Between Houston, Minnesota, Oakland, and now Detroit, Robbie Grossman has bounced around the league during his nine-year MLB career. The switch-hitting outfielder has been a useful piece on the rosters he’s been a part of but has never really been an everyday player for a prolonged period of time. As a result, he hasn’t been a fantasy-relevant player during his career.
However, all of this has changed in 2021 with the Tigers. Grossman has enjoyed one of his best seasons as a pro so far. With Akil Baddoo cooling off following his hot start and the other outfield options being Nomar Mazara, JaCoby Jones, and Niko Goodrum, Grossman has settled in as a near everyday player for Detroit. With the state of the roster likely not to change anytime soon, Grossman should have a set role as the leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future.
Batted Ball Profile
One of the new developments of Grossman’s game that jumps out to me right away is his change in launch angle.
Grossman is hitting significantly more fly balls and fewer ground balls than he is accustomed to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his isolated power (.162) is well above his average career mark (.129).
Also worth noting, his line drive rate is close to what it has been the rest of his career. I talk all the time about how the noisiness of line-drive rate can heavily influence a player’s expected stats, one way or the other, causing them to be slightly overused. Although Grossman’s current line-drive rate is not particularly close to league average, he has maintained a fairly high rate throughout his career, so it’s not something out of the ordinary. Thus, we can use Grossman’s xwOBA, which happens to be about 20 points above his wOBA, as a tool in our analysis. It gives us more reason to believe that his surprisingly hot start may be somewhat sustainable.
The largest improvement in Grossman’s game between 2020 and 2021 has been his plate discipline. Currently, his chase rate and walk percentage each sit in the 97th percentile of MLB. While plate discipline has always been Grossman’s best skill, he is presently looking at career-high numbers in this category.
The main indicator for Grossman’s improvement is his massive decrease in chase rate on offspeed pitches, while he has stayed roughly stagnant against the other two pitch groups. Offspeed pitches are the most commonly chased pitch of the three major pitch groups, so this is an important development for him.
Grossman’s improvements in plate discipline are most prominently seen when he is ahead of the count. His chase rate when ahead in the count was 20.9% in 2020, but he has since brought that number down to 11.3% this year. The last thing you want to do when you have the upper hand on the pitcher is swing at a pitch out of the zone, especially an offspeed pitch or breaking ball. As a direct result of letting such pitches go more often, Grossman’s walk rate has gone up significantly.
Commonly, you will see a player swing at fewer pitches altogether as a result of an improvement of plate discipline. An over-emphasis on laying off pitches out of the zone can lead to letting go of balls you can potentially do damage with. For Grossman however, this is not the case. His swing % had hardly changed when ahead in the count. His in-zone swing % has actually gone up on such pitches. When you see an improvement in plate discipline without sacrificing a different skill, it’s always a great sign.
Hard Hit Balls
In addition to hitting more fly balls and improving his plate discipline, Robbie Grossman has been hitting the ball better. His hard-hit rate and barrel rate are 40.2% and 9.3%, respectively, which are well up from his previous seasons. In fact, his barrel rate actually ranked in the bottom 10 for two consecutive seasons in 2018 and 2019. Now, he has brought it above average. This could partially be a product of his other developments mentioned above. His increase in fly balls definitely contributes to more barrels. Additionally, his batted ball success may be a product of his plate discipline. When you swing at bad pitches, you are likely to make weak contact, meaning a player who swings at fewer bad pitches should have a better hard-hit rate.
Pretty much all of Grossman’s contact metrics have gone up, including Sweet Spot % as well. Considering he is walking more, nearly every part of his game has improved. Only time will tell if this is sustainable, but it is a great sign for now.
Considering he bats leadoff and plays every day, Grossman warrants consideration based on volume alone. How often do you see a team’s leadoff hitter not have any fantasy value? He is currently available in 47% of Yahoo leagues. In OBP formats, Grossman is reaching must-add territory. Even if he comes back down to earth a little bit, an outfielder with a .350-.360 OBP is a piece many rosters could use. With 2021 being a rough year for injuries so far (looking at you, Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger managers), Grossman can be a viable short-term replacement among all the underwhelming options on the waiver wire.
One important note about Grossman: considering his hot start, the Tigers may look to move him at the trade deadline, as they are in no position to compete for a playoff spot. His value may never be higher than it is right now. When the Tigers signed him this offseason, they were probably hoping to cash in for future assets in the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, a trade this summer may actually hurt Grossman’s fantasy value. Although he would be joining a better offense, creating more opportunities for runs and RBI, he would likely be returning to a part-time role. With Joey Gallo, David Peralta, and Max Kepler among outfielders possibly available at the deadline, it is hard to envision a contender acquiring Grossman to be an everyday outfielder. On the other hand, Grossman does have another year on his contract after this one, so Detroit may elect to hold onto him. Either way, Robbie Grossman is a player you should think about adding for the short term if he is available in your league.
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