Shifting restrictions give Yasmani Grandal a pathway to a rebound

At some point during Yasmani Grandal’s miraculous second-half turnaround from his in-season knee surgery in 2021, I started to think that the specific four years for which the Sox signed Grandal could end up being the most favorable conditions for committing to a catcher in his 30s.

The way I saw it at that time, we were looking at:

  • Year 1: A 60-game season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Year 2: A standard season.
  • Year 3: ????
  • Year 4: MLB likely to have implemented shifting restrictions, if not sooner.

My hope was that the development in Year 4 would partially offset a gentle decline in Year 3. Unfortunately, Grandal has filled in the question marks with his worst season ever. He’s hitting .204/.307/267, and it’s almost entirely due to his production against right-handed pitching (.493 OPS, compared to .867 against lefties). He’s at least lifted his production to that of a normal backup catcher in the second half (.235/.331/.324), but given that he’ll be owed $18.25 million for 2023, that’s short of adequate.

The Sox could maybe pay him to go elsewhere in 2022, but such a deal reminds me of the Blue Jays sending Russell Martin back to the Dodgers for the last year of his five-year deal. They paid $16.4 million of the $20 million owed to him for a couple of longshot prospects who didn’t pan out, and while that still represents money saved off a player they believed was a sunk cost, it didn’t do anything else for them. Their new backup catcher posted an 18 OPS+ and they lost 95 games.

Unless the Sox find a more intriguing catcher option – and Carlos Pérez made a terrible first impression behind the plate in his MLB debut – I’m regarding Grandal as a fixture for 2023, with the hopes that Seby Zavala is equally or more capable of dividing the time as he is right now.

The good news? Major League Baseball is still going ahead with the final part of the plan by restricting shifting starting next season as part of a batch of new rules. The changes also include a pitch timer and bigger bases, and with the Sox in the middle of some pretty important baseball, deep dives into those two elements strike me as offseason content.

The details about the defensive alignment guidelines:

*The four infielders must be within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.

*Infielders may not switch sides. In other words, a team cannot reposition its best defender on the side of the infield the batter is more likely to hit the ball.

*If the infielders are not aligned properly at the time of the pitch, the offense can choose an automatic ball or the result of the play.

*This rule does not preclude a team from positioning an outfielder in the infield or in the shallow outfield grass in certain situations. But it does prohibit four-outfielder alignments.

I’m not a fan of such restrictions, or at least the way they’re being implemented. Right now, players hit into shifts because the quality of pitching in 2022 makes it hard to string singles together, so they may as well seek damage as often as possible. The scientist in me* would rather see the pitch-clock rules strictly enforced to understand whether that puts a dent in the max-effort arsenals deployed around the game. There’s a chance that pitchers lose a little of their edge because they aren’t allowed a full recovery time, so maybe that alone can boost offenses. Or maybe it makes no difference, but I’d want to understand the consequences of one rule change before introducing another variable that could make it hard to separate the factors.

(*There isn’t one, but let’s pretend.)

Grandal is one of four White Sox players who are shifted on more than half the time (59.3 percent), a little bit behind Yoán Moncada (63.1) and Gavin Sheets (61.3), and comfortably ahead of AJ Pollock (51.2) for the bronze medal. Nobody else cracks 20 percent, which speaks to the White Sox’s right-handedness and general approach to hitting.

The shifts make a difference. Grandal, Sheets and Moncada have a total of seven hits on 79 ground balls pulled per Statcast’s data. Sheets has 15 singles the opposite direction, so he’s figured out the way to thwart alignments in the way the others haven’t, but given that Grandal is the slowest player in the game, there’s less benefit of him forgoing his power just to get on base.

That presupposes that Grandal still has significant power to forgo, but if he doesn’t have to contend with three-infielder right sides next season, then he doesn’t have to worry about making a choice. He can load up and hunt the former Goose Island, and he should get more of those singles by accident.

That leads to the question of whether “Yasmani Grandal on the basepaths” is the action MLB really wants to increase, but if the league cracks down on that with a minimum speed limit, it will no longer be the White Sox’s problem.

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Jim Margalus
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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Willardmarshall

What drops catchers to the bottom of the speed chart — knee wear?

calcetinesblancos

I’m sure that’s part of it, but generally I don’t think they’re putting anyone there who is capable of playing a different defensive position requiring elite athleticism. Like as an example, I always assume lots of position players probably have the velocity to pitch, but obviously lots of pitchers are far from athletic; they can just throw a baseball really fast.

chipporter

Of course, you had to know that someone (this time being me) would throw the outlier in your face…. Craig Biggio…..****Whap, like a dead fish,

soxygen

Related, I listened to a game the other day in which the announcers were referring to someone having been called up to be the “29th man.” Right, because when it is September and your team has a double header you need that extra guy on top of the other two extra guys on top of the extra guy they added to every roster a few years ago.

I think MLB lost the thread a few years back and now it’s just pin the tail on the donkey.

To Err is Herrmann

“Yasmani Grandal on the Base Paths” sounds like one of those New Yorker poems written by a guy who doesn’t really understand baseball.

LuBob DuRob

On the fence about shift rule. I’m open to it because the shift seems to disadvantage lefties more. What new.

A radical idea… with no one on base, the batter can choose to run to first or third base on a batted ball in play. I think I’m joking, but maybe not?

King Joffrey

I may be a grievance junkie, but baseball’s basic geometry does preclude lefthanded throwers from playing any of the three ‘skill’ positions. Yet, I still don’t understand why there are no southpaw catchers. I guess we’re too smart.

patty

If you are left handed and have the arm strength and accuracy for catcher you become a pitcher.

soxygen

I think it actually has to do with the throw to second – it would be hard for a catcher who throws lefty because 70%+ of batters are right handed and so would be standing right next to where the catcher would load and throw.

In contrast, a left handed first baseman actually has an advantage insofar as they don’t need to extend across their body to meet the throw. So a good left handed first baseman can effectively reduce the distance that any throw to first has to cover.

Last edited 2 months ago by soxygen
ChiSoxND12

It’s because of the throw to third; requiring a lefty to pivot ~90 degrees counter clockwise before throwing

Also, ~35% of MLB hitters are lefty, and another ~13% are switch, so righties do not comprise 75% of hitters

soxfan

“Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
– Willie Keeler

Right Size Wrong Shape

“Grip it and rip it.”
-Hawk Harrelson.

ParisSox

It’s nit bc about shifts and pitch clocks, etc. It is about, and always has been, TWTW