The number of Yasmani Grandal fans in fantasy baseball has been on the rise for years now. Grandal was never a disappointment, but was also lacking a defining season. The 2016 season definitely jumps off Grandal’s stat sheet, with 27 home runs, 72 RBI, an .816 OPS, all good for a 122 wRC+.
The power spike drove Grandal’s increased value, but his terrible batting average likely kept the total dollars earned limited for the season. To illustrate this point we can use the ESPN Player Rater. For those unfamiliar, the Player Rater will assign a value to all of the statistics available in the pool and then assign point totals for each rotisserie category to individual players based on their performance.
When it came to the home run category Grandal was second best at the catcher position, good for 1.72 points on the Player Rater. Remaining in elite statistical company at the position, Grandal was 5th best in RBI, good for 1.21 points on the Player Rater. Grandal was even 12th in the Runs category, good for a small positive contribution (0.44).
Then Grandal pays the batting average tax and a chunk of his 2016 value is immediately reclaimed. Coming in 96th in the batting average category (BA), Grandal returned 1.17 points on the Player Rater. Think about that, essentially all the value Grandal generated via the RBI category (remember, 5th best at the position!), was erased due to his poor batting average.
Despite giving back massive amounts of production due to his batting average, Grandal still finished as the 7th best catcher on the Player Rater. The batting average bar at the catcher position is very low. If Grandal could hit .260 instead of sub .230 next season, he jumps from my mid tier to the high tier of catchers.
Yasmani Grandal is a target for me in 2017 because there’s more batting average ability in his profile.
Using the Plate Discipline numbers available on FanGraphs, we can compare certain actions performed by Grandal while at the plate against the major league average. For example, the average O-Swing% (times a batter swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone) in 2016 was 30.3%. Grandal’s O-Swing% last season was 23.3%, which stays in line with his career 23.6% rate. Grandal has consistently shown the ability to not swing at pitchers outside of the strike zone as often as the league average. Grandal has also traditionally swung slightly less than average on pitchers inside the zone as well (62.3% in 2016 versus the league average rate of 66.7%). When it’s all said and done, Grandal continued his tendency to swing the bat (swing %) roughly 5.5% less than league average.
This alone does not mean a batting average correction is coming however.
What has me optimistic regarding Grandal is his ability to make contact inside the strike zone, as well as his overall swinging strike rate (SwStr%). In 2016 the league average zone contact rate (Z-Contact %) was 86.3% – Grandal had an 84.5 Z-Contact % last season. His SwStr% was 10.1%, exactly the same as the league average rate last year. The drop in Grandal’s overall contact% was driven by a 55.5% O-Contact% (contact on pitches outside of the strike zone). This is a double-edged sword however, as driving pitches outside of the zone with authority is much more difficult of a task.
Using the Zone Breakdown Analysis found at Baseball Savant via MLB.com, we can display the difference in exit velocity between pitches inside the zone and outside of the zone.
The chart above shows that when Grandal swings and makes contact on pitches inside the zone, he hits the ball with authority. When contact is made on pitches outside of the zone however, the exit velocity is much worse. Remember, Grandal swings at pitches outside of the zone considerably less than the league average rate, while also displaying an ability to make contact inside the zone at the league average rate.
The hope for a .250 + batting average season comes down to Grandal’s ability to hit the ball really hard. Using the Batted Ball data from FanGraphs, we can see that Grandal has a hard hit rate (Hard%) of 38.9% last season. This was up considerably from the 30.0% he displayed in 2015 and much closer to the 35.8% from 2014. For context, the league had a Hard% of 31.4% in 2016.
We can also view Grandal’s Statcast Averages found on his MLB.com page. With an average exit velocity 4 MPH higher than the league average rate and an average generated velocity of 4.05 (1.45 league average), Grandal clearly possesses the “hit ball hard” skill.
The last bit of data we can mine from Statcast is a new feature they call “Barrels”. Essentially, for a ball in play to be classified as a Barrel, it must meet both an exit velocity rate, as well as a certain launch angle range. From this a statistic called Brls/BBE was created. This will show us the percent of Barrels per batted ball in play. Grandal was 17th in the majors last season among all hitters with at least 190 batted ball events (13.9%). The estimated batting average / slugging percentage for this type of contact is .500/1.500 – that’s impressive.
Batting average can be a fickle category to try to nail down in a projection. As Ron Shandler has mentioned for years, the difference between essentially hitting .275 and .250 on the season, is two hits per month. If I am looking for a player who could take their batting average from horrible to merely acceptable and in turn increase their rotisserie value, someone who stings the hell out of the ball consistently would be where I place my bet.
Grandal is that type of hitter.
Grandal is currently being selected as the 8th catcher off the board (NFBC ADP: 145th overall). Remember, last season he finished as the 7th most valuable catcher according to the ESPN Player Rater. At this price and with the potential to outperform his batting average history, Grandal is a 2017 fantasy baseball target for me at the catcher position.
What are your thoughts on his potential for the upcoming season? Leave them in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III