Yasmani Grandal has been traded twice. Once from Cincinnati to San Diego with Yonder Alonso as the two centerpieces for Mat Latos. The second time, the Padres acquired him as the centerpiece in the infamous Matt Kemp deal, which can be perfectly encapsulated from the Padres point of view by this gif.
After breaking in and playing well with the Padres, Grandal has settled in as the backstop for the continually contending Dodgers. He has really come into his own in LA and has used his superior defensive skills behind the plate to become one of the best catchers in the MLB.
The catcher position is one that holds a bit of a special exemption with offensive production. First off, you’re not expected to run at all at the catcher spot. This can apply to other positions as well, but catchers in particular because of the stress that the position puts on their bodies. So, this puts more pressure on other areas of the game. Even then, the phrases “good enough for the position” or “he hits enough” get bandied about because offensive production isn’t necessarily a key point for catchers. In many cases, team sacrifice offense for someone with a better feel for receiving or pitch calling.
That concession isn’t necessary with Grandal.
He broke in with a 60 game cup of coffee in 2012, was hampered by injury in 2013, and then became a full-time starter in 2014. Over the five seasons that he has played, Grandal currently sits fifth among qualified catchers in wRC+ and wOBA. With a 119 wRC+ and a .340 wOBA, he only sits behind Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, and two players who plain aren’t catchers in John Jaso and Carlos Santana. Even shortening it to his first full-time season in 2014, Grandal sits only behind Posey, Lucroy, and Russell Martin.
2012-16 wRC+ & wOBA Leaders at C
2014-16 wRC+ & wOBA Leaders at C
I think that qualifies as hitting enough.
The 28 year old is an absolute stalwart of a framer. Grandal is consistently among the top ten catchers in framing runs as a starter. His first year starting, Grandal added the eigthth most runs via framing — 13.2 runs — for a major league catcher. Despite being his worst offensive season, he still was a 3.4 bWARP player. After moving from San Diego to Los Angeles, Grandal’s framing improved. In his first year there, he finished first in framing runs with a 23.3 mark. The over ten-run increase is likely a function of both Grandal’s skill and the change to a whole new staff that is likely more amicable to framing. Even the next year in LA, Grandal saw a bump in framing runs up to 25.6, which placed him second in the MLB behind Buster Posey.
Despite not being spectacular in the other areas of catching, Grandal is continually improving. He adds essentially all of his defensive value from his framing skills. Baseball Prospectus’ catching metrics. That tends to be the case for most given that last year framing runs peaked at 26.5 league wide while blocking and throwing runs peaked at only 2.9 and 5.6 respectively. Both of those highs were owned by Salvador Perez. From 2014 onward, Grandal improved in both blocking and throwing runs, including a substantial increase when he moved to the Dodgers. These once again have a measurable impact when pitchers are more amicable to them. Particularly with throwing runs as some pitchers can be almost prohibitively slow to the plate or be Jon Lester. That said, these marginal improvements only add to the deep foundation he lays with his elite framing.
When looking at Grandal’s aggregate value, there’s a big schism depending on who you ask. It’s easy to see a schism driven by these defensive differences. Baseball Prospectus’ bWARP uses framing stats. Fangraphs’ fWAR does not. Thus, Grandal sees himself with a wild disparity of 14.9 bWARP to a 6.2 fWAR from 2014 to 2016. This shows up elsewhere as well. Conversely, Salvador Perez drops from a 6.6 fWAR player in that time-span to a 1.7 bWARP player. Still, Grandal is recognized as a premium catcher on both platforms. According to Fangraphs, he’s been the eighth most valuable catcher in the bigs over these three years. Where as Baseball Prospectus sees him sandwiched tightly inbetween Jonathan Lucroy and Russell Martin for the right to be second best to Buster Posey.
No matter who you ask, Yasmani Grandal is one of the better catchers in the league. Adding a steadily improving defensive game to his advanced bat for a catcher only helps him to continue to move up people’s ranks. In addition to that, his elite framing skills place him in a select class of catchers. It’s about time he got a bit more attention.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.