The Toronto Blue Jays signed Randal Grichuk to a 5-year, 52 million contract early in the 2019 season. As the season comes to a close, it is a good time to issue Grichuk’s Report Card and also re-visit the contract.
A lot was expected of Randal Grichuk for the 2019 season. After a slow start in 2018, he generated a 140 wRC+ in the second half of that campaign. In 2019, he started slowly but never really bounced back. Report Card time!
I constructed my own grading method. It is a combination of a standard grade system and the 2018 fWAR percentiles for position players; Table 1 shows the grading scheme. The highlights are as follows:
- The data set of fWARs reflects any position player with a minimum of 100 plate appearances and a fWAR that is not negative
- A fWAR that is approximately in the top-third will earn a B
- A grade of C is where roughly the median of the data set
- I arbitrarily decided that any fWAR that is in the 15th or lower percentile receives an F
Table 2 contains some data that is relevant for an assessment of Grichuk’s 2019 season.
Positive performance metrics
- He produced a positive 3 DRS when he played centre field, which is better than the minus 3 of 2018
- Grichuk’s Outs Above Average was 6 in 2019, which Is slightly less than 2018’s mark of 7, but nonetheless very good
- His Whiff% on fastballs improved from 24.3% in 2018 to 19.8% this season
Yep, those are all of the positive metrics.
Negative performance metrics
- 2019 was disappointing in terms of fWAR (0.6), wRC+ (91), xBA (0.234), and xSLG (0.411)
- All of these metrics are lower than their respective marks of 2018
- In percentile terms, Grichuk’s xSLG rank fell from 83rd to 37th; his Hard Hit% rank dropped from 80th to 54th
- His BB% and BB%-K% rankings both remain in the bottom-quartile
- The Chase% was 33.2%, which is higher than the MLB average of 28.3%
- Defensively, he was minus 10 when he played right field, a significant decline from 2018’s plus 2
Areas for improvement
Plate discipline / batting approach
Brooks Baseball describes Grichuk as follows:
"Against Fastballs (1,240 seen), he has had a steady approach at the plate (0.01 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (19% whiff/swing). Against Breaking Pitches (887 seen), he has had a very aggressive approach at the plate (-0.19 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (38% whiff/swing). Against Offspeed Pitches (272 seen), he has had an exceptionally aggressive approach at the plate (-0.60 c) with a league average likelihood to swing and miss (29% whiff/swing)."
In 2019, Grichuk ranked in the 78th percentile in terms of swing rates on pitches out of the strike zone. (The player who has the highest swing rate is in the 100th percentile). It appears to me that a little less aggression, specifically on breaking balls and off-speed pitches, would benefit Grichuk greatly.
Celebrate regression to the mean
Table 2 contains some interesting percentile ranks for the 2017-2019 seasons. Grichuk’s xSLG percentile rank was 84th in 2017 and 83rd in 2018. Mysteriously, it fell to 37th in 2019. Similarly, his Hard Hit% percentile rank was 54th in 2019, which was a steep decline from the 78th and 80th marks in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
I can’t really explain why those two metrics were so poor (on a relative basis) in 2019. Grichuk is only 28 so I doubt that it is age-related. Nor am I aware of any injury this season that would explain the decline. I think 2019 was an aberration and I expect his xSLG and Hard Hit% should bounce back next season. Such an improvement should translate into a better slugging percentage in 2020.
As I noted in Teoscar Hernandez’s Report Card, I think the Hernandez in centre field experiment has run its course. Given Grichuk’s 2019’s +3 DRS in centre field, positive Outs Above Average, and 76th percentile sprint speed, my view is that Grichuk can be an above-average centre fielder. (The latter two figures are courtesy of Statcast; DRS was sourced from FanGraphs).
Overall grade – D
Grichuk produced a 0.6 fWAR, a notable decline from his 2.1 in 2018. I don’t think there is a need to complicate the analysis further with more data and observations. According to Table 1, a 0.6 fWAR corresponds with a grade of D. That seems fair to me.
Given Grichuk’s disappointing 2019 season, now is an opportune time to re-visit Grichuk’s 5-year contract. Before proceeding to an analysis of the deal, there are some important points that should be outlined. First, Grichuk’s deal is effectively a 5-year, USD 52 million contract. Second, the term covers two arbitration-eligible years and three free-agency eligible seasons.
I analyzed the contract from a break-even perspective. How much fWAR does Grichuk need to generate in order for the contract to reach the break-even point? In other words, the value paid (USD 52 million) equals the value received (total fWAR). The analysis is based upon an approach outlined by Kevin Creagh. You can see the details in Appendix A.
According to the calculation in Appendix A, Grichuk would have to produce a fWAR of 8.1 over the course of the 5-year contract for the Blue Jays to reach the break-even point. That averages out to 1.6 per season. After his 0.6 fWAR in 2019, Grichuk needs to step up the pace in 2020-2023; he must generate a total fWAR of 7.5 over the next four seasons.
There are three reasons why I think Grichuk can produce a 7.5 fWAR over the next four campaigns. First, I think there should be a regression to the mean in his xSLG and Hard Hit%. Second, he produced a 2.1 fWAR in 2018. Third, if he is switched to centre field, he would get a fWAR boost from FanGraphs’s positional adjustment. I remain of the view that the Blue Jays will not regret Grichuk’s current contract.
The last word
Grichuk’s 2019 season was a disappointment. His metrics were generally down from his previous seasons. Accordingly, he was assessed a grade of D for his performance. However, a little regression to the mean, and a possible switch to centre field, should make for a better 2020 Grichuk.