerque Isotopes 1

Excuse me?

Double-A: Portland Sea Dogs 4, Hartford Yard Goats 11

The Yard Goats (16-12) led the Sea Dogs by a score of 10-1 after two innings in this one, mainly on the strength of a seven-run bottom of the second that KO’ed opposing starter Brandon Walter, and the deficit was too much for Portland to handle. Hartford starter Nick Bush pitched solidly enough to get a win (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR) and the lineup was excellent, as every hitter but one (Niko Decolati) was on base at least twice. Aaron Schunk tripled and homered for a pair of RBIs, Ezequiel Tovar went 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs (and is hitting .343/.430/.610 on the season), and the Yard Goats went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position, pounding the Sea Dogs in the series opener in the process. Hartford’s won five of their last six games.

High-A: Spokane Indians 0, Hillsboro Hops 5

A shutout loss to snap a four-game winning streak for the now 15-11 Spokane Indians, who managed just four hits and a walk. Starter Mike Ruff (6.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) took the loss after being outdueled by Hillsboro hurler Scott Randall, who scattered those five baserunners across seven scoreless innings, and Spokane went down in order twice against reliever Liu Fuenmayor to seal their defeat. Drew Romo and Daniel Montano each had a pair of knocks, but the rest of the lineup went ice cold. The Indians will look to rebound today with righty Tony Locey (1-1, 4.29 ERA) taking the hill against fellow right-hander Marcos Tineo (1-1, 5.40 ERA).

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 11, Visalia Rawhide 9

A back-and-forth shootout with lots of crooked numbers on the scoreboard that the Grizzlies (17-11) managed to put away in the late innings, scoring four runs combined in the eight and ninth to pull away for good. It was a sloppy affair as well, as the ballgame saw four total errors on top of (brace yourselves) NINETEEN walks in total. Neither starter made it to the fifth inning and there were eight relievers used, three by Fresno and five by Visalia. The Grizzlies’ sparkplug was, as per usual, 19-year-old shortstop Adael Amador, who was on base four times (a hit and three walks), scored twice, and is now hitting .326/.441/.568 on the season with 23 walks against just 13 strikeouts. No Grizzlies starter had more than a hit and they went 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position, but thanks to the walks, Rawhide misplays and a couple of well-timed extra-base hits (a two-out, bases-clearing triple by Hunter Goodman in the third and a two-RBI double by Yanquiel Fernández in the eight), they put up 11 runs on just seven hits. Fresno will look to continue their win streak today, which stands at three in a row, with young right-hander Case Williams (1-1, 4.74 ERA) on the mound. Williams has allowed just one run and struck out fifteen batters in his last 11.0 innings pitched across his previous two starts.

★ ★ ★

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