If you would have said that Avisail Garcia would be leading baseball well into the third week of the season this past winter, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone that would take you seriously. In fact, if you would have said that he would be leading even the White Sox in hitting at this point, you would have still found the same difficulty in finding another person to second your motion.
On July 30, 2013 the Chicago White Sox acquired the then 22-year old outfielder from the Detroit Tigers in a three team, six player trade that saw Jake Peavy head to the Boston Red Sox, and Jose Igleseas to the Tigers.
At the time Garcia was seen as the younger version of Miguel Cabrera, featuring some physical resemblance to the future hall of fame first-baseman. Unfortunately for the White Sox that never came to fruition in the years since that trade, and the White Sox fan-base, analysts, and even some front office members have grown tired of the Garcia experiment after a trio of disappointing campaigns marred by injuries, weight gain issues, shabby defense, and high strikeout rates.
Over his first three full seasons with the White Sox (2014-2016) Garcia hit an underwhelming .250 over the course of 314 games, with a slash line of .308/.380/.687 over that same span. A hitter that was supposed to be known for his power potential when he was acquired, was only able to amass 32 home runs and 139 RBI, and entered the season with a career oWar of 2.7.
This spring, like most other springs in recent years, we heard all about how Avisail Garcia was in the best shape of his life. While he did look lighter to the eye, it was a narrative that we had become all to familiar with, the idea that Garcia was going to stop being a strikeout machine because he shed 15 pounds; Or that the trimmer physique would somehow teach him how to stop rolling over on breaking balls in a manner so habitual that you could wager your salary on it happening on most days.
Well, I have no idea how much his weight loss has to do with it, but somehow to this point Garcia has actually been able to square up breaking balls and drive them. He has displayed the ability to take multiple walks in a game as opposed to strikeouts in previous seasons, and all-in-all looks like he is seeing the baseball better than anyone in baseball at this point.
Checking in with a league-leading .440 batting average to go along with a phenomenal slash line of .481/.680/1.161 through the first 13 games of the season. Garcia also has three home runs, a double, a triple, and 13 RBI to this point, but most importantly in regards to evidence to support a new found plate discipline, Garcia has walked five times while striking out only 12 times.
Before you look sideways at those BB/K numbers, consider this, Garcia’s career high in walks is just a dismal 36, achieved over the course of 148 games during the 2015 season. So five free-passes in April is putting him on pace to surpass that number in just 81 games at the rate of five walks every thirteen games. Garcia is also on pace to hit 27 home runs this season if he gets 450 at-bats at his current pace, which is not an inconceivable pace of three home runs per every 50 at-bats to this point.
We know that he isn’t going to hit .400 this season, but there is evidence to support the theory that Garcia has however finally found his potential and is capable of having a productive season at the plate.
The evidence is in his pitch selection, and the current sample size has been pretty good. In 2016 Garcia posted a K rate of 25.4 percent, this season he is at 22.2 percent. His batting average on balls in play is currently sitting at .543, up nearly .250 points from his 2016 BABIP of .309, and while that number will come down with his batting average, it should still remain significantly better if all the other metrics remain the same.
In 2016 his batting average was .64 points lower than his BABIP, so lets say his batting average comes all the way down to a healthy .300 at some point this season, his BABIP would still likely be well above .350, if not somewhere near the .375-.400 mark, considering last season when he struck out at a higher rate his BABIP was still .64 points higher than his batting average. That number would put him well above his career BABIP of .327.
In 2016 Garcia had an ISO rating (a formula designed to evaluate a hitters raw power) of .140, this season he is sitting at .240, like his BABIP Garcia is .110 points above his career ISO rating of .130. Garcia also boasts a weighted on-base percentage (wOBP) of .497, nearly double his career wOBP as well as his wOBP from 2016, which was slightly lower than his career numbers.
For those of us who aren’t up to speed or trusting of the advanced statistics available to us nowadays, Avi gets a passing grade on the old fashioned eye test as well. Exhibit A: Tuesday night in New York, Garcia saw at least five sliders from Luis Severino in his fifth inning at-bat in which he struck out. In the seventh inning, Garcia was not going to be fooled again, and was waiting for the Severino slider on a 2-0 count. When he got it, he nailed it for a three-run home run.
In Wednesday night’s game he came to the plate after watching hitters in front of him get pitches to hit, and instead of jumping in the box and sitting fastball and being lazy in his pitch selection (much like he has done his entire career), Garcia showed off his newfound plate discipline and drew a five-pitch walk. Garcia did the same thing in his second plate appearance as well, opting to take another walk rather than force something that wasn’t being offered to him by Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka.
While I’m sure most of the White Sox fan-base, and the baseball world is still waiting for the other shoe to drop in regards to Garcia’s production, and naturally it will, the evidence by both the metrics and the eye test most certainly suggest that while they will subside, they won’t plummet to the depths of season priors.
As long as Avi can continue to see the ball well, and maintain his newly acquired patient approach at the plate, he will be on pace for the most productive season of his career in 2017.