Column: Cardinals should just let Grichuk run

Randal Grichuk has long been a bit of an enigma for the Cardinals. So much potential, but can he ever reach the point where he makes enough contact that all that scout swooning power becomes worthwhile?

Yesterday, Grichuk hit his 20th home run of the season to give him back-to-back 20 home runs seasons. Perhaps the most impressive part of all this is that he has spent parts of those last two seasons in Triple-A, yet still accomplished the feat.

Despite Grichuk’s struggles that have sent him back to Memphis for midseason tune-ups, he still has been able to maintain his home run rate. Here’s a look at the percentage of his plate appearances that have ended in home runs over his first three seasons as a St. Louis regular.

2015: 4.86% of plate appearances
2016: 5.02%
2017: 4.95%

That’s pretty steady in the grand scheme of things. If you look at all of the baseball players who have had a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances since the beginning of the 2015 season, only 23 players hold a higher home run rate than Randal Grichuk.

Also among players with a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances since the beginning of 2015, Grichuk’s 12.18% extra base hit rate is the fourth highest in baseball. Only David Ortiz, Nolan Arenado, and Giancarlo Stanton have been better at turning plate appearances into extra base hits. And one of those guys is retired.

Imagine if the Cardinals left Grichuk alone in the 8 spot everyday this season. In 2016 the #8 spot in the Cardinals’ lineup had 636 plate appearances. For Grichuk that would translate into 40 doubles, 6 triples, and 31 home runs. Imagine that batting behind a Kolten Wong who is hitting .295/.386/.429 this season.

So imagine 40 doubles, 6 triples, and 31 home runs from a guy who also plays plus defense at all three outfield positions. You have to ask yourself why isn’t he playing more often?

Grichuk’s final numbers will end up within shouting distance of the numbers he put up last season, but will not have played nearly as much.

2016: .240/.289/.460, 5.0% HR rate, 11.7% XBH rate
2017: .235/.285/.474, 5.0% HR rate, 11.6% XBH rate

It’s the dark side of Grichuk. The strikeouts and the lack of walks. But even there, those numbers are in line with last year’s numbers. Identical even.

2016: 29.5% K rate, 5.9% BB rate
2017: 29.5% K rate, 5.9% BB rate

I do think it’s interesting that a guy like Grichuk, who I’ve suggested should bat third in the Cardinals lineup to bet on his power, has struggled to break the lineup while Paul DeJong strikes out just as often and walks less has gotten that job and found success there at least for now. They are essentially the same player, though Grichuk has more power.

If a team were to simply unleash Grichuk and let him play I think we would see him be able to take some development steps. The last two seasons the Cardinals have sent him down to work on his plate discipline and approach. As we can see, nothing has substantially changed when it comes down to the numbers.

In my view, that’s because pitchers in the minors pitch differently than pitchers in the Majors. We talk about it all the time with pitchers who ride one pitch through the minors, but get to the Majors to find that they really need two or three good pitches to continue to be effective. So you just see different pitching in the minors than you do in the Majors.

The Majors is where the polish should be applied and that only comes from exposure, learning, and adjusting. Something Grichuk has already proven he can do.

People call him the Stallion. And it’s time to just let him run.