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Robbie Grossman does not want to swing on 3-2

Examining his league-leading passivity in full counts.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins outfielder Robbie Grossman
Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

As I’m sure you read in my column from earlier this week examining 2016’s leaders in different categories in 3-2 counts, Robbie Grossman took a much different approach than most players when the count was full.

Among players who saw both 1500 total pitches, and had at least 50 plate appearances that ended in a 3-2 count, Grossman led the league in both walk rate (48.8 percent; league average: 30.4 percent) and called strikeout rate (13.3 percent; league average: 4.7 percent). When Grossman had the opportunity to take a pitch in a full count, he almost always did so.

Perhaps this chart will put Grossman’s passivity in simpler terms:

You should be able to hover over each point in that scatter plot and see where every player that met our 1500 pitch/50 3-2 PA threshold lands, but if not, you can still easily find Grossman. There he is in the top right corner, the Babe Ruth of this very specific category.

But perhaps a chart isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re more of a list person. If that’s true, then let’s create a simple metric that will quantify Grossman’s full count approach and see how it stacks up relative to the rest of the league.

We'll call it take rate. It’s simply (3-2 walks + 3-2 called strikes), all divided by total 3-2 pitches. For example, in 105 full count pitches, Grossman walked 41 times and went down looking another 14 times. So 55 times he watched the pitch go by without taking the bat off his shoulder. Divide 55 by 105, and you get a take rate of 52.4 percent. Easy enough, right?

Here’s a list of the top ten in take rate from 2016, as well as the league average (min: 1500 total pitches seen):

Take% Top Ten

Name Team 3-2 Pitches BB 3-2 CS Take Take%
Name Team 3-2 Pitches BB 3-2 CS Take Take%
Robbie Grossman MIN 105 41 14 55 52.38%
Jose Bautista TOR 148 51 13 64 43.24%
Kirk Nieuwenhuis MIL 85 32 3 35 41.18%
Kris Bryant CHC 137 43 11 54 39.42%
Adam Duvall CIN 89 24 11 35 39.33%
Jason Castro HOU 84 25 8 33 39.29%
Joc Pederson LAD 107 33 9 42 39.25%
Brandon Belt SFG 203 65 13 78 38.42%
Chris Davis BAL 159 42 18 60 37.74%
Avisail Garcia CHW 71 21 5 26 36.62%
League Average MLB 113 25 5 30 26.55%

So if that scatter plot didn’t do it for you, that list should. Grossman blew away the rest of the league, and he basically doubled the league-average Take% on 3-2.

Number one, I hope you find that as fascinating as I do. It kind of blew me away when I first realized it. But once I got over that, my next thought was to see whether this was a one-year fluke, or if whether Grossman’s 3-2 approach in 2016 is generally how he’s approached full counts his entire career.

In order to answer that question I had to do some digging on Baseball Savant. Here’s what I found:

Grossman career 3-2 approach

Year Total Pitches 3-2 Pitches 3-2% 3-2 BB 3-2 BB% 3-2 CS 3-2 CS% Take Take%
Year Total Pitches 3-2 Pitches 3-2% 3-2 BB 3-2 BB% 3-2 CS 3-2 CS% Take Take%
2016 1635 105 6.42% 41 39.0% 14 13.33% 55 52.4%
2015 216 13 6.02% 3 23.1% 1 7.69% 4 30.8%
2014 1776 134 7.55% 41 30.6% 11 8.21% 52 38.8%
2013 1071 56 5.23% 15 26.8% 7 12.50% 22 39.3%
Career 4698 308 6.56% 100 32.5% 33 10.71% 133 43.2%

You can see that while 2016 was certainly the highest Take% of Grossman’s short career by a wide margin, he’s generally taken a passive 3-2 approach since his debut in 2013. That career mark of 43.2% would have ranked basically tied for second last year, and the 39-ish percent Grossman put up in his other two full seasons (2013 and 2014) would have put him squarely in the top ten.

So it does appear that, yes, the passivity Grossman displayed on 3-2 in 2016 does say something about his full count approach in general. Should he get a similar number of at-bats in 2017 — and he plays for the Twins, so he probably will — we can probably expect to see him finish high in this category again.

Just to satisfy our curiosity, though, exactly how much of an outlier is Grossman on 3-2 when we look at not just 2016, but from 2013 to today? Can anyone touch his ability to leave the bat on their shoulder?

To A) get a reliable sample size, and B) narrow this list to likely competitors for Grossman’s crown, I looked only at players who, since 2013, had at least 200 plate appearances that ended in a full count, and had at least a 35 percent walk rate and 15 percent strikeout rate in those situations. That gave me a list of 30 players, including Grossman, who met that criteria.

So again, let’s start with a scatter plot:

Plot 25

And here is an expanded version of that data in organizable list form:

Top 30 Take% since 2013 (Min: 200 PA)

Season Name Team PA BB BB% Pitches 3-2 Pitches 3-2% 3-2 CS 3-2 CS% Take Take%
Season Name Team PA BB BB% Pitches 3-2 Pitches 3-2% 3-2 CS 3-2 CS% Take Take%
2013-16 Robbie Grossman 2 Tms 242 100 41.3% 4698 308 6.6% 33 10.7% 133 43.2%
2013-16 Joc Pederson LAD 213 80 37.6% 4622 274 5.9% 27 9.9% 107 39.1%
2013-16 Shin-Soo Choo 2 Tms 386 146 37.8% 8620 509 5.9% 48 9.4% 194 38.1%
2013-16 Lucas Duda NYM 276 98 35.5% 7018 373 5.3% 35 9.4% 133 35.7%
2013-16 Chris Davis BAL 436 155 35.6% 10409 584 5.6% 54 9.2% 209 35.8%
2013-16 Brad Miller 2 Tms 223 90 40.4% 6721 290 4.3% 26 9.0% 116 40.0%
2013-16 George Springer HOU 275 97 35.3% 6114 361 5.9% 30 8.3% 127 35.2%
2013-16 Brandon Belt SFG 395 141 35.7% 8242 571 6.9% 41 7.2% 182 31.9%
2013-16 Dexter Fowler 3 Tms 442 166 37.6% 9291 616 6.6% 43 7.0% 209 33.9%
2013-16 Alex Avila 2 Tms 283 109 38.5% 5339 387 7.2% 26 6.7% 135 34.9%
2013-16 Kris Bryant CHC 233 92 39.5% 5362 303 5.7% 20 6.6% 112 37.0%
2013-16 Coco Crisp 2 Tms 279 102 36.6% 6934 386 5.6% 24 6.2% 126 32.6%
2013-16 Jarrod Saltalamacchia 4 Tms 251 91 36.3% 5787 325 5.6% 19 5.8% 110 33.8%
2013-16 Jose Bautista TOR 458 191 41.7% 9911 636 6.4% 34 5.3% 225 35.4%
2013-16 A.J. Ellis 2 Tms 212 76 35.8% 5118 281 5.5% 15 5.3% 91 32.4%
2013-16 Josh Donaldson 2 Tms 477 170 35.6% 11180 625 5.6% 33 5.3% 203 32.5%
2013-16 Joey Votto CIN 544 224 41.2% 10106 712 7.0% 37 5.2% 261 36.7%
2013-16 Gregor Blanco SFG 218 79 36.2% 6168 295 4.8% 15 5.1% 94 31.9%
2013-16 Mark Teixeira NYY 239 90 37.7% 5957 345 5.8% 17 4.9% 107 31.0%
2013-16 Adam LaRoche 2 Tms 267 97 36.3% 6672 374 5.6% 18 4.8% 115 30.7%
2013-16 John Jaso 3 Tms 210 75 35.7% 4941 292 5.9% 14 4.8% 89 30.5%
2013-16 Yasmani Grandal 2 Tms 247 89 36.0% 6020 338 5.6% 16 4.7% 105 31.1%
2013-16 Carlos Santana CLE 523 184 35.2% 11251 704 6.3% 33 4.7% 217 30.8%
2013-16 Miguel Cabrera DET 325 118 36.3% 9451 449 4.8% 20 4.5% 138 30.7%
2013-16 Jackie Bradley Jr. BOS 206 73 35.4% 5658 275 4.9% 12 4.4% 85 30.9%
2013-16 Matt Holliday STL 273 113 41.4% 7312 371 5.1% 16 4.3% 129 34.8%
2013-16 Nick Swisher 2 Tms 206 81 39.3% 5240 265 5.1% 11 4.2% 92 34.7%
2013-16 Bryce Harper WSN 349 138 39.5% 8723 462 5.3% 19 4.1% 157 34.0%
2013-16 Chris Iannetta 2 Tms 290 128 44.1% 5873 400 6.8% 14 3.5% 142 35.5%
2013-16 Freddie Freeman ATL 384 138 35.9% 9874 542 5.5% 16 3.0% 154 28.4%

Regardless of which of those two charts/lists you prefer, it’s clear that Grossman is still the king of taking a pitch on 3-2. He’s perhaps not ahead to the extent he was in 2016 alone, but really only Brad Miller is even in the same realm as Grossman over the course of the latter’s career.

As you might expect, just about every player on these lists has a patient approach in general. Grossman is no exception: For his career, he’s run a 12 percent walk rate, and he swings far less — both in and out of the zone — than the average player. Despite making contact at just an average rate, and not hitting the ball all that hard when he does, that ultra-cautious approach has made Grossman a serviceable big-league hitter overall.

Since we’re specifically focusing on Grossman’s full count approach, let’s take a look his career zone profile in those situations, singling out the pitches on which he did not make contact:

robbie-grossman-minnesota-twins-houston-astros-3-2
Robbie Grossman 3-2
Baseball Savant

Grossman has chased some pitches outside the zone, but his ability to read a pitch out of the pitcher’s hand is typically pretty sound. Even the majority of the called strikes are typically on the borderline. You seldom see him just let a hittable 3-2 pitch go by.

That approach has made him a well-above-average hitter in full counts. Even though he does take strike three a lot, his overall 3-2 strikeout rate (26 percent) is pretty average, and all of those walks he earns far outweighs his strikeouts anyway. That has led to a career 174 wRC+ in full counts, 32 points above the league average for non-pitchers since 2013.

As far as what this portends for Grossman’s career going forward, I’m not sure it says much of anything. You shouldn’t trade for him in your dynasty league because you now know that he doesn’t like to swing in full counts. This isn’t meant to be that sort of analysis.

Rather, it’s a reminder that even in the highly curated, one percent of one percent of the population that is major league baseball players, there are still little things that make these guys unique. It’s a fun fact stretched to 1100+ words.

Leading the league in take rate won’t earn Grossman a nine-figure contract, but he can at least say he’s the greatest in the world at this one thing, and that’s pretty cool, whether he knows about it or not. Next time you’re watching the Twins and Grossman takes a walk or a called strike three in a 3-2 count, you’ll be able to say you’ve seen that greatness in action.

. . .

Joe Clarkin is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Clarkin.