“Argue your limitations, and they will be yours.” — Illusions, Richard Bach
How I wish I had learned that phrase back when I was playing Little League. Defensively, I was rock solid. I could turn the double play from the second base side with ease or I could sit behind the plate for nine innings and call a game with the best of them. Put me in the batter’s box though, and my ineptitude at the plate was depressingly laughable. But rather than work my tail off to become a better hitter, I simply accepted the fact that I was never going to work my way up to the clean-up spot and when the coach said that a walk was as good as a hit, I took it as gospel. The bat barely left my shoulder and I led my team in walks. Of course I took a few cuts from time to time and even found my way on-base via an actual hit, but overall, taking a pitch was my specialty. I was the original Robbie Grossman.
A few weeks ago, while scouring the waiver wire in search of yet another replacement outfielder, I noticed the Astros had just brought Grossman back from Triple-A and manager Bo Porter announced that the 23-year old switch-hitter would be a regular in his starting lineup. With few promising alternatives and a need for a boost in stolen bases, I decided to investigate further. The double-digit walk rate at every level was encouraging and though his batting average hovered around the Mendoza line during his big league stint in late April and all of May, he was still posting a relatively favorable on-base percentage. A quick scroll down to his plate discipline numbers opened my eyes even wider as it was evident that those same words of my, and thousands of other, Little League coaches were echoing in his head as well — Wait for your pitch. A walk is as good as a hit.
While the average major league player swings at 46.3-percent of the pitches he sees, Grossman has a swing rate of just 37.7-percent. That’s actually a pretty substantial difference. In fact, look at how the rest of his swing rates stand out against league averages:
Grossman knew that it would be difficult to achieve real success at the plate while posting a 1.40 GB/FB with a strikeout rate close to 25-percent (23.7-percent to be exact). He may be sound defensively, but he still needed to find a way to produce offensively to earn his keep and by not swinging, he seems to have achieved just that. His reluctance to fish outside the zone or to even take the bat off his shoulder in most cases, has forced pitchers to abandon the corner-nibbling and to simply just throw him strikes. That has pushed him into numerous hitter-friendly counts and, as a result, given him much better pitches to hit.
Since his return to the lineup, Grossman has now hit safely in 10-straight games and has produced three home runs, nine RBI and four stolen bases. His swing rates have increased slightly while on this little run, but still remain far below league average. That’s certainly encouraging because it means that even if he were to run into a string of bad luck, he is unlikely to start pressing at the plate or try to do too much and compound the problem. Will he continue to hit this well over the remaining two months of the season? Maybe. Probably not, though. But should he continue to remain frugal with the hacks, he should continue to see ample opportunities to swing away and actually do some damage. I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend him in your more shallow leagues, but in leagues of 14 or more teams that require you to start six outfielders, he could prove to be rather helpful.
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