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Are we seeing a different Randal Grichuk?

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The scouting report on Randal Grichuk is widely known but he might be trying to change that.

Scott Kane/Getty Images

There weren't a lot of positives from Tuesday's frustrating 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs, the second game in a row in which a Cubs' pitcher not named Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester held the Cardinals to a run or less. Worse, the Cubs two runs were driven in by their pitcher, Jason Hammel, on a two-out single with the bases loaded in the top of the 4th. This immediately after Jaime Garcia struck out Addison Russell on four pitches to thwart a promising Cubs rally. Or so we had hoped.

If even after Russell's strikeout you had a strange sense of dread you are excused. Just the previous night John Lackey singled in a run to give the Cubs a commanding 4-0 lead in the 7th. And on Opening Day, Francisco Liriano singled in an early run to give the Pirates a lead they would not relinquish. So it's not your imagination. Following Tuesday's game, pitchers were batting a collective .154/.180/.199 in 448 plate appearances across the league for this young season. And while pitchers are hardly turning into Bryce Harper when they bat against the Cardinals, they are slashing .231/.231/.269. So basically the Cardinals are facing Nori Aoki each time a pitcher steps to the plate and that's certainly frustrating for those conditioned in 2016 to view them as free outs.

Indeed it was a maddening affair and if for some reason you want to re-experience it in more depth feel free to peruse the game recap which certainly struck the right chord.

But in trying to transition into something more positive (although the 5-3 win yesterday stretched over the span of six hours was quite positive), Randal Grichuk had a plate appearance in Tuesday's game that was interesting for a hitter of his profile (Cliff Notes version: Statcast star with a hole in his swing). In the second inning with no outs and Matt Adams on first base, Grichuk ignored five straight pitches from Hammel to work the count full. The second pitch of the at-bat was a curveball in the dirt, but the fourth and fifth pitches were two-seam fastballs just off the plate that Grichuk didn't chase to make the count full after being down 1-2. On the sixth pitch, Grichuk took his first swing of the at-bat and swatted a curveball in the zone through the hole to left field. (That this immediately preceded Matt Adams's rally killing TOOTBLAN for the ages seems to appropriately sum up the evening.)

Although none come to mind, I'm sure he's had a comparable at-bat here or there in 2014 and 2015, but I couldn't help think the Grichuk of old would not have worked the count the way he did. And though it's early (requisite small sample size warning in print), it's worth asking if we're looking at a new, patient Randal Grichuk.

Heading into yesterday's game, Grichuk was hitting .186/.327/.372 (he went 1-3 with a BB on Wednesday), which is hardly noteworthy though largely attributable to a dreadful opening series in Pittsburgh. But he's already drawn nine walks in 52 plate appearances - he's almost halfway to his total in 2015 (22 walks in 350 plate appearances). Suffice to say, Grichuk drawing a walk in the past has been an event worth memorializing. Case in point, there's a Twitter account dedicated to it likely because the curator thought he/she wouldn't have to bother with it all that often.

According to FanGraphs, heading into Wednesday's game Grichuk was drawing a walk in 16.7% of plate appearances in 2016 - a dramatic improvement to his 2014 (4.3%) and 2015 (6.3%) numbers. The current league average is 8.5%. Yes, on April 21, 2016, Randal A. Grichuk is smashing the league walk rate. He's still striking out a lot (27.1% - league average right now is near 20%) but so far he has improved on his objectionable 31.4% strikeout rate in 2015.

Thinking back to his Tuesday at-bat that was alluded to earlier - anecdotal, of course - but it implied he's making a concerted effort to see more pitches at the plate. The actual stats bear this out so far although hardly to an extreme. Here are his pitches per plate appearance since entering the league:

  • 2014 - 3.91
  • 2015 - 3.97
  • 2016 - 4.00
So he is seeing more pitches per plate appearance and looking at his plate discipline stats via FanGraphs (through Tuesday's game), it looks like this stems from Grichuck just overall swinging a lot less - especially at pitches outside of the zone.

Season

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

Zone%

F-STrike%

SwStr%

2014

33.3%

72.9%

51.9%

59.5%

76.5%

70.7%

47.0%

51.7%

15.0%

2015

35.1%

73.6%

52.3%

47.0%

83.4%

69.9%

44.9%

63.7%

15.5%

2016

27.1%

71.1%

45.4%

58.6%

77.8%

71.1%

41.5%

60.4%

13.0%

Compared to the league averages for the 2016 season (and again, these are small samples and once the numbers stabilize they'll possibly look very different), when it comes to laying off pitches outside of the zone, Grichuk is comparable to the rest of the league (leave average for O-swing% - 27.7%), and overall is swinging at pitches at about league average as well (league average for Swing% - 47.4%). So far, Grichuk is swinging and missing at too many pitches in the zone, which has been a weakness since arriving in 2014. However, if he's working on chasing less pitches off the plate and thereby earning more free trips to first base that's nothing but a welcome development if it continues.

And now for no related reason at all, let's all watch this catch again from yesterday: