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Was it all a mirage for Randal Grichuk?

Randal Grichuk started this abbreviated season hot. The first 11 games he was hitting .289 with a .372 on-base percentage.  Great numbers no doubt, but the question remained, as it did for a lot of the Blue Jays where is the power? Grichuk responded by rattling off six home runs over his next six games. Putting everything together, Grichuk had a line of .297/.339/.576 good for a .379 wOBA and a 141 wRC+, through August.

Grichuk was looking like the player he was in 2018. Since the calendar flipped to September, it’s been a different story. In 14 games Grichuk has hit just .204/.246/.241 a .220 wOBA and a 31 wRC+. The question then becomes, was August just a mirage for Grichuk? Or have the pitchers just made an adjustment to his strong start and now he needs to adjust back?

I wrote back in February how Grichuk altered his swing for the 2019 season and how he got away from his strengths, particularly hitting fastballs and hitting pitches down. I suggested he revert back to that 2018 swing and hunt fastballs. I noted how he altered his swing to increase contact, but with that noted that his bat speed appeared to have slowed down as he was hitting the ball the other way, and doing less damage on fastballs.

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In 2020 Grichuk has gone back to a swing more resembling what he used in 2018. His bat speed seems to have come back as well as he is making contact at a career high 78.2%, per Fangraphs. This is attributed to a 70.9% outside zone contact rate, well above his career average of 56.4%. His swinging strike rate is down to a career low at 10.9% as his is strikeout rate at 22.3%.

The perception around Grichuk is that he is a fastball hitter, who struggles with breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Given his success this season you would expect that he is pounding fastballs but in fact the opposite is true.

Randal Grichuk wRC+ by Pitch Type

Fastball Cutter Sinker Change-up Slider Curve
2018 147 168 204 125 78 46
2019 96 185 219 56 76 -1
2020 98 254 109 76 147 78

 

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Much like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. last season, Grichuk has become a destroyer of sliders. Grichuk has had 36 at bats end on a slider; he has homered on four of them and struck out on just six. He chasing sliders outside of the zone less but making more contact when he does expand the zone. When the pitch is in the zone Grichuk has been hitting them a long way.

Pitchers are quick to make adjustments and seeing Grichuk destroy sliders,  you would think pitchers would alter their approach to throw more fastballs and fewer breaking balls.

 

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Fastball Cutter Sinker Change-up Slider Curve
July-August 27.1% 8.6% 16.1% 14.8% 17.8% 14.4%
September 29.1% 9.0% 19.1% 10.6% 21.2% 11.1%

 

Grichuk is seeing more fastballs and higher velocity pitches, but he’s also seen an increase in sliders, which doesn’t really make sense until you realize Grichuk is hitting just .182 with a .273 slugging against sliders this month, per Baseball Savant.

Grichuk had success with the slider before because he was getting sliders out over the plate and as we saw in the clip above, hitting them a long way.

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In September pitchers have been better with their control, not hanging as many sliders and getting them more down in the zone, and Grichuk has struggled.

Was it all a mirage for Randal Grichuk, yes and no. He was able to have a really strong month thanks to pitchers leaving sliders out over the strike zone and Grichuk didn’t miss them. He has slowed down as pitchers have been making better pitches and not leaving as many sliders out over the plate. The good news is that Grichuk’s skills haven’t changed at all. He is still making a ton of contact and striking out less than he ever has. It’s just a matter of time before Grichuk gets hot again and starts hitting.