I used to play a lot of hoops with my friends. I also used to smoke a lot of weed. Usually not a good mix, but everytime before the game, I’d yell to my buddies, “The rim looks like the size of the ocean. Just keep feeding me. And feeding me. And feeding me.” More often than not, it was but a figment of my imagination. That’s what happens when you’re high. But, but, but….Every once in a while, the heat checks would get cashed and all everyone would hear was, “Splash, splash, and splash” reverberating off the walls inside the gym. My buddies learned (after one night), that I was straight trash playing high. After the tenth time, they would just let me run around like a headless chicken, but when I got hot, they knew not to mess around, as they would just keep feeding me, and feeding me, and feeding me until whatever it was wore off. The beautiful thing about baseball is that the sample sizes are usually large that regression to career averages can be expected. In a 60-game season, though, anything can happen. A hitter can get hot and stay hot. Randal Grichuk of the Toronto Blue Jays is hot. Can he maintain?
So far in 21 games and 88 plate appearances, Grichuk has a .293/.341/.549 slash with 6 home runs, 13 runs, and 16 RBI. The walk rate is 6.8% while the strikeout rate is 21.6%, both career-best marks. The ISO is .256 while the BABIP is .316.
Throughout most of his career, Grichuk has been a .240-ish hitter with a .290 BABIP. So, we can immediately write off the .293 average right? Not necessarily. Back in 2015, in 103 games and 350 plate appearances, Grichuk had a .276 average fueled by a .365 BABIP. It can happen and did happen.
The power is real, as he’s had an ISO above .200 in every season except his rookie one. We know Grichuk can mash home runs, so he’s going to continue doing that. The question is about leveling out the streakiness. In the past, we would jump aboard the Grichuk train when he was hot, but know full well that we’d have to jump off at the first sign of slowing down. In a shortened season, he could stay hot for most of the season. Are there signs that he’s improved his approach at the plate to lend more confidence in that idea?
The walk rate has been consistent at 6% while the strikeout rate has declined over the years. Once at 30%, the strikeout rate was 26% over the last two year. This year, he’s improved both the walk and strikeout rates. When looking at the plate discipline numbers, the chase rate is down 3% while the swinging strike rate is down 2%. He’s swinging the same amount but the contact rate on pitches outside the zone has increased over 11%. Hmmm. What could that mean?
The groundball rate has increased. I think I have an idea. Looking at the Brooks Baseball heat maps for pitches thrown to Grichuk, pitchers like to attack him down in the zone. In the past, this area would likely result in a whiff. Now, he’s making contact and putting the ball in play. That could explain the increased groundball rate and BABIP.
Grichuk has always mashed fastballs. This season is no different, as he’s slugging .444 against the pitch. Where he’s had trouble in the past has been with breaking and offspeed stuff. He still struggles with breaking pitches, but he’s mashing offspeed stuff this season. In 50 offspeed pitches, Grichuk has a .412 batting average and 1.000 SLG against those pitches. Last season, for perspective, he batted .189 and had a .351 SLG.
The sample size is small and regression would likely happen in a normal season, but we are almost at the half way point for the 2020 Rona season. Grichuk could maintain this heater. And if he does, then we would be schmucks for not recognizing him.