By Cat Garcia
Picture this: It’s the last week of June and Avisail Garcia is hitting .325, the fourth-best batting average in the American League. He’s in the running for the first All-Star Game of his career. He’s striking out at the lowest rate since his first year in the league.
The thing is, you don’t have to picture it. It’s actually happening. Avisail Garcia is living up to the potential baseball imagined for him when he came to the big leagues; he’s simply doing it six years later. He’s currently on his first major cold streak of the season (0-for-17), but that hasn’t stopped him from keeping a healthy batting line.
“About time. We’ve been waiting for this moment. A lot of people bet he would have failed,” former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Garcia over the weekend. “I know because at work, every week I talk about him. People keep waiting on him to be what he was. I think right now he has more experience. It’s about time [for] this kid. What he’s doing right now, I think it’s fun. He’s showing his potential. I see a lot of players with potential who never make it. I think it started getting too late for him, now he’s back on the map.”
That’s quite the stamp of approval from a World Series-winning skipper who never even managed Garcia. Baseball has always known the potential is there for Garcia to flourish, which is part of the reason so many folks have said they’re “out” on Garcia but have seemingly always kept one foot in the door. This is the moment that they’ve kept their foot in the door for.
The question behind any stretch of success is always, “How?” How is this happening now, and why? Is it just dumb luck? Well, earlier in the season, like many of Garcia’s successful stretches, it seemed as if luck was a factor. Of course, he’s still hitting for an extremely high BABIP of .391, which baseball folks have continually said is unsustainable. But, somehow, Garcia is making it work. It’s also worth noting that of the four other batting average leaders in the AL that Garcia joins, they all sport BABIPs anywhere from Jose Altuve’s .343 mark to Aaron Judge’s .420 mark. And it’s not all just lucky hits for Garcia.
We know a few things that have hindered Garcia’s success in the past. He strikes out a lot, he doesn’t seem to have much of a plan at the plate, and he doesn’t use all parts of the field enough.
Take a look at how he hit breaking pitching last season:
Now, take a look at the difference this season:
That’s quite the improvement. Hitting those kinds of pitches takes a good batting eye and good plate patience, something that Garcia’s approach has lacked. Take a look at his swing maps in 2016 and 2017:
There are a few takeaways from these maps. Garcia is no longer swinging freely at high fastballs. He’s restricting his swings at pitches outside the zone (up just 3 percentage points from 2016) while being able to make quality contact on the pitches outside the zone he does hit (outside the zone contact rate up 9 percentage points from 2016).
“He stays in the middle, his approach at the plate, he’s not chasing bad pitches, “ Guillen continued. “That’s what’s important for him, chasing those pitches. I think right now he’s going to be great. It’s getting hot, hopefully he’ll get better.”
There’s another interesting thing to note when looking at these maps though. Avisail Garcia, notorious for being an opposite field hitter, now has a career high pull rate of 47 percent– an 11 percent spike from 2016. That’s because Garcia is now hitting pitches he’s seeing inside, which is a perfect recipe for Garcia to finally use the entire field and not just hit drastically to the opposite field.
Right now, Garcia may be on a bit of a cold streak, but it’s the end of June and an 0-for-17 stretch still hasn’t cratered his numbers. Let’s hope that the adjustments Garcia has made are a strong foundation for him to see continued success. Even if it’s not at this rate, it’ll likely be better than what the White Sox have seen from the slugger in the past.