Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk strikes out a lot but are we seeing some improvements?
June 21st, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins was interviewed on the Birds All Day podcast. Among the many topics covered, Atkins mentioned Randal Grichuk and the work he had been putting in to improve his plate discipline: “he’s trying to make a very difficult adjustment right now to be a more disciplined hitter.” While he made a lot of interesting comments during the interview, that was the one that stuck in my mind the most.
I’ve long been a fan of Grichuk’s and striking out less has long been the main thing he’s needed to do to become a legit everyday outfielder—in his 305 plate appearances prior to June 21st, his strikeout rate was 29.2%, a ways above the 2019 MLB average (22.8%). So I made a mental note to check in on Grichuk’s progress as the season wore on.
Since the day the interview was uploaded, Grichuk has struck out in 22.6% of his plate appearances (252 PA, including Sunday’s loss to the Rays). For context, 122 MLB batters had at least 200 plate appearances both before and after June 21st. Only five of these batters saw their strikeout rate fall by a greater amount than Grichuk’s did.
A key reason behind this improvement is that Grichuk has meaningfully improved his approach in two-strike counts, both swinging and whiffing less often at pitches clearly out of the zone (defined as pitches in the chase or waste attack zones, as per Statcast). Before June 21st, Grichuk swung at 38.4% of such pitches—the 19th-highest rate among 248 batters who saw at least 75 two-strike pitches in the chase or waste zones—and whiffed on 26.1% of these pitches, the fifth-highest mark in the majors. However, since June 21st, he’s cut back on these swings a lot, offering at only 30.3% of these pitches (86th-highest among 223 batters who faced 75+ such pitches) and whiffing on only 13.6% of them (106th-highest).
This decreased whiffing on two-strike chase/waste pitches has, unsurprisingly, been key to his decreased strikeout rate. If he had continued to whiff on these pitches at the same rate he had prior to June 21st, I estimate he would have racked up an extra 16.5 strikeouts over his last 252 plate appearances and posted a 29.2% strikeout rate, no different than the strikeout rate he posted over his first 305 plate appearances this season.
Grichuk has also been more effective when faced with a two-strike pitch in or around the zone (defined by Statcast as pitches in the heart or shadow attack zones). He’s been both more aggressive on these pitches (increasing his swing rate from 80.6% to 84.5%) and less whiff-prone (decreasing his swing and miss rate from 19.9% to 14.9%). These improvements have likely also helped him avoid a few strikeouts over the last couple months.
It’s worth pointing out that Grichuk has only managed a 92 wRC+ since June 21st, in spite of these improvements. That said, Statcast provides evidence that bad batted ball luck has been an issue for him—while his overall production (.315 wOBA) has lagged the league average since June 21st (.328 wOBA), his expected overall production (.317 xwOBA) has been very slightly better than the league average (.315 xwOBA). Indeed, like his strikeout rate, Grichuk is posting an improved xwOBA on batted balls since June 21st (.382 before vs. .388 since).
Obviously, when it comes to improvements at the plate, the only thing harder than making them is keeping them. Last season, Grichuk posted a 21.8% strikeout rate from June 1st (his return from the IL) through the end of August, before striking out 37.4% of the time in September. As such, only time will tell if Grichuk has established a new (and improved) normal with respect to his strikeout rate. This development, if it is sustainable, would be a boost to the Blue Jays’ short- and medium-term fortunes.
*Featured Image Credit: Mueller
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.