L.A. Might Have Landed Gem in Yasmani Grandal

yasmani grandal

By trading Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres as part of a five-player deal, the Dodgers’ new regime accomplished more than alleviating an outfield logjam and clearing $75 million in future salary obligations — they might have also acquired one of the game’s precious few catcher who can legitimately rake. Yasmani Grandal fell out of favor in San Diego due to a confluence of factors, including his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, his trouble controlling the running game, and the emergence of strong-armed Rene Rivera as a capable two-way player. But Grandal, still just 26, has the bat and pitch-framing skills to compensate for his shortcomings in gunning out base thieves.

The Padres acquired Grandal as the centerpiece of the December 2011 Mat Latos deal with the Reds for his rare combo of patience and power behind the plate. The switch-hitter made quick work of minor league pitching (batting a combined .310/.408/.487) and he has translated those secondary skills to the majors while swinging in the still-crippling offensive environs of Petco Park. In 777 career plate appearances, Grandal has drawn a walk 13.8% of the time and boasts a .167 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average). Once you account for Petco’s pitcher-friendly tendencies, Grandal’s career OPS is 20 percent above the MLB average (120 OPS+). The only backstops who outhit Grandal from 2012-14 while logging at least 600 PA? Buster Posey (150 OPS+), Jonathan Lucroy (126 OPS+) and Yadier Molina (124 OPS+). Even if you think Grandal won’t be quite that good at the dish moving forward (the Steamer projection system forecasts that his OPS will be 10% above the MLB average in 2015), that still makes him one of the top-10 offensive catchers in the big leagues.

But wait — Grandal can’t really catch, right? His bat looks less impressive if he can’t stick at a premium defensive position. His throwing woes are somewhat troubling (Grandal has a career caught stealing rate of 17%, compared to the 27% MLB average), but the effect of those few extra steals by opponents might be overstated. Over portions of three seasons, his arm has cost the Padres about five runs compared to an average defensive catcher, according to the Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved metric. Grandal makes up for that — and then some — by snatching extra strikes for his pitchers.

From 2012-14, Grandal posted the highest called strike rate among regular catchers on pitches thrown within the strike zone (87.7%, compared to the 81.9% MLB average over that time frame). On out-of-zone pitches, Grandal’s 10.6% called strike rate ranks sixth among backstops (the MLB average is 10.6%). Compared to most catchers, Grandal shows a knack for stretching the strike zone horizontally:

Grandal’s called strike rate by pitch location, 2012-14
grandalclstr12-14

Average called strike rate for catchers by pitch location, 2012-14
catcherclstr12-14

By providing his pitchers with a wider zone, Grandal has saved an estimated +35 runs during his career according to StatCorner. That covers for his running game deficiencies, by a factor of seven. Even if you’re skeptical that he’ll be that savvy a pitch-framer in future seasons, Grandal should be able to lobby for enough extra strikes to quell concerns over his arm.

It’s not very often that a young, switch-hitting catcher with two-way talent becomes available. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi might have just landed one while simultaneously getting out from under the expensive decline years of Kemp’s career. Friedman and Zaidi are working with unprecedented financial resources, but they haven’t lost their small-market touch for converting big names into cheaper long-term assets.

Comments

  1. crazymetsfan41 says:

    Actually the REDS drafted Grandal, NOT the Padres- he was traded to the Padres in the Mat Latos deal!!!