A.J. Ellis Has to Start Over Yasmani Grandal Tonight, Right?

A.J. Ellis usually doesn’t catch Zack Greinke, and he usually doesn’t start against righty pitchers. That’s what Yasmani Grandal is for, and for most of the year, that worked out well. Grandal was an All-Star, and he made the Matt Kemp trade look very, very good.

Thing is, Grandal is hurt. His left shoulder has been a mess since he took a foul tip off it in early August. Last week, before the NLDS began, I wrote about how bad it had been affecting him:

For Grandal, he was sailing right on up until a trip east in the first week of August. On Aug. 6 in Philadelphia, he took a foul tip off his left shoulder. See if you can tell the difference in his Statcast™ before and after stats — it shouldn’t be too difficult:

Through Aug. 6:
.295/.400/.513 (155 wRC+) —- 93.6 mph exit velo, 227 feet avg. distance

After Aug. 7:
.064/.226/.096 (7 wRC+) —- 89.7 mph exit velo, 194.9 feet avg. distance

If that “after Aug. 7” line seems inconceivable, well, it is. That’s six hits, all but one a single, in 94 at-bats over the final two months.

Grandal started with Greinke in Game 2 and Brett Anderson in Game 3, and the results haven’t been much better. In eight plate appearances, he’s got one hit (granted, one that drove in two runs in Game 3) and struck out four times. And if we’re just talking about how he looked:

Ellis has two singles in seven plate appearances, catching Clayton Kershaw twice, and that’s not really enough of a sample size to make an evaluation. This, however, using a mechanical change he made in his swing as a dividing line, is:

Through June 6:
.138/.231/.172 (14 wRC+) — 87.43 mph exit velo, 206.50 feet avg. distance

After June 7:
.285/.409/.512 (160 wRC+) — 89.31 mph exit velo, 225.45 feet avg. distance

To put that into context, Ellis’ “after” wRC+ of 160 is about equal to the 159 first-half mark that got Grandal on the All-Star team.

Now consider all that, and look at Don Mattingly‘s quotes on the situation yesterday:

“I know Yas is maybe more on the 50/50 line, depending on once he tests his swing. I don’t think catching is an issue, just swinging the bat pain free. We haven’t talked about replacing him [on the roster] — I don’t think we would, but possibly if he absolutely can’t lift his arm. Talking to [VP of medical services] Stan Conte, he feels good, his range of motion is better, he expects there’s a good chance to be ready to play tomorrow. That tells me we won’t do that, but that could change if he can’t do anything at all.”

While it doesn’t seem likely, the fact that there’s even discussion of replacing Grandal with Austin Barnes (which would knock Grandal out of the NLCS, too) should tell you a lot. The way Grandal looks when he swings should tell you a lot. The shocking lack of productivity should tell you a lot. The near-certainty that there’s a press release pre-written about offseason surgery ready to drop the second the season ends should tell you a lot.

All of which is to say: I know Greinke loves Grandal, and so do you, though he seems to like both

“Both have different strengths,” said Greinke. “A.J. is probably the best pitch-caller and working with pitchers on what’s working and stuff. Yas works really well with me, and his physical skills and baseball skills are as good as anyone in the game in framing, blocking and throwing. Both have strengths.”

…but man, is it painful to watch Grandal try to play through this injury. I get the argument that you want to make your starting pitcher as comfortable as possible, and maybe that’s what wins out here. I get the argument that maybe Ellis isn’t very likely to get a hit off Jacob deGrom anyway, and that makes it not worth depriving Greinke of his preferred catcher. I mean, if Grandal plays, it’s not like there’s zero reasons.

This isn’t the Grandal we saw in the first half, though, and it’s not the same Ellis, either. If you’re already worried about putting together an outfield that can touch deGrom, putting a catcher who can’t hit right now may not be the best way to combat that. I’m not sure how this is going to go. I know how it ought to go. Remember in May when you all wanted Ellis cut immediately? Here we are now. Baseball is weird.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.