We can all agree that Yasmani Grandal has had a horrific start to his 2022 season and is one of the leading catalysts behind the Chicago White Sox’s poor offensive production to date. To this point, Grandal is slashing a putrid .163/.271/.218. In fact, he is the only qualified hitter in the sport with an OPS below .500. Raise your hands if you saw that coming based on his performance in the second half last season.
I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around all of this and figure out if father time has caught up to the 33-year-old backstop. Or could the decline be attributed to two knee procedures in the last 12 months zapping him of his power? What I found left me confused, bewildered, and with fewer answers than when I started.
The Eye Test
I’ll admit, in recent weeks watching Yaz’s at-bats has been painful. To the naked eye, it seemed to me like he was missing pitches with more regularity and simply not hitting the ball as hard or elevating as frequently as he has been accustomed to doing. One of the great things about the interwebs is it allows you to go to places like Fangraphs or BaseballSavant (don’t cringe, Anthony) to find out if what you think you are seeing is, in fact true.
With Yasmani Grandal, a number of narratives that have flooded social media and the naked eye simply don’t add up. My hypothesis that he doesn’t have his legs under him and it is stripping him of his ability to make quality contact is one such thing.
|Exit Velocity||Launch Angle||Hard Hit%||K%||BB%|
Looking at the data above, everything is essentially in line during 2022 with his career norms. Surprisingly, Yaz is putting the ball in play more frequently than his career averages and the quality of that contact, aside from a half degree in launch angle, is spot on with where he has been since coming into the big leagues. This information makes the fact that he has BABIP of .200 on the season all the more vexing.
What about his swing frequency? A lot of people that simply don’t like Yaz because of his plate approach love to complain that he doesn’t swing the bat enough. So could a decrease in Swing% and swinging at the wrong pitches be the culprit?
What does the information above tell us? Grandal is actually swinging the bat slightly more than he has historically, while making contact more frequently both inside and, most notably, outside the strike zone. A lot of White Sox fans have piled on Yaz in recent weeks saying that he is letting a lot of hittable pitches go by without even making a pass at them. If you actually research the topic, you’ll find that the narrative simply doesn’t hold water.
The one glaring change with Grandal this season is the uptick in his O-Contact% (contact on pitches outside the strike zone). Perhaps in an effort to jumpstart his season, he is making a conscious effort to swing at pitches outside the zone that he would typically resist. This would align with the decline in his overall BB% that sits a couple of percentage points below his career norm, but a full 10% below where he was in 2021.
What Does It All Mean?
99% of people reading this aren’t going to like my next statement. But Yasmani Grandal is largely being a victim of bad luck to start the season. He currently is sporting a BABIP of .200 that is a full 74 points below his career average, while none of his underlying metrics show a precipitous decline in many of the inputs that get to that metric.
He’s hitting the ball as hard as he has throughout his career, and elevating the baseball in the same typical range that we’ve seen from him. This is truly one of the most bizarre starts to a season I’ve ever seen and it really defies all logic when you break things down.
I know a lot of people within the fan base will roll their eyes at this and simply look at the low batting average and slugging numbers and use them as fodder to say that Grandal shouldn’t be in the lineup or worse, removed from the roster. Many of those same people ignored similar signs with Jose Abreu as the calendar flipped to May, only to be now extolling the virtues of the Cuban slugger.
Grandal and Abreu were two of the leading candidates that were expected to see an uptick in their numbers due to their batted ball data not matching up with their actual results. One player has seen the correction take place, while the other is still waiting.
Baseball can be really weird sometimes, so perhaps we don’t see the correction with Grandal in 2022. If you have the mental capacity to not get hung up on superficial numbers that your fathers/grandfathers/Little League coaches preached 60 years ago, you can see just how strange this situation is.
Again, I’m not guaranteeing that Grandal is going to turn his season around and revert back to the middle-of-the-order masher he has been during his career. I’ve seen enough weird baseball seasons in my all or part of five different decades observing this game to know that it may well not take place. But this is an example of perception not necessarily aligning with reality.
The results ultimately are what matters in the game of baseball and they haven’t been there for the Chicago White Sox or Yasmani Grandal so far in 2022. There are a number of indicators that suggest that could well change here at any moment. Whether they do or not remains to be seen. If they do, it would go a long way toward the South Siders breaking out of the offensive funk they’ve been in thus far and better position them to make a push for a second consecutive division title.
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