Since this is the time of year that we typically look ahead to the coming season, we’ll do just that at Blue Jays from Away and try to look into the crystal ball to see what we’re going to get for the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays, starting with our intrepid right/center fielder, Randal Grichuk.
Grichuk has served as the model of the typical Blue Jays outfielder in the past few years. Good power, not a lot of OBP, decent defense (that can be called in question depending on the metric you’re looking at) and a fairly solid track record of doing just that.
Grichuk’s career marks in a 679-game MLB career (2476 plate appearances) give him a .244/.293/.483 slash line and 9.5 fWAR over that span. He’s actually been fairly consistent and his 2018 and 2019 stats are fairly similar although Grichuk did have better numbers in 2018 in fewer games, hitting .245/.301/.502 (good for a .340 wOBA and 115 OPS+) while hitting .232/.280/.457 in 2019 (for a .307 wOBA and a 90 OPS+) meaning that the 45-point drop in Slugging Percentage and 21-point drop in OBP are more than his just his 16-point drop in BABIP. The main conclusion: Grichuk got on base less than his drop in batting average would suggest and he hit for far less power overall (despite six more home runs in 2019) than he did in 2018.
Looking into some statcast data, Grichuk barrelled way fewer balls in 2019, down to 8.5% from 14.4% in 2018 while his exit velocity was down a bit at 89.3% from 90.6%. His average launch angle was a little lower, too, at 16.2 degrees in 2019 from 18.5 degrees in 2020. Over the course of the season, that can translate into a lot of extra-base hits. That said, the 2019 launch angle is much more consistent with his first three MLB seasons with St. Louis (2015-2017) in which he had average launch angles of 15.9, 16.2 and 16.3 degrees.
So does this mean that 2018 was the outlier? Grichuk’s strikeout rate, which was around or above 30% in his time in St. Louis has actually stabilized around 26% with the Blue Jays (26.4% in 2018 and 25.8% in 2019) but his walk rate hasn’t gone up (in fact, at 5.6% in 2019, it was a career low and is tracking downwards).
So what does 2020 hold? Steamer projections suggests that Grichuk, now 28, will post a .245/.298/.498 slash line in 2019, hitting 30 home runs in 130 games while striking out in 26.9% of his plate appearances but walking in 6.3%.
Grichuk’s statcast data has his exit velocity stable, meaning that he hits the ball harder than average (87.5 mph) but he’ll need to barrel the ball more after a big drop between 2018 and 2019.
Personally, I think that these projections are fairly close to what we’ll see. Grichuk did rebound in the final two months of the season, posting an .826 OPS in August and an .816 OPS in September, showing a big increase in power in both of those months, although his OBP dropped a ton (to .234) in September as he walked in just 1.1% of his plate appearances to go with a 24.5% strikeout rate.
Even in 2018, Grichuk started slowly but came back strongly after his injury when he returned in June. But the big question is which Randal Grichuk we’ll get in 2020. I’m hoping for a bit of a hybrid. Someone who gives us a little more like what he did towards the end of 2019 when he hit for more power with a .554 OPS in the last two months of the season (hitting 14 of his 31 home runs) but also getting more on-base from him as he certainly has a better than .267 OBP in him (as he did in the last two months of 2019).
If we get a .500+ slugging percentage go to along with a .300+ OBP from Grichuk in 2020, I’m going to be happy with the results, generally regardless of what he does defensively.
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