St. Louis Cardinals: Rating Randal Grichuk In Left Field
By Zach Gifford
With the addition of Dexter Fowler to the St. Louis Cardinals outfield, all signs point toward Randal Grichuk moving to left field. How does he rate among his new positional peers?
When the St. Louis Cardinals added Dexter Fowler through free agency, the presumption among fans was that Randal Grichuk would move to left field (though the Cardinals may not have told Grichuk this). Whether he knows it or not, we all believe Grichuk will begin the season in left. So, that raises this question: how good will he be in left?
As it turns out, we can expect him to be a good left fielder, but not a great one.
Last year, there were sixteen players who played 75 or more games in left field. Adding Grichuk into this mix for the purposes of this analysis makes that sample size seventeen.
Among these seventeen players, Grichuk’s 2.2 fWAR ranked 8th, just barely in the top half. If we compare his fWAR to the average of the other sixteen players, Grichuk was exactly average. That is, the other sixteen left fielders averaged exactly 2.2 fWAR.
Taking a look at defensive runs above average (DEF), Randal Grichuk rated third best at 2.5 DEF. This rate was significantly better than the average of -5.8 DEF among the other sixteen sampled left fielders. Importantly, DEF factors in the positional adjustment and allows for direct comparisons across positions, so there is no bias against Grichuk’s 2016 defense from playing center field.
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Additionally, Grichuk’s power rated 4th among these players, as measured by isolated slugging (ISO). However, his overall value at the plate ranked only 11th, as he registered a 102 wRC+ compared to an average of 109 among the other sixteen players.
What all this tells us is simply that, if Grichuk had played left field in 2016, he would have been an above average defensive left fielder and a below average offensive one. What really matters now is his value at the position in 2017.
Using Steamer Projections and the current depth charts available at MLB.com, I assembled projections for all thirty starting left fielders. Obviously, this list is subject to change as teams make late free agent additions before spring training, but it will provide sufficient insight for the time being.
Steamer currently projects Grichuk to be worth 1.6 fWAR in 2017, which is good for 11th among the sampled thirty. Additionally, the average among the thirty starting left fielders is 1.3 fWAR. So, Grichuk rates as above average, but not quite among the top third.
On defense, Steamer sees Grichuk sliding slightly to a -0.2 DEF, though this still rates fifth in the sample. The average among the sample is -5.5 DEF, so Grichuk again rates well above average defensively.
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He is projected to put up a 100 wRC+, which is exactly average for an MLB player. Among just these thirty left fielders, however, it is just slightly below the average of 102. Grichuk’s predicted 100 wRC+ ranks 17th in the sample.
The overall picture shows that, in comparison to left fielders, Grichuk plays among the best defense combined with essentially average offense. His weak spot is obviously his strikeout rate, which he makes up for with exceptional power.
Given his balanced game, it’s not a huge surprise that MLB Network ranked him the 6th best left fielder in the game. Additionally, Grichuk garnered an honorable mention in Buster Olney’s list on ESPN and just missed the top ten per MLB.com.
The most important reason the St. Louis Cardinals intend to move Grichuk to left field is to improve the outfield defense. With Grichuk in left, the St. Louis Cardinals now have an above average defensive player in each outfield position. If Grichuk can harness his abilities at the plate, he has the potential to give the St. Louis Cardinals much more.
Just for reference, below is the data compiled for 2016 and 2017. Thanks for reading!