St. Louis Cardinals: Randal Grichuk and Kyle Schwarber, a tale of two bangers

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 12: Manager Mike Matheny
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 12: Manager Mike Matheny /
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St. Louis Cardinals
MILWAUKEE, WI – AUGUST 30: Randal Grichuk #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a home run in the fifth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 30, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals have Randal Grichuk and the Chicago Cubs have Kyle Schwarber; they are eerily similar and eerily different.

The factors in the previous slide show the similarities in these outfielders for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cubs, however, the similarities end there.

Even early on, scouts and journalists were concerned about how Schwarber, a catcher-then-outfielder, might fit in on the defensive side. Unlike Grichuk, he was not particularly adept in the field, and was, shall we say, rather plodding afoot.

Still, Schwarber appeared to put it all together offensively much faster than Grichuk.  In his brief minor-league stint spanning 2014-2015, Schwarber had a well-over-.400 OBP in around 600 plate appearances, matching his power and batting average in the .300s with a fine eye that drew almost 90 walks.

Not so much with Grich. As he bounced from minors to majors during the 2014-2016 seasons, Randal certainly showed the pop that was expected of him — but with extremely little discipline for the most part.

Oh, those strikeouts and oh, that absence of walks! By failing to learn how to lay off those pitches outside the strike zone — most notably the low, outside slider and the above-the-zone fastball — Grich couldn’t muster a consistent enough on-base to be taken as seriously as he might have.

His somewhat higher batting average of .276, sandwiched between two seasons thirty to forty points lower, allowed for a reasonable .329 OBP in 2015. Trouble was, his BAbip (batting average for balls in play) that year was a torrid .365, which even for a screaming line drive hitter like Grich, was likely unsustainable.

The difference between Schwarber and Grichuk was notable from the time Kyle hit the bigs. In his partial 2015 season, as he set the baseball world agog, he posted a 130 OPS+, despite a .246 batting average.

Why? Because Schwarber’s walk totals allowed him to post a very respectable .355 OBP. And his BAbip was a normal .293, leading some to wonder if the lower batting average was simply a blip. While he missed the 2016 regular season due to injury, his ridiculous playoff performance suggested Superman incarnate.

But then 2017 arrived, and for both Grich and Schwarbs, the results were revealing indeed.

For Randal, the current season started out WYSIWYG — what you see is what you get.  For the first half, he was powering well enough but with only 16 walks, producing a below-.700 OPS.

The second half, however, has shown a bit of a turn, just not on the selectivity side. A batting average of about fifty points higher than normal has produced a nice OPS, despite — and yes, when you read this, rest assured it’s not a misprint — six walks, in only about 140 at bats.

Schwarber, too, hit the ground jogging instead of running this year. He couldn’t keep his BA over even the Mendoza line of .200 for the first couple months, leading to a demotion to AAA to figure things out.

But figure them out he has. While he has not shown the lofty averages he demonstrated in the minors, again his batting eye has led to a fine complement of on-base and slugging skills after his return. From June to August, he has not had an OPS of less than .850.