In 2018, Yasmani Grandal tallied a career high in games played for the Dodgers in a season destined to land him a long-term deal in free agency. However, due to struggles in the postseason, attached draft pick compensation, and poor strategy (turned down a reported four-year, $60 million offer from NYM), Grandal was forced to sign a one-year, $18.5 million dollar deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, the deal includes a mutual option for 2020, but those end up being a factor next to never. Either way, I can assure you that this contract does not line up with the value Grandal brings to the field and should not scare off fantasy owners.
2018 with the Dodgers
Slashing .249/.349/.466 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs, Grandal landed second among MLB catchers in WAR while sporting a 125 wRC+ in 2018. For a comparison, the league average for wRC+ is not 100, it is a mere 84. It’s the catcher position folks, and a 125 wRC+ was good enough for third best in the game behind only Wilson Ramos (131) and J.T Realmuto (126).
The primary skill Grandal brings to the table is power. The guy can mash, totaling 24 home runs last season, second only to Salvador Perez among catchers (27). However, Grandal stood atop the position is isolated power with a .225 ISO. See the chart below for a breakdown. The main point here is that Grandal can flat out hit, and he can do it almost as well as any catcher in the game. We will get into that in a bit though.
Before moving on, let’s talk about the well-documented defensive “struggles” that have given Grandal a poor reputation. At least among those who are not familiar with him. Sure, the 2018 playoffs were a mess. Passed ball after passed ball. Errors and missteps. If it was bad, it happened to Grandal. To be honest, I am not sure what to tell you about what happened. Nerves maybe? One problem simply lead to another, which snowballed into many more.
However, what I can tell you for certain is that Yasmani Grandal is NOT a poor defensive catcher. In fact, he is well above average. In 2018 he trailed only Mike Zunino and Buster Posey in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) among catchers with at least 750 innings. In fact, Grandal leads all catchers in the Majors since 2016 with at least 2000 innings. Chart below:
Long story short, if you are worried about Grandal losing playing time due to defense, don’t be. He is solid. Good? Good. Moving on.
Elite Fantasy Options vs. Grandal
There are typically two popular schools of thought when it comes to drafting the catcher position for fantasy baseball. There are people who wait until the end, or draft one of the top options to get an “advantage.” This is flawed thinking, at least for 2019. First off, do not wait until the end. Do you really want to be rolling James McCann out there with his .094 ISO and .267 OBP? I think not.
This leaves the other school of thought, paying up for one of the top options. In 2019, that (as far as ADP indicates) is a two-man race between Gary Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto. Both catchers seem to be going around the 7th or 8th round in current fantasy drafts, which is a fairly steep investment. This is the same range in which players such as Matt Carpenter, Stephen Strasburg, Joey Votto and Corey Seager are going. Like I said, steep.
Let’s compare these two “elite options” to Yasmani Grandal. As you can see from the chart below, there are a few things that jump off the page…
Anyone notice the pattern? If you are wondering why Gary Sanchez is being drafted as the number one catcher after reading this, you are not alone. Sanchez had an abysmal 2018 season. However, he has shown the ability to be an elite hitter at times, batting .278 with 33 homers and 90 RBIs in 2017. That is not just elite for a catcher, but for any position on the field.
So what happened with Gary Sanchez last season? Well, first things first, Sanchez dealt with injuries, including a DL-stint due to a groin strain and a shoulder injury that led to off-season surgery. That being said, “health is a skill” in fantasy baseball and therefore can not be discounted.
One interesting thing to note is Gary Sanchez’ .197 BABIP. I am not one to cite this statistic a lot, but that is quite low and positive regression closer to league average (.300) is a near certainty in 2019. However, that is the only real standout if you are looking for a statistical reason to expect a huge comeback. In fact, a drop in home run production should have been expected from 2017 due to an unsustainable 25.4% HR/FB ratio, which dropped to 19.2% last season.
The bottom line here is that Gary Sanchez has immense upside. The downside is you need to invest a very high draft pick in order to gamble on it. Grandal had the upper hand in every worthwhile statistical category in 2018 over Sanchez. The risk/reward is simply not there when deciding between the two. The safe bet is to take a another player in the 6th or 7th round and wait to pounce on a guy like Grandal later on.
This is a bit closer, as far as comparisons go. Even with missing time in 2018 due to a back issue, J.T. Realmuto performed well across all fantasy categories among of the the weakest lineups in MLB. I mention that because there is a high certainty that Realmuto suits up in a different uniform for the 2019 season.
Realmuto may not bring the elite power stroke that Sanchez and Grandal have, but he more than makes up for it with his contact skills. He has a clear advantage in the batting average department, which also gives him an overall edge in OPS.
All things considered, Realmuto is likely the safest bet among fantasy catchers. However, that safety comes at a price. Are the advantages Realmuto gives you enough to justify taking him eight or more rounds ahead of Yasmani Grandal? No. Not at all. Now, this could all change depending on ADP fluctuation and the final landing spot for Realmuto. All drafts are different and if J.T. were to fall in your draft his value would change.
The bottom line here is that Yasmani Grandal performed like an elite catcher in fantasy last season but is simply not being shown the respect his performance dictates. Not to mention he is moving into a fairly lethal lineup…
Grandal Signs with Milwaukee
Coming off a year in which Grandal collected a career-high in plate appearances culminating in a 125 wRC+, a massive contract was awaiting him in free agency. But due to some ill-timed gambling and a fickle market, Grandal had to settle for a “prove it” deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, as far as the financial side of this story, that is for someone else to talk about. I am here to tell you how being on the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019 will impact Grandal’s fantasy value. It will, and in a very positive way.
In the chart above, you will see FanGraphs Park Factors for both Dodger Stadium and Miller Park. Dodger stadium is classic pitcher’s park that plays like one, and a move to Milwaukee will have a positive impact. As you can see, Miller Park is an overall upgrade for hitters. The real improvement for Grandal will come from an likely increase in home runs. When the signing became official, I cited Grandal’s career numbers hitting at Miller Park (see below).
It should be noted that even though those numbers are accurate, they also took place against Brewers pitching. So take them with a grain of salt so to speak. However, Grandal should be in for an overall uptick in production playing half of his games in his new home.
The Milwaukee lineup should be fairly lethal, but one would expect Grandal to hit toward the lower half. Roster Resource has Grandal penciled in as the sixth hitter in the Brewers offense, who scored the seventh-most runs in the National League in 2018. Overall, the move from Los Angeles to Milwaukee should have a positive impact on Grandal’s overall production.
It may not be the ideal situation that Grandal was hoping for in terms of contract, but fantasy owners should be happy with his landing spot. The players drafted in the “elite” category for catcher come with risk, a steep price tag, or both. Be a savvy fantasy GM and hold off until the middle rounds before snatching up a player like Grandal, who as we have seen, can easily hang with the top tier at his position.