Yasmani Grandal was one of just six catchers to hit at least eight home runs in 2020. Amongst catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, he ranked third in runs scored, fifth in runs batted in and third in walk rate. An elevated strikeout rate put a dent in his batting average, but it’s not like he was ever a big average guy before. The catcher landscape is littered with decent power guys, and like many, Grandal doesn’t bring forth a super high batting average either. Now, if you play in a league that values on-base percentage, Grandal is worth targeting, considering he’s posted a walk rate of at least 13 percent in every season except one (2017) for his entire career.
Even though his walk rate dropped a bit from 2019, it was still above his career average and was the dominant factor in keeping his on-base percentage above .350. Interestingly enough, his .350 on-base percentage in 2020 was his second-highest mark since 2016, despite his .230 average being his second-lowest mark in that same five-year span. His .299 BABIP was the second-highest mark of his career and highest since 2012. So, how in the heck did his batting average drop down to .230? Easy. Look at his strikeout rate.
Yes, his 29.9 percent strikeout rate was a career high for Grandal and it wasn’t particularly close. His next closest mark was nearly three percentage points lower back in 2017 when he posted a 27 percent strikeout rate. A lot of variables go into play here, but two of the biggest things that stuck out to me are in that chart above. He posted a career low contact rate, as well as zone swing percentage. He didn’t leave the zone as much as you might have thought, and his swinging strike rate was right on par with recent seasons.
However, Grandal saw more offspeed stuff (think changeups not breaking stuff), and his largest increase in swings and misses was against that pitch. He saw offspeed nearly 3 percent more often, and his whiff rate jumped over six percent against that pitch. Chasing less doesn’t always mean your strikeout rate will go down. Despite chasing less in 2020, when he did chase, he missed more frequently.
On top of that, guess who also missed more than recent years on pitches in the zone? Correct. Grandal.
Moving away from the whiffs, Grandal did hit more fly balls and less grounder, and for a power hitter, that’s typically a good trade-off. Furthermore, when you look at his average exit velocity on just fly balls and line drives, it’s increased in not one, not two, but three straight seasons!
Exit Velo on FB/LD
In a packed right-handed lineup, Grandal is going to hit in the middle of the order and will benefit with the guys in front and behind him. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, and guys like José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez should be able to bring him around the base paths. He could get pseudo days off by playing first base or since he’s in the American League, he can always serve as Chicago’s designated hitter.
At time of writing, Grandal is the fifth catcher coming off the board in NFBC leagues, coming in after Philadelphia’s J.T. Realmuto, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez , Los Angeles’ Will Smith and Chicago’s Willson Contreras . It seems to be a pretty decent value when you consider that per THE BAT’s (by Derek Carty) projections, Grandal will rank in the top three at the position in home runs, runs batted in, on-base percentage and OPS!
If you play in a league that values on-base percentage over batting average, Grandal is a no-brainer at his spot. However, if your league values batting average, you could wait and find yourself another catcher who can give you solid power and mediocre to below average numbers in the batting average department, especially if you’re in a one catcher setup.
I like the idea of rostering Grandal more in two-catcher leagues and any format where on-base percentage is valued over batting average. Grandal will give you 25 home runs and likely a batting average hovering around .235. The fantasy baseball landscape has changed, and those numbers aren’t as game changing as they once were. In 2019, four catchers hit at least 25 home runs. In 2017, three did it. Only one catcher did it in both 2014 and 2015, and back in 2013, the leader at the position had just 22 round trippers!
If you want stability at the position, drafting Grandal makes sense, but 25 home runs from your catcher isn’t as dominating as it once was. My oh my, how the times have changed.