Ron Gardenhire said it best yesterday in his post-game presser, Oswaldo Arcia “gives a flip.” Arcia, who had shown signs of possibly breaking out of yet another slump earlier in the week, went 0-4 with three strikeouts in Sunday’s game against the rival Chicago White Sox.
After the final K, Arcia memorably snapped his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson style. Clearly, Arcia was frustrated, and for good reason.
His strikeout problem has been, let’s say, chronic. He’s whiffing in 30.3% of his at bats this season. Technically, this is better than he did last year, when he K’d 31.0% of the time. On top of that, he’s walking in only 7.8% of his plate appearances. As well, his batting average on balls put in play is at .295, which is the lowest of his career.
Here’s a look at what happens when Arcia puts the ball in play.
There’s a pretty clear trend that most of Arcia’s batted balls go to the right side of the field. All of his home runs have been pulled, as have the majority of his line drives. The balls that he does hit up the middle or to the left side are not tattooed with the type of strength we know Arcia possesses.
It gets worse when he faces left handed pitching:
Almost everything he hits is to the right side of the field, including a cluster of infield grounders.
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Why is this happening?
Based on what we see in games, the obvious answer is that Arcia is swinging at bad pitches. Indeed, Arcia to date swung at 51% of pitches thrown to him. His O-Swing % (the percentage at which he swings at balls outside the strikezone) is a shocking 40.3%. Arcia’s O-Contact% is 56.1%. Not only is he swinging at terrible pitches, he’s making contact with a lot of them, which means he’s hitting very few pitches with authority. Arcia is giving away his at bats.
Looking at Arcia’s heat maps, it’s obvious that pitchers are privy to Arcia’s awful pitch selection.
Pitchers are throwing Arcia low and away, and often out of the strike zone. Of course, his tendency to swing at pitches that are low and away and often out of the strike zone compels pitchers to keep throwing there. In fact, Arcia’s three at bats yesterday against White Sox starter Scott Carroll are exemplary of this trend. His first at bat, in which he struck out on three pitches, looks like this:
Arcia quickly fell behind 0-2 on pitches that were roughly thigh level and just above the belt. The first was on the outer 1/3 of the plate, while the second pretty much cut it in half. On the third pitch, Arcia swung at a knee-high pitch on the outer 1/3 of the zone, which is where pitchers have been throwing him basically all season.
Here is at bat number two:
Again, Carroll pitched Arcia low and away. This time, Arcia was able to get ahead before Carroll evened the count. Then Arcia did himself in by swinging at an obvious ball. On the fourth pitch, he struck swinging on a pitch located almost identically to his first strikeout pitch.
Here is his third and final at bat against Carroll:
Only one of these pitches is even close to the strike zone, yet Arcia managed to strike out swinging. He was able to get ahead 2-0 this time, but took a hack at a pitch even with his shins when he should have been looking to square up a fastball on the inner half of the plate, making the count 2-1. If he didn’t swing at this one, he would have walked on the very next pitch.
Instead, Carroll evened the count on a pitch that realistically could have been called either a ball or a strike, and Arcia whiffed on a ball nearly in the other batter’s box.
Carroll’s pitches to Arcia yesterday were progressively less hittable, yet Arcia struck swinging out each time he faced him. This is a hitter who has gotten lost deep inside his own head and is trying to bushwhack his way out like his bat is a machete.
The thing to remember is that Arcia is still incredibly young and is nowhere near his ceiling (if he ever reaches said ceiling is an entirely separate issue). It’s pretty well known throughout Twins Territory that hitting coach Tom Brunansky has been working with the young outfielder on several mechanical issues, including keeping his hands up in an attempt to fill some holes in his swing. This is good news.
As fans, we can also hope that Arcia’s patience at the plate will improve with age and experience. Right now, especially given Arcia’s notoriously awful splits, I think that the best solution for the struggling power hitter is to platoon him. Perhaps put Chris Colabello in against left handed pitchers and let Arcia figure out his problems in situations where we know he has more success.
Of course, it would be quintessentially un-Gardenhire to platoon his players. Instead, Arcia will most likely have to find himself in the trenches.