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Randal Grichuk’s problem pitch

Randal Grichuk needs to lay off the low-and-away slider.

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

When my little sister first began watching baseball last season, I explained three Cardinal truisms:

  1. If it rains, Michael Wacha is probably starting.
  2. You’re more likely to see a live dinosaur than see Yadier Molina successfully bunt.
  3. Randal Grichuk will swing at the slider on the low-and-outside part of the plate

Here are all the sliders Randal Grichuk saw during the 2015 and 2016 seasons:

They are concentrated on the lower-outside portion of the plate. Those two boxes in the lower-right corner are Grichuk’s problem zone and are the biggest pain point for him when it comes to pitch recognition. Pitchers throw their sliders down because odds are that he will swing:

Grichuk faced 207 pitches on the low-and-outside corner. He swung more than half the time. Of those 108 swings, he whiffed on 70. For every three pitches Grichuk swung at in that zone, he missed two of them. Of those 207 total pitches, he has only put the ball in play 56 times. His batting average on those pitches, surprise surprise, is not great.

Grichuk eked out a .125 BABIP on all pitches low and away. Of the ones he swung at, that figure cratered to .065. The solution? Lay off the slider in that part of the zone. Just don’t swing! The Cardinals’ hitting coach, John Mabry, said as much last April:

“That’s where [Grichuk] was getting into trouble a lot of times — swinging.”

Grichuk appeared to figure that out last April, by practicing pitch recognition with a faulty pitching machine. He settled into his stance and watch the pitch go by, calling out ball or strike as soon as he figured it out. It worked for a bit.

In the four games before the Hack Attack and its just-off sliders entered his life, Grichuk went one-for-14 with eight strikeouts ... Since re-calibrating his eye, he has [gone] five-for-11 with a home run, six walks, and a .909 slugging percentage in his next four games.

After that article was written, Grichuk began whiffing at those pitches again to the tune of a 51% rate.

His BABIP dropped to .100. He got on base with three out of 127 in total. He was then sent down to triple-A Memphis in mid-June. They identified the problem: Grichuk is swinging at pitches he can’t hit.

Randal Grichuk saw 369 total sliders last season and 124 of them came with two strikes. That’s 34% of all sliders he sees. That qualifies as a legitime out pitch. Of those 124, 44 resulted in a strikeout and only seven resulted in a hit. He needs to recognize that pitch, especially down and away, and learn to lay off because it almost never leads to a positive outcome.

In 2016, Grichuk hit .254 on all non-slider pitches, though he still didn’t have any success in that problem zone. Of all the pitches he sees low-and-away, 38% are sliders. It’s effective because it’s not a pitch he can easily muscle over the head of an outfielder or hit hard enough to scoot through the infield. He relies heavily on his power, and the slider is one of the most effective pitches at neutralizing that ability:

Pitch Type Count SLG ISO
Fourseam 678 .496 .282
Sinker 299 .549 .225
Change 183 .404 .192
Slider 369 .430 .228
Curve 193 .480 .220
Cutter 90 .609 .261

We know Grichuk likes the ball down in the zone:

If he learns to stay away from the slider in that problem zone, especially with two strikes, he will start extending at-bats and taking more walks. We know this because of the high percentage of sliders he sees with two strikes. (With the way the Cardinals tend to run the bases, they need Grichuk on base.) That will force pitchers to bring the ball back to the heart of the plate, and then his power can really shine. With the departure of Brandon Moss and the Cardinals’ plans to have sluggers Jedd Gyorko and Matt Adams fight for playing time, they definitely need a consistent power bat in the lineup. For that to happen, Grichuk needs to ignore the catnip dancing below his knees.