Dodgers Rebound Candidate: Yasmani Grandal

Jun 21, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) hits a home run in the fourth inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 21, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) hits a home run in the fourth inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Continuing with our preview of potential rebound candidates I take a look at 2015 All-Star, Yasmani Grandal

To call Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal a rebound candidate seems a little unfair. After all, when healthy, Grandal was one of the very best catchers in the game – yes I do say that with a straight face. However, baseball is a cruel sport and after copping a foul ball to the shoulder against the Phillies in early August, Grandal’s production became virtually non-existent as he registered just 13 hits (!!) the rest of the way.

Acquired from the Padres as part of the return for Matt Kemp, Grandal was slated to replace the incumbent AJ Ellis who was coming off a woeful season offensively. In Grandal, the Dodgers had found an elite pitch framer with significant offensive upside and 4 years left of team control.

Through the first half of 2015, Grandal posted a .282/.401/.526 slash line with 14 home runs, .399 wOBA and a 159 wRC+. If those numbers mean anything to you it’s easy to see why Grandal was voted an All-Star in 2015. For those of you who aren’t sure, wOBA is a metric, similar to OBP, that tries to weight the various outcomes of an at bat (eg a double is more valuable than a single and therefore should be weighted accordingly). A league average wOBA is around .320 and .400 is considered excellent. wRC+ is a similar statistic but is indexed so that 100 is equal to the league average. You can read about these stats here and here.

However, in the second half Grandal’s offensive production plummeted to just .162/.280/.218, 2 home runs, .237 wOBA, 49 wRC+. You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that the two stat lines were produced by entirely different players – that’s because in a way, they were. As you probably know, Grandal’s injury eventuated in surgery after the season to repair the A/C joint in his left shoulder, luckily there was no labrum repair needed a la Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez as this usually results in a lack of power for a season or two.

To highlight the effect that Grandal’s injury had on his swing I’ll use video from the two halves of the season.

Here’s the first swing:

And now the second:

In the first video you can see how much more explosive Grandal’ swing is. He uses his top hand (the one which he will later injure) to throw the bat head at the ball generating good power and back spin. In the second video however, you can see Grandal fishing out in front of his body with a long, slow swing trying to dump something into right field. Obviously, Grandal is a switch hitter and these videos only focus on the left side but you can expect a very similar pattern from the right side.

What did all this mean for Grandal’s batted ball profile? Let’s use some spray charts (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball) to find out.

From opening day to the 1st of August:

And now from August 2 till season’s end:

Now obviously we’re working with a much smaller sample size in the second half but you can see just how pull happy Grandal got. These charts include Grandal hitting from both the left and right side so if you’re interested I would strongly urge you to visit Brooks Baseball and have a look for yourself but I don’t want to steal too much time out of your day so I wont be breaking that down here. What I’m trying to highlight is just how much of an effect Grandal’s injury had on his ability to swing the bat.

Because of his injury, Grandal was unable to hit to all fields making him a) easier to pitch to and b) easier to defend. With the prevalence of shifting in today’s game, a spray chart such as Grandal’s second half is pretty easy to defend. Grandal also produced a much higher rate of grounders.

Now that we’ve seen it visually let’s take a look at what the numbers tell us about Grandal’s second half.

When sorting through Grandal’s batted ball data a few numbers stood out. Firstly. as we established with the eye test, Grandal did hit more grounders in the second half of 2015 (48.5% compared to 43.9%). Whilst that’s not as big of a jump as I thought, for a player like Grandal, any shift in that direction is undesirable. Secondly, Grandal did pull significantly more balls in the 2nd half of last year with a Pull% of 50.0 in the second half compared to 29.1% in the first half. An increase in Pull% of that size is sometimes seen in ageing players as they try to ‘sell out’ for power, unfortunately however, in Grandal’s case, this shift in Pull% coincided with a decrease in exit velocity on fly balls (95mph in the 1st half compared to 92.09 in the second half). That lead to a large spike in routine fly balls in the second half. Grandal, as expected, also produced more soft contact (17.6% in the 1st half compared to 24.5% in the second half) and less hard contact (34.6% compared to 22.6%) in the second half.

The good news for the Dodgers and their fans is that Grandal really doesn’t have to do anything at all to return to his first half form but get healthy and given the simplicity of the procedure and the reports that he is already back swinging the bat from both sides suggests that this is a reasonable assumption going into 2016. Grandal when healthy is a massive component of this Dodger team on both sides of the ball and a rebound from the Cuban native will go a long way towards the Dodgers taking the division for the 4th year in a row.