Usually, when I begin writing an article, most of my research has already been researched. I know exactly how the article is going to begin and end, because, like I said, my research has already been completed. This piece is different. Upon starting the piece I had done no research. I was reading a baseball chat hosted by FanGraphs, and someone mentioned the fact that Orlando Arcia could break out, particularly in the home run department. I wanted to see if I agreed with that premise based on what we’ve seen from Arcia thus far, so I started writing and researching simultaneously. The question I posed in the title is a question I didn’t know the answer to until I completed the article. It was a fun little exercise, and it was a fun change of pace from what I’m normally accustomed to.
Orlando Arcia has never been considered an elite hitter. Even when Arcia was one of the top prospects in all of baseball and was coming off a Double-A season in 2015 in which he hit .307 that was accompanied by a .347 on-base percentage and a 126 wRC+, his skills with the bat still came as an afterthought. It was his defense that propelled him as he made his way through the Brewers farm system, and, as a shortstop, being exceptional on offense is often seen as less important.
And through 208 MLB games, Arcia’s reputation has lived up to the billing. While his defense has been somewhat of a mild disappointment (just 5 defensive runs saved through his first two seasons), his glove has still been far superior than his bat. The 23 year old has posted 79 wRC+ with a .133 isolated power (.140 is considered average) during his first 764 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, only 12 players with at least 750 plate appearances during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns have produced a lower wRC+. Suffice it to say, Arcia has gone through his fair share of struggles at the plate.
Arcia’s biggest problem is his knack for hitting the ball on the ground, as he’s hit a grounder in more than 52 percent of his plate appearances. And, of course, it’s impossible to hit a home run that flies over the fence when it’s on the ground, which is why Arcia has just 19 home runs to his name. So therein lies the problem with the title of this post. How can Arcia possibly smack 25 dingers when his profile has always suggested he’s incapable of such a feat?
Let’s first start by looking at Arcia’s first- and second-half splits of his batted ball data.
|First Half (297 ABs)
|Second Half (209 ABs)
Interestingly enough, Arcia’s fly-ball rate dropped at a rather significant rate in the second half, and yet, he essentially matched his home run production in 88 fewer at-bats. Sure, his ground-ball rate shrunk a bit, but the biggest change Arcia made had to do with line drives. He started to hit more of them, but that didn’t really aid him power-wise. According to Baseball Savant, four of Arcia’s 15 home runs came on live drives, with three of them coming after the All-Star break (i.e. the second half).
So far, this hasn’t told us much. Let’s dig deeper by looking at how hard Arcia hit the ball in 2017.
|First Half (297 ABs)
|Second Half (209 ABs)
Looks like we found a little something. After the All-Star break, Arcia apparently decided he was going to make better contact going forward, and that’s exactly what he did. His soft contact rate plummeted seven percent while his hard-hit rate jumped six percent, and as a result, he hit more home runs per fly ball. A big reason for his hard-hitting spree is the fact that he cut down on pop ups by almost 11 percent in the second half. Pop ups are bad, and Arcia’s sudden decision to stop hitting them bodes well for the upcoming season.
However, despite the optimism the above table displays, Arcia’s exit velocity numbers paint a different picture. Arcia’s average exit velocity during the first half was 85.4 mph and 90.4 mph on fly balls. In the second half, that number changed to 85.9 mph overall and 89.9 mph on fly balls. I say the word “changed” but nothing really changed. The numbers are essentially the same. In all reality, Arcia hit the ball with the same velocity all season long. The quality of contact in the table is provided by Baseball Info Solutions, while the exit velocity numbers come from StatCast. Here’s what FanGraphs has to say about the quality of contact stats it uses from Baseball Info Solutions:
Unfortunately, the exact algorithm (the exact cut points/methodology) are proprietary to BIS and we can’t share exactly what constitutes hard contact, but the calculation is made based on hang time, location, and general trajectory. It’s not perfectly analogous to exit velocity, but until we have more complete StatCast data, it’s a step up from simply knowing line drive versus fly ball.
BIS doesn’t perfectly lineup with Statcast, and in Arcia’s case, the two are vastly different. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe the exit velocity numbers because I actually know how they are calculated, and StatCast, in general, is more broadly used and acknowledged among baseball circles, mainly because it’s more accessible.
Now, it’s entirely possible Arcia has made strides in the offseason, with those strides eventually resulting in more home runs in 2018. For example, he went from four home runs in 216 plate appearances during his rookie season to 15 in 548 plate appearances, while improving his HR/FB% by a decent amount. It’s possible he takes another jump in the power department, but 25 home runs? I’m not a believer. Unlike many of his peers, Arcia failed to join the fly-ball revolution, and he hits the ball on the ground too consistently to think he has 25 home runs in him. Twenty homers is possible, but even that’s a stretch. I think 15-18 home runs for Arcia is certainly reasonable, but if he wants to show more power, he needs to do at least these two things:
- Decrease ground-ball rate
- Increase fly-ball rate
Arcia doesn’t have enough raw power to hit opposite field home runs, as only three of his 15 home runs went to right field last year despite hitting a fly ball almost 50 percent of the time when he went the opposite way. That’s just an insane number, and not the good kind of insane, especially when you realize his fly-ball rate was less than 20 percent when he pulled the ball. If he managed to flip the two, he could easily hit 20 home runs. But that’s a tall order and a big if.
Arcia may never be consistent home-run guy, but he’s certainly capable of being a league-average, 100 wRC+ hitter. And that, along with his defensive skills at shortstop, should make him a valuable player for the Milwaukee Brewers years to come.