TORONTO — As a 28-year-old with established strengths and weaknesses, it’s rare for Randal Grichuk to do anything particularly surprising at the plate.
That comes with the territory of being a six-year MLB veteran possessing a defined offensive profile. In the Toronto Blue Jays’ 6-4 win over the New York Yankees, he did show his club something different, though.
It wasn’t that Grichuk hit two home runs that was so noteworthy - it’s a feat he’s managed eight times in his career and six times as a Blue Jay - it was where the pitches he hit out were thrown.
The outfielder entered action against the Yankees with 117 career home runs, which were located as follows:
That’s not a hard pattern to identify. Generally Grichuk has feasted on true meatballs and meatball-adjacent pitches. That’s why it was so unusual to see the three-run round tripper he managed in the fifth inning off Nestor Cortez Jr.
Cortez Jr. came up and in with the fastball and Grichuk turned on it for his 28th home run of the season - a career high:
“Even on a down year the power’s still there. So that’s a positive,” Grichuk said of his long ball total. “I’m not kind of feeling for it or getting out of my swing to take away power even when I’m struggling so that’s a positive.”
It was only the second home run Grichuk’s had on a pitch off the plate inside in his career, and the other example from back in 2016 was barely inside and belt high - making it a far easier pitch to drive.
None of this is to say the Blue Jays are going to want Grichuk to starting cutting loose on pitches up-and-in with abandon. If anything, they’re interested in their outfielder being less aggressive, not more.
“His approach has gotten better,” manager Charlie Montoyo said of Grichuk's work of late. “If you guys remember at the beginning of the year he was chasing a lot of balls in the dirt, seemed like almost everyday. Now since the second half he’s been a lot better.”
Even with an emphasis continuing to lie on his approach, Grichuk demonstrating he can hit a pitch he’d never shown the ability to punish before has to be encouraging for the Blue Jays.
It’s not just any pitch, either. Fastballs up, and particularly up-and-in, are all the rage right now. Sinkerballers continue to be less prominent in the game while pitchers that attack the top of the zone are en vogue. On Sunday, Grichuk attacked back.
Although it wasn’t quite as atypical location-wise, his first home run was also a statement of intent about his ability to hit the high stuff. Jordan Montgomery hugged the very top of the zone, but Grichuk was all over it, depositing it into the seats in right-centre.
Theoretically, Grichuk has the bat speed to combat baseball’s shift to peppering the upper third of the zone. There’s a reason why he’s traditionally been able to put up some of the best exit velocity numbers in the sport without an imposing Aaron Judge-like physique. He just hasn’t done it with regularity.
One two-homer game doesn’t sufficiently prove much about Grichuk’s trajectory. He’s in the midst of a disappointing season, and the $52 million extension the Blue Jays gave him in April isn’t looking like as safe an investment it did the day it was signed.
That said, a game like Grichuk had Sunday serves as a reminder that he is, in fact, an awfully talented hitter - even if his 2019 line doesn’t reflect that. Whether he’s able to be a consistent one will determine if his contract is good value. Although he certainly doesn’t think about it in terms of the cost effectiveness of his production, Grichuk readily admits he just hasn’t been consistent enough this year with August being his only standout month.
“I still feel good with some of the stuff I was doing a month or so ago,” he said. “I wish I could be a little more consistent with it. I’ve had some good stretches and some bad stretches.”
In 2019, the proportion of good stretches to bad stretches has be off, but if Grichuk continues to expand the variety of pitches he’s able to punish, it can’t hurt his shot of bouncing back in 2020.
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