Is Avisail Garcia finally breaking out?

We are a month into the 2017 baseball season and there have been quite a few surprises on the South Side.  Notwithstanding fact that the White Sox sit at 13-11, just a half game back of first place, there have been some individual surprise performances as well.  The two most notable of which are Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson.

We will start with Avisail Garcia today and get to Davidson tomorrow.  The 25-year-old outfielder is in his fifth season with the White Sox after coming over from the Tigers as a part of the Jake Peavy deal in 2013.  When acquired, the Sox were hoping to get a key piece of their future in the outfield.  That has not turned out to be the case so far.

Over the last three years, Garcia has slashed .250/.308/.380 for a .687 OPS and an OPS+ of 92 (with 100 being a league average player).  Avi has struck out 300 times while taking just 84 walks over that span.  He has also been a negative WAR player, with his best season coming last year (0.5 fWAR).

This year however, Garcia has gotten off to a white hot start.  Through 23 games he is hitting .368 with a .409 on-base percentage.  His OPS is 1.029 right now and he has already hit five homers, after just 12 and 13 the last two seasons.  So the question is, has Avi turned the corner?

To answer that we need to dive into the some of the advanced numbers to see if anything is really different or if he just had a really good month.

Let’s start with the strikeout and walk numbers.

Garcia is currently striking out 22.6% of the time.  His last three seasons were 25.4%, 23.5%, and 23.2 percent.  So while a 22.6% strikeout rate is lower, it’s by no means a drastic improvement.

OK, well maybe his plate discipline is better even if he’s still striking out at close to the same rate.  This could account for some of the improvement.  According to Fangraphs Garcia is swinging at 38.5% of pitches he sees outside the strike zone.

That number would be the lowest of his career, the previous low was 39.9% last year.  He is also swinging at a higher percentage of pitches inside the zone, 82.9% to be exact.  That would also represent a career high.

Meanwhile, Garcia is making better contact this year.  His contact percentage is 72.9%, up from 68.6% last year and 70.5% the year before.  He has improved his contact rate within the strike zone from around 83% the last two seasons, to 87.9% this year.  He is also seeing more pitches in the strike zone in general so far, 45.3%, up from about 41% the last two seasons.  He is swinging and missing a little less, about one percent overall.

Meanwhile Garcia’s walk rate this season is actually down from the last three years.  He’s currently walking at a 5.4% clip, after being a little over 7% each of the last three years.

So basically, Garcia is pretty close to being the same hitter from a plate discipline standpoint that he always has been.  The difference so far has been more power and some luck.

First the power.  Garcia’s ISO (isolated power) numbers the last three years were .140, .108, and .120.  According to Fangraphs those numbers would rank as average, poor, and below average respectfully.

This year, Avi’s ISO is .253, which would have ranked 15th in MLB last year.  His wOBA (weighted on-base percentage) is also up 135 points from last year and is currently 18 points higher than the major league leader from last season.

Now for the luck.  Garcia is currently hitting .443 on balls in play.  League average is right around .300 for this, and Garcia hit .309 and .320 the last two years on balls in play.  The league leader last year was DJ LeMahieu at .388, so Garcia is in some crazy territory right now.

My expectation, as is most everyone’s, is that there is obviously no way Avisail Garcia can keep hitting at this level.  He hasn’t dramatically changed his discipline at the plate, although there is some evidence that he is doing a better job of hitting “his” pitches harder.

Regardless, Garcia will come back down to earth, the only question is how hard will re-entry be?

So what does that mean for the Sox and Garcia moving forward?  That’s a tough one.

Garcia still looks like a guy that should be a good baseball player and a good hitter.  He is showing signs of developing the power that everyone assumed he would develop based on his body and natural strength.

He is also just 25-years-old, and even though he has over 1,600 plate appearances at the major league level, he is still quite young.  It’s possible that he is finally having that breakthrough that the Sox have been waiting for.

If Garcia goes out the rest of this year and hits 30-plus homers and raises is average and on-base percentage, the White Sox may have to re-evaluate where Garcia stands in terms of the organization.

It’s possible that he could go from being an afterthought to an everyday player in the rebuild.

Obviously, there is a ton of baseball left to be played, but watching Avisail Garcia the rest of the way might be one of the most interesting aspects of the White Sox season going ahead.

Matt Hoeppner

Born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. Graduate of Michigan State University's J-School. Fourth generation Sox fan. Pitch F/X and Statcast operator in Detroit and occasional play-by-play announcer for Michigan Regional Sports Network.

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