It isn’t unfair to say that the 2017 White Sox are not exactly the most interesting team in Major League Baseball this season, so much so that most folks are keeping a sharp eye on their minor league system with perhaps even more interest than their big league roster.
Among this misshapen team of veterans mixed with young players just breaking into their new roles, there is an unlikely, yet possibly extremely beneficial, story blooming in the progression of utility man Leury Garcia.
Besides his memorable appearance pitching against the Boston Red Sox a few seasons ago (likely just behind Adam Dunn as my favorite White Sox Position Player Pitching appearance), there isn’t much that comes to mind when you think of Garcia. He’s part of the trifecta of Garcias on the White Sox roster and has taken on the role of filling Adam Eaton’s shoes in centerfield. That’s about it.
The arrival of new White Sox manager Rick Renteria has installed a fresh coaching perspective to this team and perhaps revived a stale bench. These days, Garcia is seeing a bounty of playing time—more than he’s seen at this point in the season during any year of his career. The consistency seems to be having a positive effect on his performance.
Garcia has always been a fourth outfielder type. A player who has struck out anywhere from 46 to 26 percent of his plate appearances. Just last season, Garcia walked at a rate even lower than Tim Anderson. Garcia’s only true asset was his undeniable speed which aids in his ability to steal bases (21 over his four year career).
Things are a bit different now. Garcia is currently slashing .302/.340/.479 over 104 plate appearances — just around 70 shy of how many plate appearances Garcia previously racked up over any full season of play.
After Friday’s two-home run game against the Padres, Garcia is now comfortably slugging near the .500 mark. His slugging percentage rose nearly 70 points that evening because small sample sizes this early in the season show drastic fluctuation. . Unfortunately, that isn’t sustainable for Garcia. His speed, however, should help him keep his OBP at a healthy level. Garcia is also putting up a 126 wRC+, meaning that he’s sitting 26 points above league average. Again, Friday’s game tacked onto that number, but Garcia was still around a 100 wRC+ before Friday’s game, which is league average. League average is not a term that I suspect anyone ever felt would be attached to Garcia.
Besides seeing more regular playing time, what’s the major difference been for Garcia this year? Well, it’s actually quite obvious once you look a bit deeper into his numbers. Garcia’s plate patience and ability to read good pitches to hit has skyrocketed:
Garcia’s outside-the-zone swings have become extremely productive. He’s barely raised his percentage of swings outside the zone, while tacking on nearly 14 percentage points to his outside-the-zone contact rate. Garcia is also seeing pitches in the zone better, swinging at them just 4 percentage points higher than last season, while making 12 percent more contact.
And this is all while Garcia has only raised is overall swing rate by 3 percentage points, added a ton of quality contact, and lowered his swinging strike rate by 5 points. Oh, did I mention that his strikeout rate has nearly halved this season? Garcia struck out in 27 percent of his plate appearances last year. This year, he’s striking out at just a 13 percent clip. Pretty impressive. (His walk rate is still menial but, hey, the guy can’t fix everything at once.)
Garcia may never be an everyday player on a strong, contending team but, if he continues to see regular at bats during a time when the White Sox can afford for him to scuffle in the name of finding his stride, Garcia will round out to be a solid, valuable asset to the future of the White Sox’s bench arsenal; a major key to the success of any well rounded team. Looks like all Garcia needed was to be given a chance to show that he is able to play successfully at the Major League level, something he wasn’t truly afforded in his previous seasons on the South Side.