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Deep Dive: Yasmani Grandal’s Past, Present and Future With the White Sox

The Miami Walk Machine was in top form in 2021.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox
Yasmani Grandal, despite owning the largest contract in Sox history, still proved to be a value in 2021.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players
  5. Free agent options

Let’s delve into the career of Yasmani Grandal through 2020, his 2021 season, and his future with the White Sox for 2022 and beyond.

How did he get here?

The Cuban-born and Miami-raised Grandal was rated as the 19th-best high school prospect in the country when the Red Sox drafted him in 2007. Unsatisfied with Boston‘s contract offer, he took his talents to the college ranks and went on to hit .401/.527/.721 with 15 home runs as a junior, earning himself a $2 million signing bonus, and a $3.2 million, four-year contract from the Reds after being selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft.

After an outstanding 2011 campaign in which Grandal made it all the way to Triple-A Louisville, he was traded along with Yonder Alonso (yes, that Yonder Alonso), Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger to the San Diego Padres for the great Matt Latos. After playing three solid but unremarkable years for the Padres, Grandal was traded along with pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Matt Kemp, Tim Federowicz and cash during the 2014 Winter Meetings.

For the next four years, Grandal was the primary backstop for some quality Dodgers squads. With the 2015-18 Dodgers, he averaged .238/.357/.443 with 22 homers and 60 walks. In part due to his erratic defensive play, and also because of an offseason where owners weren’t spending, Grandal signed a one-year pillow contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for $16 million in Jan. 14, 2019. That year was arguably his best season to that point, as he slashed .246/.380/.468 in 153 games with 26 doubles, 28 homers, 77 RBIs, 109 walks and 121 wRC+.

Thanks in large part due to his great year with the Brewers, he signed a four-year, $73.5 million contract with the White Sox in November 2019 — the largest in White Sox history. In an abbreviated 2020 campaign, Grandal’s numbers were solid, albeit a little below-average as he slashed .230/.351/.422 in 46 games with eight homers, 27 RBIs, 30 walks (15.5%) and 58 strikeouts (29.9%) Defensively, he threw out 27% of attempted stolen bases and was ranked fourth among all MLB catchers in framing pitches. Grandal also spent time at first base, as teammate and fellow catcher James McCann enjoyed an outstanding year on both sides of the ball.

With the White Sox in 2021

While playing through a knee injury for the first half of the season, Grandal’s offensive and defensive numbers were both well below his standards. Offensively, he atoned somewhat for his abysmal average (.131 through May 31 ) with an extremely high walk rate. After returning from his injured list stint on August 27, however, Grandal really began lighting up the scoreboard. In the 30 games played after his return, he slashed an amazing .337/.481/.673 with six doubles, nine homers, 24 RBIs, 27 walks and just 18 strikeouts. For the year, he posted a career-best 3.7 bWAR in just 93 games by slashing .240/.420/.520 with 23 homers, 62 RBIs, 87 walks (23.2%), 82 strikeouts (21.9%) and career-high 159 wRC+.

When digging a little closer into the numbers, Grandal played his best work under the lights by slashing .273/.441/.631 compared to a more pedestrian .184/.384/.330 during day games. While posting credible numbers at home (.227/.400/.519), Grandal surprisingly played better on the road, where he slashed .256/.443/.520. With runners in scoring position this year Grandal was clutch, as he slashed .284/.454/.642 in such situations. His numbers were good as a lefty (.233/.398/.512), but even better flipping to the right said, against southpaws (.266/.484/.547). Grandal ranked among the Top 96 percentile in exit velocity, but even better with a 97% expected on-base average (xWOBA), while also performing better than 98% of the league in chase rate.

Digging even deeper into his offensive profile, Grandal thrived facing fastballs, as he slugged .261/.447/.601 against those offerings. He fared decently against breaking pitches (splits, forkballs, screwballs) by slashing .250/.381/.472; however, he struggled badly against off-speed pitches (sliders, curves, knucklers) at just .170/.284/.358. This year, he had a career-high pull rate of 44.3%, as compared to straight-away (36%) and opposite field (19.7%). On pitches where Grandal made contact, he tied a career-high fly ball rate of 27.6% but did hit the ball on the ground at a 41.4% clip (not good for someone with a sprint rate in the bottom 7% of the league).

Grandal’s defensive rating slipped a bit this year, to 23rd among the 116 catchers who played in the majors this season according to Baseball Prospectus; while still posting positive results, the decline could be attributable to a combination of injuries and age. What’s more, Grandal’s ability to throw out base runners plummeted to 19.4 % (12-of-62), which could be accountable to the aforementioned injuries but also to the inability of the pitching staff to effectively hold runners on.

Overall, Grandal has been good at what he does; after all, he’s been played in the postseason in each of the past seven years, and appeared in two All-Star Games. Unfortunately for him and the teams he’s played for, Grandal has slashed just .127/.291/.314 in those postseason appearances.

Even when taking into consideration his nearly missing two months of playing time, suffering through injuries and his occasional defensive difficulties this season, 2021 was an outstanding season for Grandal. He posted a 3.7 fWAR, 3.7 bWAR and 4.0 WARP (Baseball Prospectus WAR, which more strongly emphasizes framing).

What does the future have in store?

Grandal appears to be a lock (barring injury or trade) through the 2023 season (although he did undergo knee surgery after the playoffs, he should be ready for spring training). The same can’t be said for any of the three catchers who backed him up this year. Yermín Mercedes enjoyed a great beginning to the 2021 season but fell off a cliff once pitchers figured him out; in a miniscule sample size, he was 114th in framing numbers, and that’s merely the beginning of his defensive struggles both with Charlotte and the White Sox. Former first-rounder Zack Collins actually finished the season on the MLB roster; he slashed .210/.330/.338 with a -1.0 WARP while ranking 115th in framing and stifling less than 17% off attempted stolen bases. Seby Zavala, who also spent significant time in the roster, fared better than Collins in framing (40th) but gunned down only 11% of potential base stealers while hitting just .183/.240/.376 and posting a 0.0 bWAR.

A couple other internal options exist in Carlos Pérez and Xavier Fernández — both of whom are more contact-oriented at the plate and have had solid success in deterring base stealers. While their power numbers aren’t overly exceptional and their framing may possibly need improvement, they could eventually be upgrades at some point in 2022 or 2023. In the meantime, being that they both are unproven at the Triple-A level, the Sox could potentially look at other options via the trade or free agency market if they’re not content with the options behind Grandal.

For more information on the upcoming free-agent catchers, stay tuned for the Tuesday’s Deep Dive!