Yasmani Grandal is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, known also for his pitch framing, an experienced, playoff-tested switch-hitter whose value on the free-agent market earned him the biggest contract in White Sox history.
That he’s not the best blocker of balls in the dirt is something the Sox will have to live with.
“This is me,” Grandal told the Sun-Times this week. “If you don’t like it, you can change the channel. That’s pretty much the way I see it.”
How Grandal saw the 2021 season is worth noting, considering his seven consecutive years of being in the playoffs. For him, it was all about the experience.
The White Sox saw firsthand a more battle-tested, experienced team in the Astros that beat them in the postseason and must learn from it. For Grandal, enduring an injury to his right knee in spring training and tearing a tendon in his left knee in July, neither of which prevented him from producing at remarkable offensive levels in the 93 games he appeared in, was “just another learning experience.”
“I played the entire season on one foot,” he said. “I don’t think too many people can do that, and I pretty much performed at a high level.”
Grandal, 33, batted .240/.420/.520 with a .939 OPS, buoyed by a .337/.481/.673 hitting line and 1.154 OPS in the 30 games he played after surgery. The Sox easily won the American League Central but lost to the Astros in four games in the ALDS.
Grandal’s spin on the way it ended is positive.
“Tremendous job from the front office all the way down from top to bottom,” he said. “The right moves were made, and when you look at what we were able to accomplish with what we had, it was incredible.”
Tony La Russa’s presence was a plus, he said, “managing his players the way he did to get us where we needed to be.”
“Obviously the end result wasn’t there but we’re definitely trending toward the right direction and that’s all you want, right?” Grandal said.
Well, a World Series title would have been nice.
“I’d trade how I ended up for having done [lousy] and be in the playoffs right now,” he said.
The Astros prevented that not because they were necessarily better than the Sox but they have the experience the Sox need to win when it counts.
“They have a really good team but so do we,” Grandal said. “But they’re definitely more experienced in those situations and those are the experiences you need to get under your belt in order to be successful in the future. It was a great opportunity for us to learn.”
Experience often wins out on teams closely matched, and that’s what happened to the Sox, Grandal said.
“It happens in boxing all the time, right? Canelo [Saul Alvarez] fighting [Floyd] Mayweather early in his career to get experience. He lost but now he’s known as the best fighter in the world. It’s almost the same thing. A lot of teams looked similar when matched up but experience usually wins out. I was glad we were able to go against a team like the Astros.” The Astros did small things that made a difference, Grandal said.
“Making the plays they needed at the right time, getting the base hit when they needed it at the right time, taking a walk, little things like that,” he said. “Not always looking for the big swing, but putting the ball in play, very small things, and those type of details happen with experience. They were able to execute when the time came.”
With his knees fixed up and protection from the Force3 Defender catcher’s mask and gear made by a company he and former Sox catcher Tyler Flowers are invested in, Grandal says he is nowhere close to the end of his career. He has two years left on a four-year deal and won’t be asking for more time at first base or as a designated hitter.
“Now is not that time,” Grandal said. “I still want the bulk of the innings behind the plate. I still feel like I can go out there and catch 140-150 [games] if need be.”
Grandal says blows to the mask have locked his jaw and put him on liquid diets in years past but since using Force3 equipment starting in 2017, he has had no such problems or concussion issues. Having that confidence, along with his most valuable takeaway from 2021 — understanding his body, “listening to myself” throughout the knee issues and knowing his numbers would be there at the end of the season” — already have him geared up for 2022.
“We have a group of guys who have the talent to do it and get us where we need to be,” he said. “And that’s why I’m here.”
Jerry Narron, a former manager who oversaw Sox catchers in 2021, envisions a healthier Grandal leading the way.
“You look back at some of the video and he has made some unbelievable blocks,” Narron said. “At times he may want to frame pitches so much that he doesn’t move as well as he possibly could on pitches that are running out of the zone. A lot of catchers can be guilty of that. But as a framer he does a tremendous job, and I’m looking forward to him being healthy, with two good knees. I still think he has a Gold Glove somewhere in his future. I’d like to see him win one on his overall body of work back there. And I want to see him win a World Series ring.”