Among the many reasons Yasmani Grandal is such a good get for the White Sox?
Grandal’s presence in the lineup doesn’t just increase the number of opportunities for Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’” — among other classics — to be played at Guaranteed Rate Field.
It also addresses an element critically lacking from this offense. The White Sox ranked dead last in baseball with only 378 walks in 2019. Grandal, individually, ranked fourth in baseball with 109 walks, with two of the only three players ahead of him being AL MVP winner and runner up Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. He owned a .380 on-base percentage in 2019 and has a .348 on-base percentage for his career. The White Sox, as a team, reached base at just a .314 clip in 2019.
To compare, the four teams who walked the most in 2019 all made the postseason, including Grandal’s Milwaukee Brewers. All four walked more than 600 times. The team that led the game in walks, the Houston Astros with their 645 free passes, came within a win of the World Series. The team that beat them, the Washington Nationals, ranked eighth in walks.
An even better illustration, perhaps: The Astros and Nationals ranked 1-2 in baseball in on-base percentage, at .352 and .342, respectively.
Walks leads to base runners, base runners lead to runs, runs lead to wins. It’s safe to say the White Sox getting on base more would be a very good thing.
“Altering the offensive profile and improving our ability to get on base, and thereby score runs, is a priority for us,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “(Adding Grandal) helps that a lot. Obviously, he was second in the National League last year in walks. A .380 OBP would look very nice in our lineup, and that profile is a big positive when it comes to scoring runs and hopefully something that, as a veteran player, he is able to help model and reinforce the message from our coaches in terms of the importance of that.”
The most concrete contribution in that department will be Grandal continuing to walk and get on base. But he could also help spread such thinking throughout the entire team. Maybe adding Grandal’s approach adds a similar approach to some of the hitters already inside the White Sox clubhouse.
As discussed, walking isn’t exactly a strong suit for the White Sox group of young hitters. Some guys, like Tim Anderson and his future middle-infield teammate Nick Madrigal, probably aren’t going to start walking more. Anderson just won a batting title and posted a .357 on-base percentage while walking a jaw-droppingly low 15 times. Madrigal hit .311 and reached base at a .377 clip in the minor leagues, and while he walked 44 times — which would have tied for the lead on the big league team — his skill is in putting the ball in play. He struck out just 16 times in 532 plate appearances. Luis Robert had just 28 walks in the minors in 2019.
But maybe some other guys have more walks in their futures. Yoan Moncada walked 67 times in 2018, the same season he also struck out 217 times. He transformed into the team’s best all-around hitter by being more aggressive, with the strikeout and walk numbers both plummeting. Eloy Jimenez walked only 30 times during his rookie season but showed flashes of willingness to take pitches and take his base.
Maybe Grandal can help bump those numbers up.
“Last year, I made some strides into getting guys to understand the value of actually getting on base,” he said last week. “Obviously, the more guys we get on base, the more opportunities we have to score. At the end of the day, if you score, you're going to win.
“Passing it down to the next guy, you don't have to do it all. Get on base. If you are fast, steal a base if you want. And at some point, somebody is going to come through. It's a whole team that's going to get it done.
“For me, I try to put as much pressure as possible on a pitcher. The more pressure I put on him and make him throw, the better it's going to be at the end of the day for my team. Especially when you're facing really quality pitchers, guys that have the stuff to get you out with three pitches. If you can foul off a couple of pitches and you get to a 3-2 count, anything can happen. At the same time, for me, when I get into those counts, it takes the anxiety completely away from the AB and kind of makes me zone in and try to execute the plan that I want.
“If I'm able to get through to a few guys to understand that and they're able to do it, it's just going to make us better. At the end of the day, that's pretty much all we want.”
The White Sox still have some holes to fill before their offseason work is said and done, including in right field and perhaps at designated hitter. There’s little doubt that on-base skills will be something they continue to look for, as well as something they’ll continue to preach to their entire roster. Grandal could be a big part of doing the latter.