St. Louis Cardinals: Quit Hating on Randal Grichuk

Apr 27, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 27, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Randal Grichuk is going through a slump, but the evidence exists to prove that he’s an above-average big-league contributor.

After posting a .877 OPS during his first full big-league season and carrying the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense for much of the summer in 2015, it’s safe to say that Randal Grichuk has taken a step back this year.

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After being in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year award last year (consideration that was eliminated after he suffered an injury in August), Grichuk has endured two demotions to Triple-A Memphis this season and has seen guys like Jeremy Hazelbaker, Kolten Wong, and Stephen Piscotty get much more time than they ever could have expected to in center field. Grichuk, who finished with a .276 batting average in 2015, has a much lower .221 average as things stand now, and it’d be an understatement to say that he’s struggled to make consistent contact this season.

If you’re fortunate enough to not be entrenched in Cardinals Twitter, you might not know that the vocal portion of the fanbase is VERY down on Grichuk this season. There’s a strange obsession with his plate discipline, and there seems to be a widespread belief that he’s simply not a major league player. Despite the fact that Grichuk just turned 25 on Saturday and is less than a year from being talked about as a key piece of the club’s future, Grichuk is now firmly in the doghouse with the fanbase, and that sentiment is obviously shared to an extent by management, considering the fact that he’s been optioned twice. (Don’t mean to offend anyone by including their tweets here…I literally just searched “Grichuk” on Twitter and included the angriest, non-profane ones that I could find from Sunday.) Here’s a quick sampling of the frustration:

Of course, Grichuk’s RBI double during the Cardinals’ eighth-inning comeback on Sunday lightened the mood a little bit, as did his pinch-hit homer on Thursday and his grand slam on Saturday, but he’s still getting a bad rap. In light of this frustration, I thought it necessary to pull up a few pieces of information that show that Grichuk is still providing some solid value despite his disappointing batting average.

  • It’s possible, even probable, that Grichuk has been held back over the past year by an elbow injury that the Cardinals rushed him back from last September. In the 238 at-bats (including the postseason) after Grichuk returned from the DL on September 7 until he was demoted to the minors on June 18 of this year, Grichuk hit .197. Considering the increased fluidity that Grichuk has displayed in his swing over the last month or so, it’s possible that he might finally be getting past the effects of the injury. Though he ended his previous big-league stint in a 4-for-34 slide, Grichuk still has a solid .260 big-league batting average since he returned from his first minor-league stint on July 5. With Grichuk’s natural power and decent defensive ability, a .260 average is acceptable enough.
  • While his plate appearances will likely just slightly exceed the 350 that he had last season, Grichuk has a great chance of exceeding his home run total from last year, as he’s already got 14 this season, compared to the 17 he hit in 2015. I know, it’s a shocker: Grichuk is not Mike Trout. But if he hits 20 or more homers a year and plays good defense, he can be a good everyday contributor in the six or seven slot in a lineup.

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  • Grichuk’s power numbers are relatively comparable to what they were last season, and that’s a good sign that he’ll continue to have the ability to contribute to a club even as he fights through contact issues. Grichuk’s home run rate (4.6%, every 19.8 at-bats) is rather comparable to what he had last season (4.9%, every 19.0 at-bats). Despite his reduced contact, the percentage of his hits that have gone for extra bases (49%) is pretty comparable to last year, when 53% of his hits went for extra bases.
  • Grichuk is right up there with the team’s most productive players when it comes to RBI after the sixth inning. His 21 rank only behind Matt Carpenter‘s 25 and Stephen Piscotty’s 23. RBI is largely an random, skill-independent stat, and it’s even more questionable to say that driving in runs later in the game is significantly more important than doing it earlier, but the fact remains that Grichuk gets the job done late in the game. That clutch element is something that’s of value, and it gives him an edge over certain other guys on the roster that tend to fold more often than not when the game is on the line.
  • A quick sampling of the 61 guys with more than 100 plate appearances who had a higher K rate than Grichuk’s 27.2% going into Sunday: Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Napoli, Chris Davis, and Adam Duvall. Mark Trumbo, who’s leading the majors in home runs, strikes out 27% of the time. Tommy Pham, who strangely seems to endear a large chunk of Grichuk haters on Twitter, has a 32.4% rate, and Brandon Moss, who is undoubtedly one of the Cardinals’ most important offensive weapons this year, is striking out 30.6% of the time. Strikeouts are bad–they prevent a player from putting the ball in play, which eliminates the chance of getting on base via an error or infield hit–but they’re not so bad that they prevent a player from being an effective major-leaguer, as the names above prove. Also, selective outrage much? I don’t remember reading a single complaint about Moss or Pham’s plate discipline this season, but I can’t check Twitter during a Cardinals game where Grichuk’s playing without reading about his strikeouts. And I don’t think they were anywhere to be found last year, when Grichuk was the lifeblood of the Cardinals’ offense yet struck out 31.4% of the time. You’d think he’s the second coming of Mark Reynolds or something.
  • Grichuk still is no Joey Votto when it comes to being patient at the plate, and eight years into his pro career, it’s safe to say that he never will be. With that said, he’s got a career-high 7.3% walk rate, and he’s pretty clearly been more selective with the pitches that he takes this year.
  • In my opinion, Grichuk is probably miscast as an everyday center fielder. But if things go according to plan, Grichuk could be moved to left field whenever Harrison Bader is ready for prime time. He’d be a plus fielder there, and he would be a definite defensive upgrade over Matt Holliday.
  • Ultimately, John Mozeliak’s primary task this offseason was to make sure the Cardinals didn’t miss a beat following the loss of Jason Heyward to the Cubs. While Heyward’s stats this year often get compared to Piscotty’s, there’s a common line of thought that Heyward ultimately would have replaced Grichuk rather than Piscotty in the lineup if he had re-signed with the Cards. Grichuk has a .719 OPS–97 points higher than Heyward’s–and he’s making the pro-rated portion of $520,000, compared to Heyward’s $17.5M salary this year, so it’s safe to say he’s better than the alternative right now.

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So next time you’re tempted to fire off a tweet saying that Grichuk should go back to Memphis and never come back, maybe consider the numbers above first. It’s indisputable that he’s having a sophomore slump, and he needs to get more patient while still figuring out how to make more consistent contact, but he’s definitely proven himself worthy of being on a major-league roster.