Do the Dodgers Have One of the Best Catchers in Baseball?
By Alex Campos
Yasmani Grandal has struggled at times for the Dodgers. However, he could be one of the better catchers in baseball.
I get a sense this article is going to end up being a thousand words about why batting average is dumb. Let’s see.
Yasmani Grandal has been one of the most divisive players on the Dodgers for the last couple seasons. That much isn’t really up for debate. I feel like part of it is that he was acquired for Matt Kemp, who was somewhat of a fan favorite. It could also be because of his ties to PEDs, but on a team full of lovable characters, fans usually have a strong opinion of Grandal, whether that’s positive or negative.
Grandal has been a large reason for the Dodgers recent success despite losing the best pitcher in the world to an injury. Clayton Kershaw hasn’t started a baseball game since June 26th. The Dodgers were five games over .500 (41-36) and eight games behind the Giants at that point. Since then, the Dodgers have gone 23-14 and are now a game behind the Giants, mainly because of the Giants massive struggle since the All-Star break. The Dodgers have played much better of late, and while their pitching has held their own, the offense has really sparked their run. The key bats are starting to swing the bat much better (Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick have shown great improvement and Corey Seager has been the Dodgers’ best offensive player all season). However, Grandal has really turned it around.
Grandal took an 0-4 on June 26th. This dropped his triple slash to .183/.297/.341. Grandal had 30 hits in 192 plate appearances at that point in the season, and nearly half of those hits went for extra bases (six dingers, eight doubles). He struck out 23.4 percent of the time and walked 14.1 percent of the time, and he had a wRC+ of 78, which is excruciatingly bad.
In 119 plate appearances since then, which goes a little past Baer’s sample size, Grandal has been one of the better hitters in the league. He has more hits in his last 119 plate appearances (31) than he did in his previous 192, giving him a triple slash of .320(!)/.445(!)/.732(!) and a wRC+ of 211 (!!) since then. His overall numbers have obviously increased, and while his batting average is still only .234, his .354 OBP, .487 SLG and 129 wRC+ are all in the upper echelon of catchers (fifth-highest OBP, fourth-highest SLG).
Grandal hasn’t caught enough innings to qualify, but if we lower the minimum plate appearances to 200, Grandal is definitely in the elite tier of catchers. His 2.3 WAR is tied for fifth out of all catchers in baseball, and of the five catchers above him, the next fewest plate appearances is 380 (Grandal has 311). Grandal’s 129 wRC+ is second among catchers, only behind Wilson Ramos‘ 148 (!!). Buster Posey is widely considered the best catcher in baseball, and many fans were pining for Jonathan Lucroy at the deadline. Both of them sit behind Grandal in wRC+.
They both blow Grandal out of the water in terms of batting average (Grandal-.234, Posey-.291, Lucroy-.295). Despite the large batting average differences, Grandal’s OBP is .001 lower than Lucroy (.355) and .01 lower than Posey (.364). His 15.4 percent walk rate is the highest among catchers with 200 plate appearances and while his K rate is higher than both of theirs, he’s still at their level offensively.
Defensively, Posey is pretty easily the best of the three catchers and one of the best in all of baseball. In 735 innings, Posey has allowed two passed balls and has caught 22 of 48 potential base stealers. In 643.1 innings, Grandal has allowed six passed balls and only caught 17 of 62 potential base stealers, and in 759.1 innings, Lucroy has allowed five passed balls and caught 34 of 86 base stealers. Grandal has the most passed balls and the worst CS percentage of the bunch, so by those stats he’s the worst defensively of the three.
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Pitch framing is still a relatively new and imperfect stat, but StatCorner has Grandal as the second best framing catcher in all of baseball, only behind Posey. Lucroy comes in 11th in that category. Framing and game calling (which no one really knows how to quantify) don’t factor into WAR, but Grandal’s 2.3 WAR is tied for fifth-highest among catchers.
Grandal certainly isn’t perfect. He’s probably spent as much time trying to play through injury as he has spent playing healthy in his Dodger career. When he’s not lining the crap out of the ball, he hits the ball in pretty predictable areas and rolls over on a lot of pitches, which is why his BABIP is so low. Sometimes, low BABIP’s are unlucky. With Grandal, shifts seems to be the culprit more often. Defensively, his framing is elite but the rest of his defense isn’t quite at that same level. He’s inconsistent at blocking the plate and he’s shown a strong throwing arm at times, but he often struggles to catch stealers (which could be a product of his seemingly always aching shoulder).
Is Yasmani Grandal the best catcher in baseball? Probably not. Wilson Ramos has been the best hitting catcher by a longshot this season, and all-around Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy are probably both better. We can look at Yadier Molina and Salvador Perez‘s intangibles and game-calling abilities, but we don’t know exactly where Grandal stands there. You can make the argument that Grandal’s success comes from a small sample size, and you wouldn’t be completely off base. Grandal’s struggles have stemmed from injuries, so when he’s healthy as he appears to be now (and as he was in the first half last season), he’s an All-Star caliber backstop.
Grandal is pretty easily a top-10 catcher in baseball and you can definitely argue top-five. The Dodgers got him for Kemp, who can still hit the ball hard and drive in runs, but there’s a reason the Padres dumped him as well. Grandal is also theoretically entering his prime, as he’ll be 28 in November. Posey turned 29 in March, Lucroy turned 30 in June, Ramos turned 29 yesterday. While the other three have all gotten post-arb contracts, Grandal has his first arbitration-eligible offseason this offseason and won’t be a free agent until 2019.
People pointed to the catching position as a weakness and wanted the Dodgers to make a move there, but between Grandal and Austin Barnes (who has struggled in his short stints in the majors but is great defensively and framing-wise), the Dodgers should be set behind the plate for a while. There is a short list of catchers that are better than Grandal, but the Dodgers could do a lot worse behind the plate.