Last year as Randal Grichuk made the long drive from St. Louis to his home near Houston, he had to deal with thoughts of the St. Louis Cardinals declaring they would be seeking a defensive upgrade for centerfield. This year, like most of his teammates, Grichuk is passing the miles with questions of if he will even be back with the team for 2018.
“It’s going to be an interesting off-season,” admits Grichuk. “I don’t think anybody in that clubhouse really feels kind of secure that they’re staying put and have a set position. Not making the playoffs for two years in a row obviously calls for some shakeups. Some guys jobs are in jeopardy, like I said, it’s going to be an interesting off-season. I’m excited to see what all happens and all the moves that are made.”
In a season that again provided a rollercoaster of being sent down to the minors and then recalled, Grichuk is able to take some positive in the fact that 17 of his 22 home runs came after he was recalled in June and reset his approach at the plate. But did it make enough of an impression to keep him from being traded away?
“For me staying in St. Louis, obviously I hope that being sent down, being able to work with George (Greer)–kind of changed some of my thought process while I was at the plate and changed the way I thought when it came to what the pitcher was trying to do and what I was trying to do,” began Grichuk in response.
“I think my at-bats got better once I came back up. Throughout the year, obviously there might have been some points for a week or so that might not have looked so bright–that got in my head or something like that and I diverted from the plan. But I think from a standpoint of coming up, I think a lot changed mentally for me. I was more confident in my mental standpoint and approach at the plate, was able to do some damage there at the end of the year. I’m excited to see what that could do over a full season, knowing what I know now and feeling what I feel now at the plate. Hopefully, that shows the Cardinals not to give up on me all the way, bring me back, and see what we can do over a full season.”
As a general philosophy, baseball no longer looks down the same way on strikeouts as they did a decade or two ago. A swing and a miss is often accepted as a trade off for power. Randal Grichuk struck out 133 teams in 2017, but he also understands that all strikeouts aren’t created equal.
“There’s definitely situations in the game that dictate being needed to put the ball in play versus a strikeout,” he said. “There’s different people that say a strikeout is an out, it’s the same thing as squibbing a ball back to the pitcher or rolling over a ball and hitting it to short. In certain situations, it’s definitely viewed different.”
With 412 at-bats this season, Grichuk struck out at a 3.10 ratio. His HR rate was one in every 18.7 at-bats. What would that translate to over the course of a full season of playing everyday?
“I was actually talking to a buddy about it,” said Grichuk. “Where my numbers would be over 600 at-bats or 550 at-bats over a full season of playing–every day going through those grinds of struggling. The 0-4s for a week or the 3-4s for a week and kind of see where it would be at. Interesting to think about.”
For comparison sakes on the ratios, Giancarlo Stanton was at 3.66/10.1. Cody Bellinger 3.29/12.31, Nolan Arenado 5.72/16.4, and Marcel Ozuna 4.26/16.57.
One other note on these comparisons, Grichuk had 28 extra base hits that were not a home run. Stanton had 32. Bellinger 30, Arenado 50, and Ozuna 32.
These numbers are brought up in comparison to state Randal Grichuk would hit 59 home runs if he had 200 more at-bats like a Giancarlo Stanton, but would the ratios stay in place–resulting in another 11 home runs and 65 strikeouts?
“I don’t think either would be guaranteed,” said Grichuk. “With a full season of at-bats, I know I’m going to get my power numbers. They obviously the beginning of the year, didn’t look I was going to get them and sure enough, at the end of the season they were where they needed to be. Down from what I hoped they be or expected them to be at but they were where they’re going to be. Definitely the situation and the mindset can dictate how many strikeouts you have and how many power numbers you put up. It was a frustrating year, just in the sense of having so many guys to kind of filter in and be able to play and then days off. It was one of those frustrating years–the numbers weren’t there.
Even before Mike Matheny mentioned during the end of season press conference that the Cardinals need to get creative in helping Grichuk with his pitch recognition, Randal had begun talking about pitch track technology with some people.
“I’m not sure if the resources will be there for me to use any of that in Texas this off-season,” said Grichuk. “It would be interesting to see if it would help, I’d be open to anything. But I do agree with the pitch recognition. I felt like for the whole year, my swing mechanically was fine. I think early in the year, it might have been a little longer than I’d like, but I still felt fine. I didn’t feel like it was a bad swing. It’s just at the end of the year, it shortened up and it felt fine. When I got in those ruts, it was just due to swinging at bad pitches. So it’d be something I’d be willing to dabble in. It’d be fun.”
While the pitch tracking programs may not be available, Randal has lined up one item that he’s confident should help.
“I am ordering a pitching machine–the one we have in St. Louis,” he shared. “It’s a pretty cool machine. You can program it to be able to throw fastballs, curveballs, changeups, sliders. And program it to where it’s complete random and you can program it to where one of the sliders can be in the strike zone and one of them can be out of the strike zone. A fastball can be out of the strike zone, in the strike zone and it will be completely random. I’m anxious to get on that everyday and see if that helps with pitch recognition.”
There is also another factor in effective pitch recognition. Confidence.
“It’s a mindset as well,” said Grichuk. “If you struggle, you try to do too much. Then you anticipate getting pitches and commit early because you want to do something. You feel like you need to do something–to either catch back up from a slow start or just to play the next day. It’s kind of one of those two-headed battles, of being able to see the ball but also controlling the mind. Not trying to get too jumpy and trying to do too much. Just doing what he’s allowing you to do or hit what he’s throwing over the plate and not trying to expand.”
A 12-hour drive provides a lot of time to reflect and find some resolution on the season that was. But Grichuk said that probably won’t be long enough and feelings of the season will probably linger until Spring Training.
“I’m going to use it to drive me and push me to work harder this off-season,” he said. “This is our job. This isn’t a little league season that, tough season ‘oh well, we’ll get ’em next year’. This is a you need to learn from it, build from it, and that’s what I’m going to do to push me this off-season.”
photo credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI; Scott Kane, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports