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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

  • silencedogoodreturns

    I think he has more upside than many (most?) of the youngsters the Cards have, who are unproven. At least at this point.

  • James Berry

    I’m torn.

    I like Grichuk. Yeah, the strikeouts are worrisome, but i’ve never seen him not play all out. I’ve never seen him cause any disruption in any way. He boasts some impressive skills as a player. He’d be great as the 4th OFer and a threat off the bench. An honest power threat.

    He gets talked about a lot in articles where other teams are genuinely interested in him for their own. Which makes him a good chip in a trade to improve the Cards further.

    I also like Bader. Bader doesn’t quite have the power pop that Grichuk does, but he’s got better speed and can legitimately steal bases when needed. He also can play all three OF spots well and has a slightly better arm.

    Bader is also a candidate as a trade chip to improve the team he comes with more control years.

    I’m torn.

    • Big T

      Im torn too. and that is good for our team. These guys are close. Not so sure on the better arm of Bader. I think Bader has better speed (not by much) and plate discipline which are both pluses. For me Grichuk should be our 4th, he is the better defender currently and has superior pop for a pinch hitter/4th outfielder. In addition you don’t lose anything defensively on a double switch.

    • BradW

      It’s great to have a player who can change the game with one swing, like Grichuk. But, with our outfield packed, how will O’neil get a chance to play? Grich is blocking O’neil. Grich has proven over a long track record that he is just going to have a high K rate. Maybe he turns it around, but it seems unlikely. It would be interesting to give O’neil a chance. But, how will he get it with Grichuk ahead of him?

      • James Berry

        By all accounts, O’Neil’s offensive skill set is pretty much Grichuk 2.0, so what exactly is the rush for him to be on the big club? Further that, O’Neil doesn’t seem to be as accomplished defensively as Grichuk.

        • BradW

          O’Neil is much younger and still growing, which Grichuk may be all he is going to be.

          • James Berry

            And O’Neil, at this point, is only proven as a prospect. Grichuk has proven he can take the best pitchers out of the park.

          • BradW

            Good point. It probably makes sense to let Grichuk play as the 4th outfielder while we continue to see what O’Neil has. He will get a look at the MLB level sooner or later.

      • JohnS

        O’Neil strikes out more than Grichuk and is not as fast nor as accomplished a fielder or baserunner. You will note that other teams are more interested in Grichuk than O’Neil. O’Neil looks to be a somewhat inferior Grichuk….so why bother? How would O’Neil get a chance? Stop striking out more in the minors than Grichuk does in the majors would be a good start….

        • BradW

          Good points. It seems like we need to let O’Neil get more experience in the minors to improve his game. His ceiling is yet unknown. Grichuk’s seems to be defining itself. I wouldn’t mind another year of Grichuk as the 4th outfielder to see if he can turn improve his plate awareness while O’Neil continues to mature. The Cards probably see it the same way.

  • TH

    I’m on board for having Grichuk as a 4th outfielder. I’ve always felt that was the role he was best suited for. His raw tools have always been off the charts but the lack of plate discipline has really hindered his development as a hitter. He’s a regular on a second tier team though, so if a team of that magnitude wants to swap him for something that may benefit the Cardinals then by all means go for it…Otherwise just give him 350 or so at bats and let him grip it and rip it!

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  • Dave Nelson

    For all of the reasons stated, Grichuk should be a part of this team, unless he is a major part for someone like Archer. Folks rag on him for his strikeouts, and they do get on your nerves at times, wishing he would be more disciplined. But there are quite a few others in the major leagues that seem to get a great deal of playing time, with K totals about the same or more than Grichuk. Take Trevor Story, over 320 k’s in less than 2 seasons. His upside is he is at least the 2nd best OF on this team if not the best. I’ve seen Pham look real bad on occasions, and he swings and misses a lot too. I just think he gets slammed more than he deserves.

    • Big T

      Dave – good point. Grichuk is ready to take off.

      • Mark Lee Arbogast

        I don’t see it. If he can’t figure out how to lay off the balls low and away outta the strike zone after 2000 at bats I’m not too sure he ever will.

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  • ken

    yes, as 4th outfielders go, you could do a lot worse than wolverine, er, grichuk, i mean. i’d like to see it happen.

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    Hopefully somewhere else if he don’t learn to lay off the off speed balls low and away

  • I agree with Bernie, keeping Grichuk as a 4th outfielder has value. However, depending on him as a fixture everyday player, was the dumb mistake they’ve been making.

    Expecting far too much from players such as Grichuk,Piscotty, & others are why the Cardinals have sat home watching the last 2 playoffs. DeWitt and his cronies wanted to charge us for prime rib, while serving us hamburger.

    The time has come to hold Mozeliak & Matheny accountable. If Dewitt can’t man up and do this, he needs to sell the club to someone who will.

    • JohnS

      I can’t see they have ever depended upon him as a “fixture everyday player”. The fact they were never able to do this probably has hurt his development. It is amusing that Mike Matheny, Mr. .240 Hitter was allowed to play almost everyday but he engaged in pulling Grichuk out of the lineup almost constantly after an “oh-for” game. If MM the manager had managed MM the player, he likely would have been sent to triple-A multiple times and then been bounced out of the big leagues….

      • Grichuk was part of the opening day lineup for the last 2 seasons. He started a huge percentage of the early season games for the last 2 seasons.

        It’s a mystery to me why ones like you have to argue the obvious. Make no mistake professor, they “intended” for Grichuk to be a fixture in the everyday lineup. And clearly that blue print changed, when Grichuk began to struggle.

  • geoff

    If you are a pitcher and you throw anything where Grichuk is swinging, he will give it a ride. The problem has been that too many pitchers have been able to avoid that swing path too often. He has good speed but the argument that he is the best or second best outfielder in the organization is ridiculous. He gets bad jumps and takes weird routes, but he can run well enough to make up for most of those faults. Heck Lou Brock played left field for years and he made up for a lot of faults with his speed too. The difference is Brock hit. Thinking that Grichuk would be good in a pinch hitting roll is faulty thinking because the key to pinch hitting is actually hitting. When a manager sends a pinch hitter to the plate, generally, it is because the situation can least afford a strike out. Why would you want to send a high strikeout guy to the plate when you need to avoid the strikeout. I have said all along that Grichuk looks to me like he has a depth perception problem. I don’t know if he has ever had his eyes checked for that or if that is a correctable problem. I am no doctor and I am probably full of crap, but I have been watching this kid break wrong and be made to look like Molly Potts at the plate for a few years now and when he looks bad it always has to do with a misread of velocity, whether in the field or at the plate. It won’t bother me if they keep him and it won’t bother me if they trade him. He seems like a likeable kid who, maybe needs glasses like the kid in that movie Major League.

    • James Berry

      You might want to have a look at his stats as a pinch hitter.

    • JohnS

      Grichuk has actually performed very well as a pinch-hitter so I think you are engaging in some faulty-thinking by going with your perceptions….instead of the facts…..with all due respect….

  • William Thom

    Not to say there isn’t merit with some of the points, but…Randall has had his chances with the Cards. With the abundance of rising outfield talent I say it’s mostly time for him to go. Either way, I wish him well.

    • JohnS

      I have seen the “abundance of rising outfield talent” and I hate to burst your bubble, but it mostly grades out to average MLB OF as the ceiling. A bunch of slender, rather fast guys with little or no pop. You will note that no teams seem to be beating down our doors for these players….if they were that good, we simply would have brought one of them up to be the starting right fielder. Nope, they really aren’t that highly regarded….even the traded Mags Sierra is a big project, with no power upside and little base-stealing acumen despite top-level speed….and he may be the best of the lot!

  • Anti ruling class

    Before the Cardinals mess him up further, the best thing for Grichuk would be to get traded to a team that needs (and appreciates) speed and defense, and knows how to develop and manage young talent.

  • It doesn’t seem like it was too long ago when OBP was the big deal. Well, Grichuk’s career OBP is .297. That is not exactly “keeping the line moving,” as John Rooney likes to say. The average MLB OBP is .325. With players like Grichuk you get a lot of one-run homers, either from him or from the guys batting behind him. What you don’t get is big innings.

  • JohnS

    I’m a Grichuk honk….as far as I am concerned, they could bat him seventh, give him 600 at bats and he would probably hit thirty home runs, knock in 80 and strike out 180 times, but that would be some sock out of a seventh place hitter….I know that won’t happen after the Ozuna trade, but he may be more than handy to have around in 2020, when Ozuna leaves…..

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Grichuk would make a nice 4th outfielder. But the Cards have outfielders out the gazoo. I so want to see a deal with Tampa for Archer and Colome and would willingly say goodbye to Grichuk if given that deal. We need both a starter and a closer. Critical.

  • M W

    No indication that more moves will coming.

  • MosesZD

    Hey, Bernie, remember when I said Smith was going to make you eat crow? When Reid fired his overly-conservative butt and let the OC plays we’re right back where we were. Smith has, since Reid stopped calling the plays been racking up explosive after explosive.

    Take from a lifelong 49er fan who’s been through the mill with Smith — it’s not Smith. It’s the overly-conservative NFL OCs that have relied on dink-and-dunk and power-running that have done more to limit him than his turn-over avoidance play-style.

    When you let him do the QB thing, instead of forcing him to be a game manager, he does the QB thing. And right now he’s 4th in the NFL in Yards/Attempt at 8.02 with a 105.2 QB rating. And he’s tearing the Dolphins apart today. Just making them look foolish.

  • Mike French

    I disagree with Bernie on this one. Grichuk should be traded to get what we can. His value seems to be at its peak now. If the Cards think Grichuk is only a .240 hitter with 20 HRs and 125 K every year, they can do better with Bader as their 4th outfielder. If they think Grich still has more upside, they should put him in the minors so he can work on his plate discipline. I see no reason he should be blocking the progress of younger players with better potential.