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Randal Grichuk and timing the fastball

Grichuk couldn’t hit a fastball in April but after a month-long DL stint, and some changes to his swing, he’s hitting them better than ever.

Washington Nationals v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

For the month of April, only two hitters in baseball had as many plate appearances as Randal Grichuk and posted a lower wRC+ than his mark of 19 (Kole Calhoun and Neil Walker). Whether it was an injury hampering his level of play or just straight bad performance, Grichuk needed some time to get right.

A knee sprain caused the Blue Jays to place him on the disabled list in the final days of April, giving him few weeks of rest and sending him on a rehab stint. It has now been more than two weeks since he returned to the Blue Jays 25-man roster, and to say there has been improvement is probably an understatement.

Since Grichuk’s first game back in the lineup on June 1st, only six hitters with as many plate appearances as him have posted a higher wRC+ than his 194. In the two months he’s played this season, he’s seen both the best and worst months of his career.

wRC+ by month of Randal Grichuk’s career

Season Month wRC+
Season Month wRC+
2018 Jun 175
2016 Aug 166
2015 Jul 146
2015 Jun 144
2014 Sept/Oct 144
2015 Aug 143
2015 May 138
2017 Jul 115
2017 Aug 113
2016 Sept/Oct 111
2016 Jul 106
2016 May 102
2017 Sept/Oct 91
2017 Mar/Apr 87
2016 Mar/Apr 74
2017 May 53
2018 Mar/Apr 19
Minimum 15 games in a month FanGraphs

Before I get to the the improvements Grichuk has made, let me reiterate how bad he was the first month of the season. A lot of the issues pertained to contact, as he struck out in 31.2 percent of his plate appearances, mostly held be an alarmingly high 15.7 percent SwStr%. When he did put the ball in play, it was hard for him to do anything with a .119 BABIP that was made possible by a identical 27.3 percent soft-contact and hard-contact rates.

Pitchers were simply overmatching Grichuk in April. Their strategy was pretty easily implemented, and pitchers regularly got him out. Simply throw him a fastball, and he could not time it.

The last line on this visual shows a steep slope. The first point on that slope represents Grichuk’s wOBA on fastballs in April, the second lowest month of his career at .172.

Minimum 25 results, his wOBA on fastballs ranked 321st out of 323 hitters in April. The rate of contact at higher velocities was ugly, whiffing on pitches thrown 95+ MPH 22.0 percent of the time, good for the 12th highest rate out of qualified 203 hitters.

Look back at the graph above though. The second point on that last slope happens to be the highest one. That point represents Grichuk’s wOBA against fastballs in June, or basically since he returned from the DL. Going back to hitters with minimum 25 results, this time in June, he ranks 11th out of 263 hitters in fastball wOBA, a total 180 turn from his April results. And as for the higher velocities, he’s whiffing on 12.0 percent of pitches thrown 95+ MPH, way closer to the league-average of 11.1 percent this year.

He’s also striking out at a lesser-rate than ever.

K% by month of Randal Grichuk’s career

Season Month K%
Season Month K%
2018 Jun 18.2%
2016 May 21.6%
2014 Sept/Oct 23.1%
2015 May 25.0%
2016 Mar/Apr 26.2%
2017 Aug 28.6%
2017 Mar/Apr 28.9%
2017 May 30.8%
2018 Mar/Apr 31.2%
2017 Sept/Oct 31.3%
2015 Jul 31.6%
2015 Aug 33.3%
2016 Aug 33.8%
2015 Jun 34.1%
2016 Sept/Oct 34.2%
2017 Jul 34.3%
2016 Jul 35.3%
Minimum 15 games in a month FanGraphs

I went back and watched some video of Grichuk to see if there was a noticeable change. It didn’t take too long to find out, as there is clear change in his bat position.

The image on the left shows Grichuk before a fastball on which he whiffed. The bat is clearly more upright, along with the position of his arms. The image on the right shows Grichuk before he homered, as he lays the bat closer to his right shoulder, perhaps showing a more ready stance also.

Pitchers adjusted to Randal Grichuk and he adjusted back with great results. This 194 wRC+ isn’t close to sustainable, but even with this hot stretch, he still has a few more good games to go before he even becomes a league-average hitter. Unfortunatly, Grichuk doesn’t have a clear route to playing time at the moment, fighting with the likes of Kendrys Morales, Curtis Granderson, and Teoscar Hernandez, but recently we’ve seen Grichuk at his best and it’s pretty damn good. Now it’s all about how long he can keep it up.