Outfielder Robbie Grossman has accidentally been Oakland’s top offseason addition. Almost two months into the season, the A’s acquisitions have, as a whole, been underwhelming. First base fill-in Kendrys Morales is already gone, veteran righty Joakim Soria has been inconsistent at best and Nick Hundley and Jurickson Profar haven’t performed on either side of the ball.
But Grossman has been far from great. He is hitting well below his career norm and is contributing to a serious roster glut. His presence (and lack of options) makes it difficult for the A’s to promote a promising youngster without demoting either slugger Mark Canha or super-utility man Chad Pinder.
This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if Grossman were hitting well. Luckily, another look at the numbers provides reason for optimism that he can turn it around.
Grossman has always been known for his ability to get on base, and his OBP skills are a huge part of why the A’s signed the switch-hitter. In the early goings, Grossman has been even more selective than ever.
His 15.3% walk rate ranks second on the team behind only Canha’s 18.0% (in just 59 PAs) and is a significant increase over his 12.9% last season. His strikeouts are slightly down, at 17.6% compared to 17.8% in 2018. His 0.87 BB/K rate ranks second on the team behind just Marcus Semien.
Simply put, Grossman is swinging less than he used to. His overall swing rate is down 4% despite a slight increase in zone rate. While he is making slightly less contact with pitches in the zone, he is still hitting the ball at an above average rate and has the lowest swinging strike rate on the team at 5.8%.
The A’s signed Grossman to put together good at-bats and get on base, and he has been doing that as well as he ever has. But what’s happening when he puts the ball in play?
Batted Ball Data
Grossman has never had a whole lot of power. His career high for home runs in a season is just 11, back in 2016 with the Minnesota Twins. But that’s not Grossman’s game — he has made a career out of spraying line drives to all fields.
But his approach has changed slightly in 2019, and not for the better. He is still spraying the ball, going to the opposite field 29.5% of the time, second on the team to only Matt Olson. But he seems to be buying into the launch angle revolution without the power numbers to support it.
Grossman has traded a handful of grounders and line drives for fly balls and his average launch angle is at a career-high 15.2 degrees, contributing to a .259 BABIP that is significantly below his career .318 mark. And while he has already hit three home runs on the young season, his ISO stands at just .153. His 1.1% barrel rate is one of the lowest in baseball and his 87.1 MPH average exit velocity is well below average.
Maybe his swing is a little off and he’s just getting under the ball a bit more than usual. But if this is a conscious change, I think it’s one that Grossman needs to reverse. If he can return to being an all-fields line drive hitter, I think his BABIP — and overall offensive production — will skyrocket.
Used primarily in left field, Grossman has never been seen as a great defensive outfielder. For his career, he has -26 Defensive Runs Saved and a -7.8 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games. But I have been pleasantly surprised with his defense so far this season, and the metrics support the eye test.
By DRS, Grossman has been perfectly average. He sits at zero DRS, with zeroes across the board on all components. Baseball Savant has Grossman with negative two Outs Above Average, while UZR and Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average each have Grossman as a slightly above average defender. While defensive metrics can be very unreliable, especially in such a small sample, it seems every source agrees that Grossman is somewhere near the middle of the pack.
He certainly passes the eye test. While he’ll never have the range or arm of his center field neighbor Ramon Laureano, he usually takes good routes and moves fairly well. He has underrated athleticism, and even leads the team in stolen bases with four.
Robbie Grossman will never be a slugger, and he doesn’t have quite the upside of guys like Pinder and Canha. But he is without a doubt the most disciplined hitter on the team, and brings some OBP skills the club has sorely missed since losing Jed Lowrie to free agency.
His role on the club is complicated. If Pinder breaks out then left field is the easiest place to play him, shifting Grossman to the bench. Nick Martini, currently rehabbing from a knee injury, is also a threat to take Grossman’s spot. He was incredible at the top of the lineup for the A’s last season, and if not for questions about the sustainability of that success, he would be in line for the starting role upon his return.
But I think Grossman is a small tweak away from a return to form. As a switch-hitter and an on-base threat, he could slot near the top of the lineup and help keep the line moving ahead of Oakland’s best power hitters.