Yasmani Grandal’s spring, Seby Zavala’s blocking stats buoy White Sox’s catching hopes

White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal
(Photo by Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports)

When somebody who played as poorly as Yasmani Grandal in 2022 is hitting as well as Yasmani Grandal is the following spring, it’d sure be nice to know if the Cactus League stats are going to translate.

Grandal is hitting .320/.379/.560 with a homer, three doubles and a reasonable six strikeouts over 29 plate appearances. I’m inclined to treat it as noise, but I also want to point out that Grandal’s previous two spring trainings foreshadowed the subsequent start to the regular season.

In 2022, Grandal hit .200/.259/.360, and that looked enviable compared to what followed. Grandal’s average languished below the Mendoza Line from April 15 to June 3, and he never hit higher than .208 at any point in the season. His slugging percentage dropped below .300 on April 17, and stayed there the rest of the season.

In 2021, Grandal hit .233/.294/.233 during Cactus League play, then followed it up with some of the weirdest lines you’ll ever see (on May 9, Grandal was hitting .113/.378/.242). Midseason knee surgery fixed the glitch. If only it was his only knee surgery that year.

Maybe Grandal is typically a slow starter, but in 2020, he immediately generated excitement by going 5-for-15 with four extra-base hits in six games before the COVID-19 outbreak cancelled spring training. The interruption was so profound that you can’t draw a straight line from the end of Cactus League play to Opening Day here, but it was the one season that he hit like any previous version of himself from the get-go.

Acknowledging that the sample sizes are sketchy, Grandal is 3-for-3 in using spring training to tell us about whether he’ll be able to summon any kind of expected offense out of the gate. I wouldn’t give that a ton of weight, but I felt inspired to look it up when going through Statcast’s new catcher blocking metric, because the three years of data are similarly blunt about Grandal’s steep decline.

You can read about the uses of the tool here, and you can start generating your own reports here, but here are Grandal’s run values in blocking during his time on the South Side:

  • 2020: +1
  • 2021: -3
  • 2022: -11

You might be surprised to find that Grandal was ever considered an average blocker of balls, but the breakdown on the leaderboard makes sense to me. He created all his values on tough chances, which jibes with the eye test suggesting he let his guard down on easier chances, or turned rather routine pitches into passed balls because of his attempt to frame them.

Nobody would be surprised to see that Grandal allowed a whopping 36 passed pitches in 2022 when the data only estimated 25 because everything about his game was rickety.

Grandal says he feels way better this spring, and you don’t even need to suspend skepticism to acknowledge why that could be the case. He doesn’t have any new surgeries to rehab, and there aren’t any interruptions like a pandemic or a lockout to interfere with his physical preparation. The lack of radical infield shifting should also reward his best swings, so that’s another point in his favor.

The skepticism starts when predicting how much Grandal will contribute once the games count, because all it takes is one wrong step or awkward twist to aggravate his knees or back, and his base will evaporate once more. There’s even silver lining here for the pessimists, because if the precedent holds, the Statcast tool should be suitable for sizing up against the untrained scouting reports, and we can at least be informed grumps.

There’s also some upside with the White Sox’s other catcher. Seby Zavala strikes out a ton and lacks a great arm, but he provides a true complement for Grandal in this department thanks to some major improvement:

  • 2021: -7 over 1,012 opportunities
  • 2022: +4 over 2,031 opportunities

It’d be great if Zavala could hold these gains because you can pair it with his decent framing to present him as a defense-first catcher, which then mitigates the effects of his 30-percent strikeout rate and team-worst contact rate. Ideally, a backup catcher defends well enough that there’s always a reason to play him, even if everybody would prefer to see less of him. Zavala’s arm probably is what it is, but it’s cool to see him doing what he can to shore up the rest of his game.

It’s also cool to see Zavala hitting 5-for-16 with two homers and four walks in 22 spring plate appearances this year. If either one of these catchers can turn Cactus League results into regular-season success, they should have enough production to last the year.

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HallofFrank

Even before the spring, Grandal is one of my sources of optimism. He’s my candidate for White Sox Comeback POY (and that’s actually saying something, since there are several candidates). I can buy that he’s aging and injuries are catching up to him. I can buy that he’ll be injured some in 2023. I can buy that he’s declining. But I can’t buy that he went from a 158 wRC+ hitter to a 68 wRC+ hitter in about 7 months.

I don’t expect him to get back to where he was in ’20/’21. But if he can hike that wRC+ back up over 100 wRC+, that’s a huge boost to this offense.

upnorthsox

I think you are forgetting how terrible he was the 1st half of ’21. Had it not been for a high walk rate and a power surge in June (neither of which translated to 2022), last year may have actually been an improvement.
Still he’s looking good this spring, hopefully it holds up.

HallofFrank

Uh, what? He had a .824 OPS and a 131 wRC+ in the first half of ’21.

Augusto Barojas

Grandal only caught 71 games last year, I don’t see how he’s going to surpass that by a lot at his age even if he worked hard this witner. Catching is just a brutally tough gig. Realistically Zavala will probably wind up catching between 60 and 100 games, hopefully they won’t need more from him than that. I’m curious if he can duplicate any of his hitting success, it is not unlikely that he winds up catching more games than Grandal.

HallofFrank

Well, he should surpass that as long as he avoids devastating injury. He only caught 71 games because of the extended absence. If he’s available for, say, 140 games (so suppose he misses a month), then I’d expect him to catch around 100 games. So 60-ish games of Seby is probably a good expectation.

Augusto Barojas

It would be nice, but Grandal has been hurt half the time since the Sox signed him. He only caught 32 games in 2020, 80 in 2021, and 71 last year, literally less than half the games during his entire Sox tenure. That’s a trend. The idea that he’s going to exceed all of that miraculously in year 4 and catch 100, at age 34, does not seem probable or reasonable to expect to me. I think Seby is more likely to catch 100 games than Grandal, of the two. Will probably be more like 80/80, but I highly doubt Grandal is good for 100. I think his days as full time catcher are gone.

HallofFrank

He played in 46 out of 60 games in ’20. That’s a full season, for a catcher. He didn’t catch as much because McCann was still around, catching Giolito’s starts (+).

But fair enough. “Expect” may be a bit too strong. It’d be far from “miraculous.” If he avoids major injury (misses more than a month), a reasonable over/under is probably 90-95. But 80/80 is probably a better starting point for expectations. ZiPS likes him to play 109 games. I’d take that, I think, with 25 or so split between 1B/DH.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I think he would have been a deserving All-Star in 2021.

StockroomSnail

I hope they’re fighting hard in the locker room for that CPOTY…. trophy?

ParisSox

All this positivity!

tommytwonines

I’m worried they won’t be able to hold runners or throw them out – which is always magnified come playoff time.

Look for another catcher come trade deadline.

a-t

Nobody cares about stolen bases when a catcher frames and hits like Grandal has done for almost all of his career.

FishSox

Don’t you think stolen bases are going to be a bigger factor with this years rule changes?

a-t

Than before, sure, probably somewhat. But we’re not anywhere close to going back to the 70s-80s level of running, because the math says that the extra base vs the risk of losing a baserunner and an out is not worth it unless you’re *really* good at stealing bases; it’s only a net benefit for the offense if it’s around 72-75% for stealing 2nd. Career wise, Grandal’s given up a 75% success rate. So only barely in the red.

Longer-term, if we look at DRS from catchers from cutting down base-stealers, since ‘19 Realmuto is 1st w a bullet at +19 rSB; no. 2 is +6 rSB. Over that timeframe, 6 catchers have provided more defensive value from their framing than Realmuto’s extreme outlier rSB, among them Yaz and Realmuto himself; 29 have accumulated more value from framing than the no. 2 +6 rSB ranking.

Conversely, the gap between worst and best rSB (-11, Suzuki, vs + 19) is HALF the gap of the worst and best framing values (-31.9, Salvy Perez, vs + 30.8, Austin Hedges). This is, again, being generous to rSB’s importance by including Realmuto’s lone giant outlier mark.

Yaz is at -5 rSB and +25.3 FRM since ‘19. So they could steal twice as much and it’s still not an issue. Plus, ofc, there’s the old adage that bases are stolen off the pitcher not catcher.

Joliet Orange Sox

Isn’t it possible that pitchers not being able to throw over repeatedly will allow some speedsters to get the jump they need to make the risk/reward calculation favor running (especially after the pitcher can’t throw over again)?

a-t

Sure, but if they’re fast and getting great jumps off the pitcher, no catcher (besides maybe Realmuto apparently) is gonna hose them. Still the pitcher’s responsibility here, it seems to me

FishSox

100% agree on pitchers holding runners. I believe the math is going to change however with the pitch clock and limited number of throws to 1b. I remain skeptical about the base size increase factoring in to a significant degree.

Thanks for the explanation and comparison of framing stats.

tommytwonines

Maybe you should rewatch the Sox-Astros playoff series in 2021. You might care then.

a-t

Went and re-checked those box scores. I see: 4 SB for the Astros, but 18 walks and 11 XBH for them in those 4 games. They had 0 SB the first two games, 1 the 3rd game, and 3 in the final rout (all off Kopech). Pretty clear to me that the 1 SB/game was not remotely why the Sox got doused. So, no, I still do not care!

tommytwonines

They could have stolen a lot more bags those first two games but kept taking the free passes and clobbered meatball pitches and got some big, early leads which negated the need to steal.

Again, maybe you should rewatch the Sox-Astros playoff series in 2021. You might care then.

a-t

taking walks and crushing meatballs is a lot better at putting runs on the board than stealing bases. hence a catcher that can (1) steal strikes to help prevent those and (2) take walks and crush meatballs himself is more important than a catcher with a noodle bat/howitzer arm combo.

ParisSox

I meant with all of the recent articles on here.

Bonus Baby

It’s always the same old song with this team, but I expect if he can stay healthy he’ll have a great year.

Here’s hoping that he can avoid injuries, and if he can’t, at least the new coaching staff can deal with it better than the Sox did the last couple of years.

calcetinesblancos

Seby hit .270/.347/.382 last year and I actually really like him as a hitter. I also think his ability to focus last season when a lot of the team seemed to take the year off says a lot about him.

jorgefabregas

Apparently Giolito had a nice outing in the B-game yesterday.
https://chicago.suntimes.com/white-sox/2023/3/16/23643802/lucas-giolito-keeps-things-moving-looks-sharp-in-b-game

I have not really thought about Jesse Scholtens in terms of starting pitching depth, but the article mentions that he has had a nice spring. According to BRef, it’s been mostly against AAA-level hitting, which is not too bad in terms of opponent quality in the Cactus League.

He also had a nice few outings as a swingman in LIDOM this winter. I believe he has all of his options if they need to call him up for a spot-start or mop-up duty during the season.

hitlesswonder

Just to puncture all this optimism, RotoGraphs has Giolito and Cease as the first two pitchers mentioned in their biggest loser post. tl;dr Giolito isn’t good without sticky stuff and Cease is OK but last year was a fluke – he is not top a 50 SP. Both cases are pretty solidly backed up with data…

Augusto Barojas

It will be hard to see Cease come close to duplicating the success he had (ERA in the low 2’s) if he doesn’t get his walks under control big time. But I think he’s made huge strides and will be good even if he isn’t as great as last year. Probably an ERA around 3, he’s got filthy stuff. At least he should be healthy.

I gotta believe Giolito will be decent as well. He’s got ace stuff when he’s right, and is in a contract year. I hope he and Lynn do well enough that they can get something for them via trade mid summer before they both leave and they get nothing. Hopefully Lynn can stay healthy that long.

jorgefabregas

You say that Cease is not a top-50 SP and link to an article with 4 projection systems that rank him as 25th, 18th, 18th, and 21st.

a-t

Top 50 roto draft pick, not top 50 SP

jorgefabregas

I don’t see a meaningful difference there in this case. He’s 19th for pitchers in the Fangraphs depth charts. And in the 20s for ATC and THE BAT.

Last edited 1 year ago by jorgefabregas
jorgefabregas

nevermind, I misread your comment a-t

hitlesswonder

You’re right, I misread:
” it is nice to know I’m not the only one having top-50 doubts about him”.

He meant unsure about cease being a top 50 roto pick.

Patrick Nolan

I’m sorry but any measurement that has the AL Cy Young runner-up as “not a top 50 SP” has deeply, deeply screwed up.

Edit: I didn’t read the thread first….

Last edited 1 year ago by Patrick Nolan
a-t

This has been an unreasonably positive spring so far. Our WBC studs are looking great and not hurt, Grandal and Colás are bashing, Gio looks primed to bounce back big-time, Kopech’s been sparkling, a couple of the reliever additions look to be starting fast, and he who shall not be named appears to be fully healthy between velo bouncing back and striking a lot of guys out.

SpringerDinger!

(Forgetting Sarah) Marshall just signed with the Halos on a minor league deal. It’s unfortunate the he got the cast off treatment after his injury (same with Jimmy Cordero to a lesser extent) as I always felt he was a solid mid-leverage relief arm.

Last edited 1 year ago by SpringerDinger!
Patrick Nolan

This is good to see and why I didn’t think the Sox needed to bring in a catcher. Between these two guys and Perez they have plenty of upside and depth at the position.

FishSox

Watching Cubs Sox yesterday, Stone was commenting on how the short hop into second base was catching on as a technique because it’s easy to field and keeps the ball low, into the runner.

StockroomSnail

Good D and the occasional power aren’t a bad profile for a backup catcher at all.