St. Louis Cardinals: Randal Grichuk expectations are tricky

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What can St. Louis Cardinals fans expect from Randal Grichuk, the 24 year old outfielder with power potential and injury misery attached to his name?

Meet Randal Grichuk, the human roller coaster ride. He isn’t the Boss or the Screamin’ Eagle. More like a ninja with more flips. Just a bundle of potential that could produce the type of season the St. Louis Cardinals need and the fans covet on the free agent market or a painful misery stuck in neutral due to injury.

Remember the summer of 2015? As Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant wooed National League rookie of the year voters, Grichuk suddenly took over. It started in May when Grichuk slugged .547 in 53 at bats, but truly took off during a series in Philadelphia. Grichuk hit three home runs and drove in 5 in two days, and by the end of June, he has amassed 24 extra base hits in less than 200 at bats. Kick that out to a full season and it’s near 70 extra base hits. Not bad. Sure, he was striking out once every three at bats, but when his bat found the baseball, it was like Chuck Norris’ foot finding a bad guy’s face in Delta Force. Shattered! Grichuk didn’t always get hits, but when he did it was for extra bases or over the wall and into a deck.

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Grichuk hits home runs and that make you replay it on television, pause in person or nudge someone next to you and just pass a knowing nod. He’s an action film all in one body. Adrenaline and heartbreak. After slugging .529 or more in May through early August, Grichuk went on the DL with an awful elbow strain. I use awful because elbow strains are the worst. They are mysterious injuries that either linger or return at a later date to shatter a hot hitter’s season. Grichuk was never the same after that injury. He came back, but couldn’t play the field or get a great swing. It was like taking the grenades out of a cannon and handing the gun back to the soldier for raw intimidation. In September, Grichuk had three times as many strikeouts(9) as extra base hits(3). He hit a home run in the playoffs but that was it.

What can he do in 2016? If he plays 135-140 games, the man could hit 25 home runs easily. In 103 games in 2015, he cranked 17. While Fangraphs’ Steamers only projects him to hit 22 and drive in 63 with a decreased slugging mark of .445, they also see his strikeout rate dropping to 24 percent from 31 percent. If I see it correctly, Grichuk dropping his K rate means he will learn to lay off the outside breaking pitches and get a little more selective. I translate that to more pop and more hits, but I’m not Steamers. Also, a BABIP of .365 in 2015 will likely drop, meaning a drop in average(projected to be .249) and on base percentage(.295).  Keep in mind Steamers also project Matt Adams to hit 17 home runs and slug .459 in 104 games. Take their advice with a few grains of salt.

A full season of Grichuk meeting Fangraphs expectations would be a comfort to a team that needs all the power it can get. While he can’t replace the defense of a Jason Heyward, Grichuk(right elbow and all) can easily replace Jon Jay‘s defense and will have Tommy Pham behind him to help with defense. Grichuk is an exciting talent because he’s young and has unique power. While he may not create as many fireworks as fans would like in 2016, Grichuk can be an asset if he can stay healthy. He can play all three outfield positions, and bat anywhere in the lineup.

Keys for Grichuk are health, decreasing the K rate, and maintaining the power while keeping his contact rate in check. Pitchers are adapting to him but he is also adapting to the pitchers. It’s a two way street. While it would be unwise to project Grichuk too high until he gets a full season under his belt, his three month explosion this past season undoubtedly presents excitement.

Next: Are Cardinals in denial about offense?

You see, if Grichuk stays on the field and Brandon Moss returns to his 2014 roots, the Cardinals offense will be just fine in 2016. A run prevention team the past two seasons and not changing yet, they will rely on young guns like Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to carry more weight in 2016. Can they do it?

Projections foreshadowing and all, sure they can.

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