'I'm not where I want to be': A dissection of what's been ailing Tigers' Robbie Grossman

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — To look at all Robbie Grossman does for the Tigers on a daily basis, in the clubhouse and on the field, and say he’s struggling seems outrageous.

He leads the team with a .352 on-base percentage (tied with Jeimer Candelario). He’s second on the team in home runs (15) and RBIs (46) despite hitting leadoff most of the season. He’s hitting .300 with runners in scoring position. He’s been a stabilizer defensively and his mentoring of young outfielders like Eric Haase, Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill and Daz Cameron has been invaluable.

And yet, he’s hitting just .226 with a .755 OPS. Over the last 30 games, he’s slashed .176/.333/.363 with 27 strikeouts in 128 plate appearances.

Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman has 18 hits in his last 102 at-bats.

“The season is not a perfect linear experience,” manager AJ Hinch said Monday after giving Grossman a rare day off. “It’s continuous peaks and valleys and trying to keep consistent along the way. There are stretches where things are good and there are stretches when they aren’t perfect.

“Robbie is doing fine, according to me.”

According to Grossman, though, fine isn’t close to what he’s striving for. He’s not pleased or remotely content with his offensive production right now.

“You always want to do better as a player, no matter where you’re at season-wise or stats-wise,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do and I’m not where I want to be. I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of how we’ve played and grown.

“But individually, I’m not where I want to be. These last 60 games I really want to make a push and play my butt off.”

Grossman knows the root of the trouble. He’s hitting 40 points lower against fastballs than he did last year. His swing-and-miss rate on heaters is 17.7%, up from 9.9%.

“It’s just how they are attacking me,” he said. “It’s a little different than how they have before. They’ve found something that works for them. I know what they’re doing. I’m not going to say it. But it’s something I’ve really been consciously trying to work on these past two months.

“I know what they are trying to do and it’s my chess move now.”

It’s not that Grossman forgot how to hit a fastball. It’s how teams are getting to the fastball and it’s where they are locating it. A look at his Statcast heat maps show that pitchers are beating him up in the zone. Overall, 52% of his strikeouts are on pitches middle up and 63% on middle in.

“It’s something I need to think about and work on,” Grossman said. “I have to do better. I have to make an adjustment. The beautiful part of this game is there is always an adjustment to be made and a challenge to overcome.”

Grossman’s average launch angle on balls he puts in play is 20 degrees, the steepest of his career. According to Statcast, the percentage of line drives plus fly balls he hits is a league-high 64%. But his average exit velocity is just 88.4 mph. It’s below 80 mph on pitches above the zone.

His fly ball percentage is at a career-high 47% while his line-drive rate has stayed constant at 27%.

“The last couple of years I’ve been really conscious of trying to hit the ball in the air,” Grossman said. “Ground balls are outs like 99 percent of the time. But it’s kind of been working against me a little bit, too, in some aspects. I need to find that happy balance.”

More line drives, less soft fly balls. Sounds easy, right? It’s anything but.

“I think he’s always grinding, always trying to find the right balance with the leg lift and bat angle,” Hinch said. “He’s trying to be a powerful hitter but also a productive hitter and take his singles when he can. It’s just hard to hit at this level period, let alone for six months straight.”

Fulmer close

Tigers reliever Michael Fulmer (neck strain) was expected to throw a bullpen in front of Tigers' trainers and pitching coaches here Monday.

“His stuff has been good and he’s rebounded well the next day,” Hinch said. “I told him we weren’t going to activate him today. We’re going to take it day by day and see what we decided to do. But we are giving serious consideration to activating him in the next couple of days.”

Tyler Alexander is scheduled to start against the Twins Tuesday. He hasn’t gone four full innings yet this season, so Hinch may want to wait to see how he has to use his bullpen Monday and Tuesday before adjusting the roster — presuming there are no setbacks for Fulmer.

Goodrum on hold

Things aren’t progressing for utility man Niko Goodrum. Hinch said there is still swelling in his left calf, which has kept him out since July 17.

“This is very rare and somewhat surprising, according to our medical team,” Hinch said. “It’s not painful, it’s just the high-end running that makes him apprehensive. You start messing with a calf and then he pulls it and now we’re starting to threaten the rest of the season.

“We’re being very cautious. He’s not asymptomatic so we can’t start ramping up toward playing games.”

Around the horn

Cameron (toe) could be starting a rehab assignment by the end of the week. He took fly balls in the outfield, ran the bases and took a full batting practice at Target Field Monday. He was banging balls into the third deck in left field in batting practice.

… According to Jim Callis of MLB.com, the Tigers reached a deal with third-round pick Dylan Smith, right-hander from Alabama, for $1.115 million. They have signed their top 10 picks.


Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Twins

First pitch: 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, Target Field, Minneapolis

TV/radio: BSD/97.1


LHP Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.24), Tigers: He cruised the first time through the Rangers lineup in his last start, but things got messy for him the second time through. He walked a batter and hit another, both uncharacteristic. But his cutter has developed into a serious weapon and he still gets a lot of chase swings. His 33% chase rate, a career high, ranks in the top 10 percentile in baseball.

RHP Kenta Maeda (4-4, 4.63), Twins: This will the fourth time the Tigers have faced him, the third time in the last 19 days. You’d think by now they’d figure out how to beat him. A bases-loaded triple by Akil Baddoo at Comerica Park is the only damage he’s allowed against the Tigers.