How Much Discipline is Too Much? The 2020 Yasmani Grandal Story

(Photo credit: by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

It’s such an odd thing for a White Sox fan to have a problem with. Not taking walks and not working pitch counts has caused or contributed to bad offenses for years now. The fanbase was elated to see the front office bring in players that could counter this problem. But as it turns out, there can always be too much of a good thing. Too much confidence becomes arrogance, too much courage becomes recklessness, and too much patience becomes passivity and missed opportunities. Yasmani Grandal has resembled the last example.

Before I bring you down too hard, let me make clear that this is not the dour thinking of the rebuilding years. It’s just that Yasmani isn’t playing as great this season as he usually does. He’s still a valuable player, and his struggles are not a result of a diminished skill set, but rather a change in his approach at the plate. Yasmani’s slow start has still given the team a .363 on base percentage with extra framing runs behind the plate.

It’s the eight extra base hits and career low ISO of .163 (compared to .222 last year) that has baseball-reference calling him a 0 WAR player. For what it’s worth, I think Fangraphs’ calculation of 0.7 WAR seems more accurate.

Grandal, a hitter revered for his professional approach, has become even more selective than ever and it’s not subtle:

Pitches swung at % Strikes looking % 1st pitch swing % Chase %
Grandal 2020 34.2 41.9 11.3 19.8
Grandal Career 40.0 32.6 23.6 22.4
MLB Average 46.6 26.8 28.2 28.2

 

These all paint the same picture: a hitter who has been choosier than the norm suddenly becoming an extreme outlier. There have been several positive outcomes. His pitches per plate appearance is at an all time high (4.47 this year compared to a 4.20 average) and his walk percentage of 16% is his second best in a full season, only bested by his 17.2% last year.

Other results of this ultra-disciplined approach have not been as rosy. His batting average is fine, but it’s actually been carried a little by a career-high BABIP. Swinging less has resulted in less batted balls, and his strikeout rate is ugly.

Contact % Balls in play/strike % Whiff % K%
2020 Grandal 68.2 20.5 31.7 30.4
Career Grandal 73.9 24.8 26.8 23.7
MLB Average 76.4 28.4 24.4

 

I was hoping that Grandal’s approach might put him in more hitter-friendly counts for him to take advantage of, but that isn’t what I’ve been seeing. Pitchers are challenging Grandal in the zone to take a hack on 0-0, 2-0, and 3-0 counts especially and he’s responded by watching and waiting. Perhaps he’s looking for a certain pitch and remaining vigilant, or he wants to squeeze every pitch he can out of each plate appearance. Either way, he’s letting power swing opportunities pass him by and I don’t think the payoff is worth it. We all know the damage that he can do and it can be frustrating to watch his lethal bat not leave his shoulder. I’ve been watching Yasmani and trusting that a batter with his pedigree knows best but I just can’t fathom seeing the following numbers and thinking that he’s making the most of his at bats.

Zone swing % Meatball swing %
2020 Grandal 49.4 45.0
Career Grandal 59.5 70.8
MLB Average 66.1 75.1

 

Yaz doesn’t have to mothball his disciplined or even hyper-disciplined approach to get his power numbers back. He just has to stop giving up as many free strikes. Passing on easy pitches has helped increase his pitches per plate appearance, but it also hurts the count that he’s in. A batted ball for an out is obviously worth avoiding. A foul ball on a pitch that was going to be a strike anyway makes no difference. But the other opportunities for extra bases shouldn’t be so easily spit on.

The discipline has been good, but too often he’s passing up far better. The metrics on Yasmani’s batted balls all show that he’s not showing his age. His line drive percentage is up, his ground balls are down, and he’s hitting the ball as hard as he always has. A lot of this is surely because Grandal is making sure to wait for the pitches he expects or wants, but there’s a balance every batter has to find between making the pitcher pay and making the pitcher work.

It’s time to make the pitchers pay.

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

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Josh Nelson

Great stuff!

iowasox1971

This was a good story, but I must say that Grandal has been a disappointment. From the eye test, he does not seem to call a good game, he’s had some bad passed balls and other misplays, his pitch-framing is over-rated and his hitting, while good for a catcher, is not all that great overall. He has not been playing nearly as well as McCann this year.

There still is time for him to turn it around, of course. What I would like to see more of is him calling just the right pitch at the right time to get a pitcher out of a big jam, as McCann seems better able to do. Also, I’ve seen in the past where catchers like Fisk or even A.J. were able to help coax and extra inning or so out of a struggling pitcher. No evidence of Grandal having that ability.

So far, according to Baseball Reference, the staff ERA throwing to Grandal is 4.87, and the ERA throwing to McCann is 2.55. Is this just a coincidence? If the trend keeps up, can we honestly afford to have Grandal, and not McCann, catching most of the games?

HallofFrank

It’s not a coincidence: McCann catches Giolito, and almost only Giolito, the best pitcher on the team.

Oddvark

This is not accurate. Only 25% of McCann’s catching starts have been with Giolito pitching, and he’s caught Cease and Keuchel as many times as he has caught Giolito (4 games each).

HallofFrank

I will admit McCann has caught more than I thought, but he’s actually caught Giolito five times. The point still stands: when you’re considered the personal catcher for the best player on the team, that’s going to help your ERA.

Oddvark

From, what I’m seeing, Grandal has caught Giolito 4 times (7/24, 7/29, 8/4, and 8/15), and McCann has also caught him 4 times (8/9, 8/20, 8/25, 8/31). Giolito has performed much better with McCann (28IP, 6R/4ER, 43K/8BB) than Grandal (20.2 IP, 14R/13ER, 23K/10BB).

Oddvark

Also, thanks to WhereIsRobin for this analysis. The eye test gave me the impression that Grandal was being too passive, and I’m glad that you dug into the stats.

MarketMaker

Nice article. The lack of in-game video feels like a plausible answer here. Grandal might just like to play passive until he sees how pitches are moving and how pitchers are attacking him. If he does most of his in-game adjustments with video, he might just be feeling stuck with a lack of info. I’m hoping he adjusts because he’s definitely too passive in the zone, but it’s a testament to what discretion can do for a hitter. He’s got a .336 wOBA with minimal power and a high K rate because he’s hitting the ball hard, in the air, and all over. I think the HRs will come. I’m bullish.