The Atlanta Braves acquired Robbie Grossman at the Trade Deadline in hopes that he, as a switch-hitter, would provide some right-handed depth in the corner outfield. Grossman had moments of success, but overall, his season was still underwhelming.
The Braves acquired Grossman from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline on August 2 in exchange for minor league pitcher Kris Anglin.
What were the expectations?
Grossman had gotten off to a very slow start with the Tigers in 2022, but had always hit left-handed pitching well. With Ronald Acuña Jr. still hurting, the Braves were hoping that Grossman could provide some corner outfield depth and could be a right-handed complement for Eddie Rosario in left field.
At the time of the trade, Grossman wasn’t doing much of anything overall, with a 78 wRC+ and slightly below average defense in the corner outfield, totaling -0.5 fWAR. However, what likely piqued the Braves’ interest in him was a .435 wOBA / .372 xwOBA against lefties in 96 PAs; his batting line was awful because he wasn’t hitting righties at all, but he was crushing lefties. That was probably all the Braves expected: someone that could stand in the outfield and punish lefties as the short side of a platoon.
Grossman’s season began in Detroit and got off to a peculiar start. He produced a 117 wRC+ in April despite not showing any power but that cratered to just a 33 wRC+ in May. He recovered somewhat in June, but came crashing back down again in July. After hitting 23 home runs for the Tigers in 2021, Grossman had just two over his first 320 plate appearances in 2022.
After the trade, the Braves’ analytics staff along with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer worked with Grossman to make some adjustments. The results were relatively positive, but the overall picture was still somewhat underwhelming. In 46 games with Atlanta, Grossman hit .217/.306/.370. The slugging percentage was nearly 90 points higher than with Detroit and he did more than double him home run output with five in half as many plate appearances.
Whether as a result of the adjustments, or just as part of the nature of baseball in small samples, Grossman didn’t really end up giving the Braves anything like what they acquired. Despite mashing lefties in Detroit, Grossman had a league average-y .309 wOBA / .312 xwOBA in 53 PAs against lefties as a Brave. He faced more righties, and while he improved against them (.296 wOBA / .265 xwOBA, compared to .206 / .243 in Detroit), the numbers were still pretty poor. He did post slightly positive defensive value, giving him 0.2 fWAR in 157 total PAs, but the Braves were probably looking for more lefty-mashing than what he actually provided.
What went right? What went wrong?
Grossman appeared to be spinning his wheels while with the Tigers and saw significant action for the Braves during the stretch run as they ran down the Mets. The plan originally was to utilize him mostly against left-handed pitchers, but he ended up seeing a lot of action in more of an every day role for a stretch. His defense was adequate in both corners and he seemed to fit in nicely in Atlanta’s clubhouse.
There are some concerning trends though. His hard hit percentage fell for the third straight season to 30.4 percent. At the same time, his strikeout rate climbed to 27 percent, which was a career-high for a full season. His 82 wRC+ was also a low mark for his career over a full season. As bad as his overall numbers were, he still hit .320/.436/.443 with a 157 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, though most of that came with the Tigers. Given the small sample, it’s a little hard to tease out how much the Tigers’ ruinous 2022 approach (swing a lot while attempting to slap the ball through holes in the infield) hurt Grossman’s numbers, as opposed to the onset of serious skills-related decline in his age 32 season. We might get a better picture next year.
All that said, Grossman did have some pretty gigantic hits for the Braves. Who could forget this amazing, miraculous go-ahead homer (if only in the context of the Braves still losing the game afterward)?
It was Grossman’s highest WPA play and game of the year by far, and the second-highest in his career, beaten out only by an extra-inning walkoff homer against the Yankees last year.
On the flip side, Grossman’s worst WPA game as a Brave came in a one-run win instead of a one-run loss, so things balanced. On September 25, Grossman went 0-for-4 with three of his outs coming in big situations featuring men on base representing the tying or go-ahead runs. This was the biggest blow in the game, and you maybe can’t even fault Grossman given that the pitch wasn’t a strike, but here we are:
On the flip side, this strikeout was his worst single play of the year, and unlike the one against Robertson, it was all him. Woof.
Grossman is a free agent this winter and will be looking to latch on somewhere, most likely as a platoon player or as depth. His defense isn’t as bad as some of the other guys who routinely get run out in the corner outfield, and his track record of hitting is still good enough to warrant some interest, but his days as an every day option in the outfield are probably over.
Teams will probably see him as a fourth or fifth outfielder, someone to provide flexible pinch-hitting and run around in the grass if absolutely forced to, but not much more. Grossman’s track record suggests he might have enough offensive upside to be better than that, but he’ll need to prove that he can go back to making both more contact with more power, as he did in 2020-2021, in order to get more of a role next year.