For the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans, getting to the NLCS in 2018 was exciting, yet bittersweet. For Yasmani Grandal, the 2018 NLCS might have been the lowest point in his career. In the first inning of game 1 of the NLCS, he committed three errors. By the end of the postseason, the Brewers’ new catcher had three passed balls, three wild pitches (are they really his fault?), a catcher’s interference call, and an error attempting to catch a throw. All of that happened as Brewer Nation cheered madly, and Mary Hart went berserk.
Mary Hart has not had any Entertainment Tonight from Yasmani Grandal.— Ryan Walton (@RyanWaltonSBN) October 16, 2018
Here she is yelling at him for another passed ball. pic.twitter.com/Ljl5vaFqmO
Since the signing of Grandal, there has been some consternation about him. If one reads and listens to some of the comments about this gentleman, you would think he couldn’t hit and was not a strong defender. He obviously had an awful showing against Milwaukee in the playoffs, but for those that are worried about his defense and low batting average, well you need to take a “chill pill.” There should be nothing but excitement about this guy coming to Milwaukee.
According to Cliff Corcoran of The Athletic, catcher production is at its lowest point in decades, with only two catchers compiling 3 WAR in 2018. The two catchers that posted 3 WAR in 2018 were J.T. Realmuto and some dude Milwaukee picked up for a one year contract worth $16 million with a mutual option for 2020. As a group MLB catchers posted an OPS+ of 87, the lowest OPS+ by any position since 2002. Yasmani Grandal posted a 120 OPS+ in 2018. With such limited production out of a position, and with only a couple in that position that can make a legitimate difference on both offense and defense, Grandal should have commanded much more than the market granted. Milwaukee is the beneficiary, and this catcher, with a unique set of skills, is apt to pay huge dividends.
2018 playoffs aside, Milwaukee is getting one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Baseball Prospectus compiles a statistic that encapsulates a player’s defensive skills called Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). It is compiled by using play-by-play data with adjustments made based on plays made, the expected number of plays per position, and a few other variables. Grandal’s FRAA was 17.7, which was second among all catchers in baseball. His FRAA for the previous three years was even better producing 27.7 in 2017, 33.6 in 33.6, and 25.6 in 2015. He is also a renowned pitch framer (second best in MLB in 2018 with RAA of 13.8). His 44 Defensive Runs Saved is 4th in MLB over the past five years. Let’s please stop with the narrative that Grandal is poor or even average defensively. He is elite on the defensive side of the ball, and will bring that elite defense to Milwaukee, and the pitching staff will enjoy the benefits of it.
When it comes to catchers, Yasmani Grandal is one of the best at the plate. His 2018 slash line was .241/.349/.466. He is a patient hitter that draws a lot of walks (BB rate of 13.9%), and he has as much power, especially from the left side, as any catcher in the game with 24 home runs in 2018 and 27 home runs in 2017. The only criticism anyone could make of Grandal is that he does not hit for a high average, which he makes up for by drawing walks, and that he is a streaky hitter. Grandal will get on base at a very similar clip to his career averages, but expect his power to tick up in Miller Park (or is it AmFam Stadium...meh). 30-plus home runs should not be out of the question, and if he is on a hot streak, he will be a substantial run producer in the middle the Brewers’ lineup.
Grandal posted a 5.0 BWARP in 2018, demonstrating his overall prowess as an elite baseball player. He is very good hitter, elite for a catcher, and an top-notch defensive catcher. He is so good that MLB Network’s “Shredder” ranked him as the 3rd best catcher in baseball right now. Just like with its ranking of Christian Yelich, the “Shredder” is wrong. When it comes to being the best all-around catcher right now, Yasmani Grandal is number one. Realmuto has a similar offensive profile (Realmuto wRC+ 115 vs. Grandal wRC+ 116), but he is not as good a defender (Realmuto DRS = -25 vs. Grandal DRS = 39). Buster Posey and Yadier Molina are past their prime. Wilson Contreras and Gary Sanchez underperformed dramatically.
The Brewers will have one, if not the best catcher in MLB, in uniform next season. Expect him to sustain his defensive prowess, and tick up offensively, and don’t be surprised when Brian Kenny announces Yasmani Grandal as the best catcher right now according to the “Shredder” in the winter of 2020.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs