Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays might be pleasantly surprised by the start to the 2021 season Randal Grichuk is having.
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The Toronto Blue Jays have had to deal with so many injuries to their pitching staff, it might be easy to get carried away with the frustration. The fact that they are a game over .500 speaks to, at least in part, the job the bats have done. One of those contributing is Randal Grichuk. Typically a guy who gets off to slow starts at the plate, he has been a pleasant surprise this far in 2021.
Grichuk has been one of the more consistent hitters in this Blue Jays lineup to start the 2021 season. In 33 games, he has put up a wRC+ of 129, a line of .295/.336/.492 with 6 HR, 28 RBI and an fWAR of 0.8. At first glance, these are surprising numbers. Consider that his career wRC+ mark is 106 and his career OBP is .297. It is no stretch to say that he is performing at a higher level than we’re used to seeing.
Digging a little deeper, we see that he is not pulling the ball as much. His Pull% is just 29% compared to a 47.3% career rate. Rather than pulling the ball, he is using the ‘up the middle’ approach at a rate (48%) far above his career mark of 30.9%. Looking at his Statcast data, we are seeing some more positive signs.
His average Exit Velocity (EV) (89.6 mph) is up a tick over last year and his launch angle has increased by about 5 degrees to 17. Sometimes, when a guy tries to increase his launch angle, it can actually cause some serious damage to their numbers. Travis Shaw is a perfect example of that, which I wrote about previously.
Perhaps the biggest difference we’re seeing is the decrease in strike outs. Grichuk has a career K% of 27.2%. For years, fans have been frustrated by watching him fan nearly a third of the time. Sure, the home run power is nice, but the all or nothing approach has been difficult to put up with. But, in 2021, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. His K% is just 17.6% and his BB% is up to 6.1%. His wing rates are interesting as well. He’s seeing nearly the same amount of offerings in and out of the zone, but is making much more contact with what comes into the zone. His Z-Swing% is up to 76.8% and Z-Contact% is up to 92.3%, which are both career highs. His CSW% (Called + Swinging Strike) is down this year to 22.8%, which is well below his career mark.
Looking at the following charts from Brooks Baseball, we see that the opposition’s approach to Grichuk hasn’t significantly changed this year. The image on the left is his 2021 profile and on the right is his career profile.
This tells me that Grichuk has made some adjustments on his own. He has made a conscious efforts to adjust his approach at the plate, to use the field more, to be more aggressive in the zone and the results are paying off for him. The real question is whether this is a permanent change.
Looking at his career numbers, Grichuk might be what you would call a slow starter. In the first month of the season, his career numbers aren’t great: .218/.283/.400, 27.1% K%, 82 wRC+. We typically see Grichuk get off to a slow start and then gradually heat up with the weather, peaking in August. So, when we look at his start to the 2021 season, we can’t dismiss it as a guy just having a hot streak. He doesn’t have these kinds of hot streaks this early in the season.
Time will tell whether the changes we’re seeing are for real, or a one off hot start to the season for Randal Grichuk. If what we’re seeing now is for real, the decision to extend him for 5 yrs/$50M is looking much better than it did previously. Considering all the injuries, etc Toronto is dealing with, let’s hope these adjustments are permanent.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.