We kick off our 2020 White Sox
world takeover season preview series with the most exciting and probably the most impactful free agent signing by the White Sox in any of our lifetimes, Yasmani Grandal. As the first major domino of this past offsesaon to fall by signing bright and early – before Thanksgiving, even – for a club record $73-million over 4 years, Grandal was the first of many signs this winter that the White Sox are serious about winning (or at least serious about looking like they’re serious about winning) in 2020 and also are being taken seriously by big name free agents. Let’s dig into what we can expect from him this year:
2019 Stats (w/ Brewers)
.246/.380/.468, 28 HR, 77 RBI
5.2 fWAR, 2.5 bWAR, 6.1 WARP
17.2 BB%, 22.0 K%
.361 wOBA, 121 wRC+ .848 OPS
1 DRS, 20.1 FRAA, 79th-percentile framing
Last Week on Nitro: Grandal fell prey to baseball’s
greedy ass ownership slow offseason problem prior to 2019, with the primary issue being the qualifying offer that the Dodgers extended to him meaning any team that signed him would have to sacrifice a draft pick for his services. That is still one of the stupidest rules in sports, but it exists and is daunting enough to some teams that it truly does scare some suitors off. Despite reports of a multi-year offer coming from the Mets, Grandal viewed that offer as below his market value (and may not want have wanted to play for the Mets, which is wholly understandable) and decided to bet on himself with a 1-year deal worth $18.25-million in Milwaukee.
The bet paid off in spades, as Grandal proved to be one of the most valuable players in baseball according to any WAR metric worth a shit – clearly what I mean is that you should just outright ignore that bWAR number above, as baseball reference has a major problem with valuing defense in their WAR, especially for catchers. He isn’t the world’s best hitter, but he is easily one of the most disciplined in the game, and the walk rate and OBP scream out as evidence. Both were among career highs for him, but you can still expect them to be incredible, but we will more to that in a moment. Overall, Grandal’s 2019 season was another strong one with numbers that were largely consistent with his overall career, and that level of consistency is what should really have you excited.
TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): The issue with dreaming on Grandal’s offense is that he’s been so damn good and so damn consistent in his career, and is 31 years old, so it’s hard to imagine it getting much better at this point. The main weakness in Grandal’s numbers throughout his career has been his unimpressive batting average, which really only the giargidiniera-soaked masses will bitch about, but in an ideal world you’d see him raise that up from a .246 last year and .241 career to something a bit closer to .260 in 2020. A good place to start would be to work that K-rate down a bit, as even in today’s game and even with his walk numbers, a 22% there is something you’d like to see drop a bit. If he can bring the strikeouts down and the batting average up, that OBP could flirt with damn near .400, and that would be downright erotic.
The real area where Grandal will be a huge upgrade for the Sox, though, is behind the dish. As I detailed in my fully-tumescent write up after the signing, while James McCann had a fine season last year, he was the worst overall framer in the AL season, while Grandal was the best in the Majors according to some publications. So overnight, the Sox go from the worst zone manager in AL to the best. On top of that, he is a well documented elite game planner and has been around some of the best pitchers in the game. Where this is going to prove invaluable is with the likes of Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease, who have some well documented control issues. Helping them improve their approach, delivery, and then stealing strikes behind the dish should serve as a huge boon, and in a best case scenario takes Cease from a struggling rookie last year to approaching his ceiling very quickly.
On top of that, Lucas Giolito is looking to take another step forward and build off a dominant 2019, and Reynaldo Lopez needs to have a bounce back year like Giolito just had. And to add one more log to the fire, looking back at Dallas Keuchel‘s career working with good and bad framers, he is far and away better with good ones (big surprise there). With combination of high-ceiling guys and reliable rotation arms. Grandal receiving all of these guys and helping the Sox rotation improve could allow them to be one of the best in baseball, and that would result in a whole lot of wins.
YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: The worst case scenario for Grandal this year is that he goes the way of the Nick Swishers and Adam Dunns of the world, falling off a cliff completely after joining the White Sox. His walk rate falls below 10%, his strikeouts go way the hell up, and all of a sudden the guy can’t tell the strike zone from the seating section formerly known as the Chris Sale K-Zone. Meantime, his framing falls apart and as such the pitching staff sucks ass.
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. Again, he’s been so consistent in his career it’s a bit difficult to go too far down the idea of either extreme happening, though it’s certainly possible. But given his career numbers, I think the biggest concern when it comes to 2020 being a potential disappointment from Grandal is injuries derailing him. *knocks on wood*
BAH GAWD THAT’S GRANDAL’S MUSIC: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Grandal’s consistency throughout his career has been so damn reliable that it’s hard to imagine this season being anything other than extremely similar to last year. I would expect a regression in the walk-rate and, as a result, the OBP, but his career tells both should stay around or above 13.5% and .350 respectively. Along with that he’s gonna hit more than 20 but less than 30 homers and a similar number of doubles. He’s even tossed in two triples in each of the last two years, though don’t bet your house on that.
Where I really want to focus my prediction is on the impact he will have with the pitchers. While I don’t necessarily think he will make the hugely sudden difference for Cease and Kopech to go from promising-but-inconsistent to downright dominant right away, I think we are gonna see big improvement from them, though Cease’s may be more recognizable given that he’s gonna be with the big club all year and Kopech won’t. Overall I think Grandal is going to help this rotation be one of the better units in the American League and maybe even the best in the Central. With his bat and defense, you can reasonably expect another season of Grandal being worth more than 4.5 fWAR, and I will happily take that.