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Orlando Arcia is probably due to cool off

The young shortstop ended the first half on an offensive surge, but it doesn’t look likely to continue.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this season, I was a bit skeptical about Orlando Arcia. The long-time Milwaukee Brewers top prospect made his highly anticipated big league debut last August but didn’t perform how anyone would’ve hoped. Over 55 games through the end of 2016, Arcia could manage only a .219/.273/.358 slash with 4 homers and 8 steals, which translated to a sickly 64 wRC+. The defensive metrics didn’t think all that highly of Arcia’s glovework during his first big league trial either, and overall he produced at roughly a replacement-level clip.

Over the first 6 weeks of 2017, it looked like my reservations regarding Arcia were justified. As late as May 17th, Orlando was sporting a .208/.261/.352 batting line. His 51 wRC+ at that time made him one of the worst offensive regulars in the league. But beginning on May 18th, something seemingly started to click for the soon-to-be 23 year old. He would go on to collect at least one hit in his ensuing 11 games, and over his next 182 plate appearances leading into the All-Star break Arcia wound up hitting a blistering .337/.368/.465.

Thanks to that near two-month long hot streak, Orlando will head into the second half of the regular season with a slash of .283/.323/.418 (87 wRC+), along with 8 home runs and 5 steals. But should we expect more of the same type of production over the season’s final few months?

Taking a look at Arcia’s underlying statistics, the best answer here is probably a simple ‘no.’ It doesn’t really appear as though any real significant changes in approach spurred the shortstop’s offensive surge in the weeks leading up to the break. During his cold stretch to start the season, Arcia struck out in 19.3% of his plate appearances while walking 6.7% of the time. He was offering at 40.8% of pitches he saw outside the strike zone, and swinging-and-missing 13.2% of the time overall.

From that May 18th date forward, Arcia has actually been swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone (41.6%), but he has seen his swinging strike rate drop a smidge (down to 12.5%). His contact rate increased a bit from 75.8% to 77.7%, and as a result his strikeout rate during the hot streak decreased to 17%. Arcia’s walk rate also fell though, down to 4.4%. His line drive rate increased during the hot streak as he began to pull the ball more (31% before May 18th, 37.3% after) and go to the opposite field less (31% down to 21.1%), but his hard contact actually fell sharply from 31% to 25.4%.

Really, the biggest driver for Orlando’s hot-handedness was a significant and likely unsustainable jump in batting average on balls in play. Through May 17th Arcia’s BABIP was a paltry .232, which was admittedly due for some positive regression. From May 18th onward that number rose to a whopping .391, propelling Arcia’s offensive line upward. Increasing his infield hit percentage nearly three-fold in that time no doubt played a role in the production boost, too.

With no significant increase in hard contact present (and actually, it was a sizable drop) there’s little reason to believe that Arcia will be able to maintain his otherworldly BABIP, outside of continuing to receive extremely good fortune of course. More likely is that it’ll come down and settle somewhere closer to his career mark of .303 (or perhaps even a little bit lower, as that career mark through 141 games may be a bit skewed by the hot streak). Assuming all else remains the same, PECOTA’s rest-of-season forecast of a .255/.293/.396 slash for Arcia with 6 homers and 6 steals seems like a pretty reasonable estimation of what we should expect his production to be down the stretch.

Thankfully even if/when Arcia’s offense comes back down to earth, he should continue to provide tremendous value with the glove. True, Arcia has had a few issues here and there making the “easy” plays (Inside Edge credits him as completing just 66.7% of ‘likely’ outs this season, league average is 76.7%), but his 8.6 Fielding Runs Above Average ranks him as one of the top-20 defenders overall and the 2nd-best defensive shortstop in baseball this season.

Even though he ended the first half of the season surging at the plate, the underlying numbers say that we probably shouldn’t count on Orlando Arcia to continue to be a major offensive threat. His overall production at the plate this season has still been below league-average and he’s probably due to level off from his hot streak at some point in the near future. But even when that happens, Arcia’s base running prowess and demonstrated ability to pick it at the 6 should help overcome any offensive shortcomings and keep the net value output at that of a starting-caliber player.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus