A certain statistic came out the other day that caught the eyes of many. Yasmani Grandal, the catcher for the Chicago White Sox, and his stat line for 2021. As of May 11th, Grandal is batting .113/.378/.242. According to MLB.com, Grandal actually joined Babe Ruth in becoming the first two players in American League history to walk 13 times in a four-game span. Brad Pitt’s version of Billy Beane is probably drooling right now, arguing with Philip Seymour Hoffman (in a baseball uniform) that Grandal’s batting average does not matter because he simply gets on base–which is definitely true. Grandal’s OBP ranks in the 90th percentile in MLB this season, while his batting average ranks, well, nearly dead last. For a statistics nerd, this brings up a fascinating question. Is this good for Grandal, or is this just awful?
Naturally, you can point to the good in saying that Grandal is getting on base, so batting average and slugging percentages don’t matter. Grandal’s walk rate is actually at 29.7% (second-most walks in the Majors behind Max Muncy), incredible in comparison to his 20.9% strikeout rate. That’s the good of it all. But is it all good, is there any flaw in it, and if so, how do we fix it? Let’s look deeper into it.
The Chicago White Sox have some firepower on offense right now, even with the losses of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. Tim Anderson continues to crack the bat, Yoan Moncada has awakened after an abysmal start to the year, Yermin Mercedes has shown up out of nowhere, and Nick Madrigal is a beautiful prospect who is working out well so far. Tony La Russa, even with the injuries, still has some depth. In regards to Grandal, La Russa has consistently been batting him sixth in the order, batting him seventh a couple of times, and even once in early April as the cleanup hitter.
Good, Bad, or Just Ugly
When looking at the statistics of it all, however, there isn’t anything “great” in terms of Grandal’s OBP, but there is nothing overly problematic either. Here is something bad: Grandal has scored 12 runs so far this year, which is the second-worst on the team (in comparison to players with the same as, or more AB than Grandal). Let’s even it out. Something okay: Grandal is seventh on the team in RBIs with 10. Let’s go back to the bad: Grandal only has four extra-base hits this year, with two doubles and two home runs. So when he gets on base, either with a walk or a hit, he is being left on base, most of the time.
Time Will Tell With the White Sox
It truly is a curious case, as Grandal isn’t doing anything remotely terrible by taking more pitches and drawing walks. For example, he’s getting pitch counts up, which is a good thing. Yet his production outside of that is what is concerning. Grandal hasn’t been an everyday player so far, essentially splitting catching duties with Zack Collins, but arguments could be made about his place in the order with such a high OBP. Maybe sticking him in the #8 or #9 spots, allowing guys like Tim Anderson and Moncada with higher slugging percentages to move him around.
All in all, it is fair to say that Grandal’s season so far has been bizarre, but for statistic-driven people, it’s been fascinating. The question that remains to be answered is if this is something the White Sox can work with, if it remains consistent, or if it is something that might lead to something better or worse for Grandal. Whatever it may be, the White Sox can’t really afford much in terms of experimentation, given the injuries plaguing them and with the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals on their tail.
The Chicago White Sox are currently 19-13. They hold a one-game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.
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