As the Cardinals Make Changes This Winter, Where Does Randal Grichuk Fit In?

When president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch complete their offseason roster makeover, the Cardinals won’t be the same. Changes have been made. More changes are coming. I don’t know if the Cardinals will have a new look in 2018, but they will have an influx of new players.

What will become of outfielder Randal Grichuk? Depending on the intensity of the Cards’ aggressiveness, Grichuk could be included in a trade.  Grichuk hasn’t shaken his bad habit — plate discipline — but his power is imposing. He’s still only 26. He’s an athlete. He’s fast on the bases and covers a lot of outfield ground.  He has 3.033 seasons of big-league service time, and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season.

I think there would be a market for a player like that …. even with Grichuk’s only serious flaw:  a 30% career strikeout rate and the 10th worst strikeout-walk ratio among MLB hitters with a minimum of 1,850 plate appearances since 2014.

Yeah, the swings and the misses are frustrating. But Grichuk ranks 17th in Isolated Power (.239) since 2014 among hitters with at least 1,385 plate appearances. By comparison, Grichuk’s ISO has packed more explosiveness over that time than a long list of notable bats including Paul Goldschmidt,  Freddie Freeman, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Manny Machado, Carlos Gonzales and Miguel Cabrera.

Grichuk has homered every 19.5 at-bats since ’14 — and that puts him 39th on a list of 214 hitters that match or exceed his number of plate appearances over the same time frame. … and Grichuk ranks 13th in the majors in hard-contact rate (39.7%).

The Cardinals could flip Grichuk to a weakling team that needs home-run muscle.

After all, the Cards will roll out a new starting outfield in 2018, with Marcell Ozuna in left field, Tommy Pham in center, and Dexter Fowler stationed in right. And young outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill will be swinging for a roster spot in spring training. They’re close.

So a trade makes sense for Grichuk.

It also makes sense for the Cardinals to keep him and use him as a fourth outfielder.

That may make more sense than dealing Grichuk away — unless, of course, the Cardinals cannot resist another team’s offer for him.

Besides, isn’t Grichuk’s trending downward? It appears that way. Over the past three seasons, his WAR has gone down from 3.1 in 2015 … to 2.2 in 2016 … to 1.4 in 2017. His park-adjusted runs created have fallen two years in a row — same with Grichuk’s slugging percentage and OPS.

So why do I think Grichuk could be an asset as a fourth outfielder?

A few things here: first of all, Grichuk’s power isn’t flimsy. The slugging percentage may have settled to a lower point, but it remains strong. Second, we should use the proper context to evaluate Grichuk’s statistical ebb. We aren’t looking at him as a starter who will receive 600 plate appearances. We’re viewing Grichuk as a secondary player, a quality backup.

And he has plenty of talent to handle the gig.

Grichuk has multiple tools. He can help the Cardinals in a number of areas. Isn’t that what you want in a backup? We ain’t asking him to be Mike Trout.

I’ve cited Grichuk’s negatives.

Here are the positives:

1. Grichuk can play all three outfield positions. Not only that, he’s probably been their best outfielder defensively. Since his promotion to the Cardinals during the 2014 season, Grichuk is a +9 in Defensive Runs Saved as a left fielder; a +15 DRS when playing center; and a +1 in right field. Grichuk has saved his pitchers 25 runs with his defense.

2. Grichuk is one of the Cards’ best base runners. Using the Base Running Runs metric, Grichuk led the team with 2.2 BRR in 2016, and was third with 1.9 BRR last season. Since 2015, Grichuk has averaged about 6.5 outs on the bases per season on unforced errors. Contrast that to outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who made an average of 13 outs on the bases via unforced error in his final two seasons here, before being dealt to Oakland earlier this month.

3. It would be nice to have a LH hitter as a reserve outfielder, but take a closer look at Grichuk’s splits. Over the past three seasons Grichuk, who bats right, has actually performed better against RH pitchers than lefties. He has slugged .473 with a .768 OPS vs. LH pitchers, with a higher slugging percentage (.505) and OPS (.805 ) against RH pitching. The point being, Grichuk doesn’t put the team at a platoon-split disadvantage when he faces a right hander.

4. Grichuk gives the Cardinals real power off the bench. He has a .496 slugging percentage overall since 2015. And Grichuk has delivered when brought into a game as a substitute. Small sample… but in 75 plate appearances as a “sub” since 2015, Grichuk has a .387 OBP and .500 slug for an .887 OPS. He’s also homered four times in 64 at-bats. Grichuk has a respectable .809 OPS as a pinch-hitter.

5. Grichuk figures to do a solid job as a spot starter. When he has started games over the last three seasons, the Cardinals are 169-123. I’m not saying Grichuk is the reason for that fine record … but he hasn’t hurt the winning cause. It can only help to have position player that can bring a combination of power, speed and plus defense to a starting assignment … even if he whiffs too often.

If the Cardinals have a chance to deal Grichuk to fill a legit need, fine. But don’t give him away. He can help this team in 2018. We always complain about the Cardinals’ mediocre speed and base-running blunders  … we always squawk about too many Cardinals playing shoddy defense … we often say the Cardinals could use more power and danger off the bench.

Well …

Grichuk not only provides athleticism and impressive defense, but among Cardinals that have a minimum 1,000 plate appearances since 2015 he leads the team in slugging percentage (.496), Isolated Power (.247) and home-run ratio (18.75); is second in homers (63) extra-base hits (153) and OPS (.795); and has the best RBI ratio with a run batted in every 6.71 at-bats. And 52 percent of Grichuk’s 294 hits since ’15 have gone for extra bases.

A cost-controlled fourth outfielder who provides above-average power, speed and defense.

I’d be OK with that.

A lot more more than OK.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: If Shut Out at 3rd Base, the Cardinals Should Explore a 1st Base Platoon Option