On the Astros: Robbie Grossman and the second callup bounce

J. Meric

Talking about how well promising outfield prospect Robbie Grossman has hit since being recalled.

Oh, what a difference a couple of months can make. After flaming out in his first extended time in the big leagues, Astros outfield prospect Robbie Grossman is finally figuring things out. He has raised his averages up to .250/.348/.321, with the highest on-base percentage on the team.

Not bad for a guy below the Mendoza line 25 plate appearances ago.

After his demotion to the minors, Grossman has returned and just flat-out hit. What's the reason? From a recent Brian T. Smith article:

"He's been having good at-bats," manager Bo Porter said following the Astros' 3-2 defeat to the Twins. "When I made the decision (Sunday), it was more about Robbie than it was about anything else. He continues to swing the bat well. I love the way he's going about his business each and every day."

Going about his business. More confidence. Swinging the bat well. All coach-speak, right? Do we accept coach-speak at face value around here?

The obvious answer is sample size. Grossman didn't have a ton of at-bats before, and this hot streak is just his talent evening out his early struggles. But, let's not rest there. We have data to show us exactly how he's doing things differently. For instance:

Season Split GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB IFH% BUH% Pitches Balls Strikes
2013 1st Half 1.60 18.8 % 50.0 % 31.3 % 0.0 % 0.0 % 5.0 % 50.0 % 487 192 295
2013 2nd Half 0.80 47.1 % 23.5 % 29.4 % 0.0 % 20.0 % 0.0 % 50.0 % 114 43 71

That'd be Grossman's splits for the first half and second, broken down by batted ball profile. Notice anything unusual? Oh, right, the comically high line drive rate that has to fall. I'm guessing he'll hit somewhat fewer liners and more grounders, but probably not as many ground balls as he did the first time up.

Also, that last column is for pitches seen. His insanely high pitches per plate appearance total has risen in the last 25 PAs from 4.3 to 4.5. I guess when you're as white hot as Grossman, you see more pitches too.

Still not the whole story. We haven't seen spray charts or how pitchers were throwing to him yet. So, let's break things down by period. Here is Grossman's pitches seen with outcomes, his spray chart and his strike zone map from April and May.

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 198 40.8% 60.6% 34.8% 4.5% 14.1% 16.2%
FT 60 12.4% 76.7% 50.0% 5.0% 13.3% 31.7%
CH 56 11.5% 66.1% 44.6% 12.5% 8.9% 23.2%
SL 52 10.7% 42.3% 19.2% 5.8% 3.8% 9.6%
CU 50 10.3% 56.0% 30.0% 18.0% 8.0% 4.0%
FC 31 6.4% 64.5% 41.9% 9.7% 16.1% 16.1%
SI 27 5.6% 63.0% 48.1% 7.4% 22.2% 18.5%
FS 9 1.9% 33.3% 33.3% 11.1% 11.1% 11.1%
KC 2 0.4% 50.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Grossman_pre-demotion_spray_chart_medium

Grossman_pre-demotion_strike_zone_medium

And here is his information post callup.

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FF 38 33.3% 63.2% 47.4% 5.3% 26.3% 15.8%
SL 16 14.0% 56.3% 18.8% 0.0% 12.5% 6.3%
CH 15 13.2% 60.0% 53.3% 20.0% 26.7% 6.7%
FT 15 13.2% 73.3% 53.3% 6.7% 6.7% 40.0%
SI 13 11.4% 61.5% 61.5% 15.4% 23.1% 23.1%
CU 9 7.9% 55.6% 11.1% 11.1% 0.0% 0.0%
FC 5 4.4% 60.0% 20.0% 20.0% 0.0% 0.0%
FS 3 2.6% 66.7% 66.7% 0.0% 0.0% 66.7%

Grossman_post-demotion_spray_chart_medium

Grossman_post-demotion_strike_zone_medium

Notice anything?

Most of this is pretty similar. He's got a very similar pitch profile, with most pitchers working off the four-seamer while then working in a variety of off-speed stuff. He's putting them into play at an also fairly equal frequency and whiffing on just as many.

The change that jumped out at me is his foul ball data. Check out some of his "In Play" numbers from his first time up and in the last 25 plate appearances. He's fouling off a ton more pitches, while not putting as many into play. Take the changeup for instance. He barely fouled any of those off in his first deployment, but fouled them off like crazy now. The slider is less obvious, but you can see the trend.

So, maybe that's the adjustment Grossman made. Maybe the reason why he's so red hot right now is he's fouling off pitches he can't handle or would turn into easy groundball outs. Check out the strike zones. I bet those fouled pitches are low and away, too. Pitchers seem to be attacking him more down there this time around.

That is absolutely an adjustment a hitter could make between stints in the big leagues. It's something he could have worked on with the coaching staff and put into practice up in the bigs again.

It also puts a neat little bow on everything we looked at here. His line drive rate is up because he's hitting more pitches he can handle. His pitches per plate appearance is slightly up because he's fouling off more balls.

It won't work forever. His numbers will crash down again. But, if he can keep that OBP up around .340, I bet Grossman stays in the lineup for a while.

Thanks to Texas Leaguers and FanGraphs for supplying the data.

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