Yasmani Grandal’s throwing isn’t as worrisome as all the times he saw no point

We’re more than 50 submissions into the Offseason Plan Project, and there’s no surprise that the shopping lists focus primarily on the outfield, second base, and support for the rotation.

Beyond the obvious gaps, I’m a little bit surprised to see a number of plans seeking to relieve Yasmani Grandal of 40 games or so behind the plate, if not trading him entirely. His below-average blocking had been a mild concern, but the concerns are exacerbated by a drop-off in his throwing, and so some of our GMs want to see him get more time at first base, DH, or with another organization.

These plans are not wrong in pointing out this shortcoming. After allowing 50 steals in 80 games during the 2021 season, it’s fair to say that Grandal’s arm falls short of a strength. That said, he’s coming off a year where opponents were just 7-for-13 against him over 32 games. The midseason knee surgery is one variable, which perhaps sapped his ability to make quick throws at full power. But the Sox had other catchers without nagging injuries, and they were even worse at cutting down runners.

CatcherSBCSCS%
Yasmani Grandal501219%
Zack Collins45917%
Seby Zavala24311%

Collins and Zavala aren’t going to get weapons-based nicknames like James McCann or Martín Maldonado, but when three catchers with ordinary arms all have a miserable time in this facet of the game, it makes me think that focusing on replacing Grandal is treating a symptom, and not the root issue. The final series against Detroit, in which the Tigers went 9-for-9, suggested a whole-system shortfall. Here are those nine steals:

Given the recency of this teamwide failure, I was surprised seeing a fair amount of plans attempt to replace Grandal as the first-string catcher, or at least put him into an equal time-sharing agreement. To me, it doesn’t seem to rise to the level of an emergency, especially since Grandal just hit 240/.420/.520 at the plate. That’s 4 WAR production over 60 percent of a season, so fine-tuning that playing time to incorporate better throwing seems like an awfully small needle to thread. My instinct is to say Grandal’s weaknesses are no match on the scales for everything he does well. I get and support the desire for catching depth, especially complementary depth. I don’t get the urge to see less of Grandal behind the plate just because he’s not perfect.

I’ll admit I have a natural aversion to such discussions. I’ve adhered to the Bill James quote about bad front offices having the tendency to obsess over the secondary skills of their best players, so trying to solve Grandal’s throwing is like wanting Alexei Ramirez to absorb contact at second base or Frank Thomas to swing at pitches outside the zone. It’d be great if they could, but I’d rather use the energy to focus on the positions where nothing’s going right.

That attitude does run the risk of being too closed-off to improvement or blind to the early stages of a decline, and seeing enough plans demand a heavy Grandal supplement motivated me to look under the hood at his throws in 2021. I think we can all agree there’s a problem. The devil is determining how to draw up the fault.

* * * * * * * * *

Armed with MLB.com’s Film Room site and an Excel version of a scratch pad, I watched all 50 stolen bases on Grandal. In fact, I watched them twice because apparently I saved my first accounting of it to a temp folder. The good news is that it’s probably worth reviewing multiple times, because there’s gray area between the categories, and you might be inclined to grade one based on a steal that came before, and I watched them in a slightly different order the second time around.

At least that’s how I’m trying to spin having to redo work this morning that I thought I’d accomplished the day before. Either way, I came to the conclusion that Grandal had no chance on about half of the steals. Here’s my count per category:

  • Huge jump/no chance — 21 steals
  • No throw — 10 steals
  • Good throw, not in time — 9 steals
  • Bad throw, little chance — 8 steals
  • Bad throw, legit chance — 2 steals

If you want a sample of the coin-toss steals — or even the 30/70 bases — I’ve compiled some clips below.

Good throws, not in time

This isn’t exactly a lowlight reel, because it includes league leader Starling Marte, and a couple other 30-steal guys in Myles Straw and Tommy Edman. Those players generate a lot of their supplemental value by having the ability to outrun even valiant attempts to cut them down.

Bad throws

These are the uglier attempts. A number of them had little hope, but they’re indicative of times where Grandal’s execution left a lot to be desired. A better catcher might’ve converted on these opportunities. Failing that, they could’ve at least looked prettier.

Here’s where we note that Grandal also had 12 caught runners on his tab. Of course, every catcher would look better if you filtered out the cases where he had no chance, but his success rate on attempts that he had a chance is not indicative of a catcher who a liability in and of himself, a la Kevan Smith a few years back.

* * * * * * * * *

The chunk of stolen bases that’s most concerning to me is the one where Grandal didn’t throw, because there’s a common thread uniting the majority. As for the outliers, there’s one where Grandal committed to getting a called third strike on a borderline pitch because the situation lacked leverage to make the steal matter, which is fine. There’s another one where Victor Reyes caught Leury García napping and took third in a delayed fashion with nobody covering. That isn’t fine, but we can’t say that’s Grandal’s fault, either.

But then there are eight steals where the White Sox, like a team in Little League or the original R.B.I. Baseball, simply didn’t have an answer for runners on the corners, and the runner on first moved ahead with no contest. This is also not a Grandal-specific issue, because MLB’s video archive shows 18 such steals against the White Sox during the 2021 season overall. The average team yielded just 10. The White Sox just stole six bases in those situations themselves. (You might’ve remembered the one time they were caught, which is the time Tony La Russa had Liam Hendriks run for himself in extra innings because La Russa didn’t know the rules.)

Dallas Keuchel, who was the only White Sox starter who demonstrated the ability to suppress the running game, was also the one pitcher who demonstrated an ability to check a team’s aggression with runners on the corners. If only César Hernández didn’t screw it up.

To the extent that this is a Grandal thing, it’s also a thing for so many other people. The pitchers. The other catchers. La Russa. Ethan Katz. Joe McEwing. Miguel Cairo. Jerry Narron. Whoever else is on the coaching staff next year, because we’re still awaiting Rick Hahn’s end-of-season media session. The Tigers stole 25 bases in 27 attempts against the White Sox over 19 games, as opposed to 63 steals in 86 attempts over the other 143. The Sox allowed three or more steals in 10 games. The Angels were the only other team with more than eight.

It’s a good idea to get a catcher who’s a bigger threat to runners than Grandal. It’ll complicate scouting reports, and it’d protect the Sox against a Grandal decline or absence, because you can’t point to anything Collins or Zavala do well, and that’s a problem. I’m just not inclined to think the position needs much more thought or resources than that, especially when resources are finite. There’s the idea that Grandal’s midseason knee surgery and an offseason of rest might halt the downturn. There’s also the larger idea that any improvement would be nearly impossible to detect if the White Sox don’t address the severe deficiencies everywhere else.

(Photo by Thomas Shea/USA TODAY Sports)

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Jim Margalus
Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.
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metasox

but the concerns are exacerbated by a drop-off in his throwing, and so some of our GMs want to see him get more time at first base, DH, or with another organization.

Not everything is about shortcomings. There is also the need to keep him healthy and in the lineup everday.

asinwreck

Agreed. The only fault I find with Grandal is he is not an indestructable cyborg capable of catching 162 games. Giving him a few games out of the crouch seems merciful for a thirtysomething veteran who had midseason leg surgery, followed by an offseason procedure.

(Which is not to say he should be moved to LF and replaced by the next Joel Skinner. But reducing stress on the legs seems a good idea, especially if the Sox are able to go more than one series into the postseason.)

metasox

Makes sense. I have been thinking along the lines of what it would look like to ensure he is in the lineup for 150 games. Maybe a well spaced 80 C, plus 10 1B, 60 DH, for example. The Sox know his health and can determine how to optimize his playing time. But I don’t see that trying to maximize his catching time would be the way to keep him in the lineup

Wayne

$1-2M defense first (game calling, blocking, throwing, then framing) back-up catcher and Collins in AAA is what the doctor ordered. (Zavala is out of options). Collins can use his last option year with Jerry Narron and full time catching to see if he can play. His 90 wRC+ bat (101 wRC+ vs RHP) is very good for a back-up catcher, if he can get adequate defense.

Trooper Galactus

I’d prefer they try to sucker some other team into trading for Collins as if he has value and isn’t a below replacement level player.

BenwithVen

It’s crazy that Yaz is still wrestling with the ghost of James McCann (especially after the year McCann had), but here we are.

Great Article, Jim.

Greg Nix

Crazy, yet somehow predictable as well.

vince

The number of offseason plans that trade for McCann is too high. Dude had a -.2 WAR season.

Trooper Galactus

And, if I’m not mistaken, many of those plans did not make him a backup to Grandal, never mind that would commit an unspeakable amount of money into the position.

rugbysox

If you are going to spend money on a free agent back up, spending for a .2 second reduction in pop time isn’t going to offset pitchers that don’t hold runners. Money is better spent on a well rounded catcher that has the ability to hit in the event of yaz injury. I know we are in honeymoon phase with Katz, rightfully so, but he needs to step up on coaching slide step mechanics and timing variations

a-t

I really don’t understand why anyone would want to trade Grandal. There absolutely is not a better, or even remotely equivalent, catcher available in any way. Catcher is not a deep position across the league, and his almost metronomic 4-5 WAR/450 PA production there is not something you can replace— at all, not “easily”. His $18.25M salary for ‘22 is I believe second only to Abreu, but he absolutely earns it; frankly, it’s a bargain, and by FAR the best FA signing the White Sox have made for a very, very long time.

That said, he’s a catcher in the latter half of his peak. I do think a credible backup catcher is a real need, less because I don’t have faith in Grandal’s various defensive capabilities and more because I’d like to see him DH more regularly and rest those knees. Hence why my (preferred) offseason plan involved trading Kimbrel for a quality backup C and Vaughn for an up the middle guy.

Barring a rule change to encourage it, the running game is mostly dead, because the analytics guys can show quite easily that risking an out & lost baserunner for an extra base isn’t worth it unless you convert on it at basically the career SB success rate of Ricky Henderson or better. So the stolen bases that the Sox/Grandal are giving up are mostly very high % looks because that’s pretty much the only time managers will give the green light these days. It’s certainly annoying, but Katz clearly wants his young pitchers focusing on the hitter, not the runner, and with results like last year’s I’m inclined to trust his process. Keuchel paying greater attention to baserunners didn’t seem to help him prevent many runs…

calcetinesblancos

I just like having a catcher that isn’t an automatic out and gets on base, but it’s pretty impressive to slug 23 homers in only 375 plate appearances.

Trooper Galactus

I think the .420 OBP is even more impressive. We knew we were getting an on-base machine, but that was ridiculous even by his standards.

a-t

Leaguewide, backstops hit for a rather sad .228/.304/.391 line, 0.695 OPS. Grandal’s .240/.420/.520 line tracks to an OPS nearly .250 higher, far better than any other catcher. It’s a rare thing to have a catcher who can hit like this!

ParisSox

I just want Rick Hahn to have his damn end if season media session already.