Just when Jeff Passan wrote a column about this being the slowest offseason ever, the Detroit Tigers went and made a bombshell of a signing, inking Robbie Grossman to a two-year, $10 million deal. This stove is lit, and it is hot.
Okay, so Grossman signing isn’t exactly the news of the offseason, but Grossman is a perfectly cromulent player. His presence in Detroit may not move the needle much (if only because no single player could given their roster), but no-risk, low reward moves like this are precisely what the Tigers need to fill out the team. Grossman isn’t without his upside, either.
Grossman is coming off a career year. In 2020, Grossman posted his highest ISO (.241) and slugging (.482), his second-highest wOBA (.351) and wRC+ (126), and despite it being a shortened season, his highest fWAR (1.3). An offensive jump for a 30-year-old outfielder in a 60-game season is tough to get excited about, but Grossman also pulled balls more often than at any other point since the beginning of the 2016 season.
According to data provided at FanGraphs, Grossman had the second-highest jump in pull percentage from 2019 to 2020 with a 17.9 percentage point difference between the two years. The highest jump belonged to Nick Ahmed who likewise had a career year at the plate though he actually slugged worse than he had in the previous three seasons.
Pulling more balls does not necessarily mean than good things will come, but it generally doesn’t hurt. Across MLB, hitters maintained a .314 ISO when pulling the ball in 2020 per Baseball Savant. Comparatively, that fell to .161 and .183 when hitting straightaway and to the opposite field respectively.
Per Baseball Savant, Grossman also posted the highest hard-hit rate of his career at 37.5 percent. That mark only puts him in the 41st percentile of MLB, but even an average hard-hit rate pairs well with his high-contact, disciplined approach. There’s no guarantee the hard-hit or pull rate continues into 2021, but if it does, it’s not hard to envision Grossman repeating his 2020 success.
This isn’t the sort of move that gets the Tigers over the hump. At the very least, it signals that the Tigers intend to approach the hump with the purpose of one day traversing it. There’s a chance Grossman is part of the next good Tigers team since Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal could be fully operational by the time his contract ends in 2022. Still, there were teams closer to contention with more obvious holes in the outfield than the Tigers. Other options remain, but it’s refreshing to see a team be even this proactive.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.