Orlando Arcia was the worst hitter in the National League during the 2018 regular season.
That’s just not hyperbole. There were 119 batters on the Senior Circuit that made at least 350 trips to the plate this year, and no one posted a lower wRC+ than Orlando Arcia, whose .236/.268/.307 slash translated to a mere 54 wRC+. The 24 year old was so bad that the team demoted him twice for stints in Colorado Springs so that Arcia could try to figure something - anything - out.
Upon closer examination, though, one will find that Arcia’s year was a tale of two halves. On June 30th, Arcia was hitting .197/.231/.251 and was on pace for one of the worst regular season offensive performances in baseball’s modern era. He was banished to AAA and didn’t return until nearly a month later, getting recalled for good on July 26th. It took Arcia some time to find his way back into the lineup with regularity, but as trade acquisition Jonathan Schoop continually faltered down the stretch, Craig Counsell began turning to Arcia more frequently.
Orlando received only 55 PA in August, but produced an improved .283/.296/.377 slash. Still only modest production, to be sure, but a notable improvement over his work from earlier in the year. It was in the season’s final month, however, that Arcia’s bat truly caught fire.
Orlando appeared in 25 games in September and accumulated 75 plate appearances while putting forth a .329/.360/.443 slash for a 116 wRC+. After whiffing in anywhere between 21%-38% of his trips to bat in March-August, Arcia was masterful at putting the ball in play during September, cutting his strikeout rate down to 14.7%. On the season’s final day with the NL Central title on the line in game 163 against Chicago, he went 4-for-4 with two runs scored, helping propel his team to a 3-1 triumph.
Arcia has never had a great approach at the plate, consistently ranking around the bottom of the league when it comes to chasing pitches outside the zone and swinging strike rate. The aggressiveness in the box has remained, but Arcia has openly discussed some of the important adjustments he has had to get his swing back in rhythm.
It started with a conversation with MVP candidate Christian Yelich. The team’s hitting savant suggested that Arcia try to get his front foot down sooner, and the young shortstop heeded the advice. Long days of workouts with coach Darnell Coles yielded steady results. As Arcia detailed to Tom Haudricourt:
“The main focus is just getting my (front) foot down, getting ‘loaded’ early and being able to recognize pitches. And I think that’s what I’ve been able to do, and everything just takes care of itself.”
“I was able to work on stuff (in the minor leagues), recognize pitches, and especially breaking balls. And now I do my adjustments and things have been working better, and now we’re here in the playoffs.”
There wasn’t a notable difference in hard contact from the first half (25.0%) to the second half (26.1%), but what did change was the trajectory of Arcia’s batted balls. He was routinely beating the ball into the ground prior to his demotion, posting baseball’s sixth-highest ground ball rate during the first half at 60.3%. After returning to the Cream City in late July, though, Arcia slashed his grounder rate to 49.1%. Almost the entire difference can be found in his line drive rate, which leapt up from 13.9% to 25.9%. The latter total ranked among the top 20% of hitters in the league in the second half and helps to explain some of his .376 post-break BABIP.
Orlando has achieved nirvana at the plate this postseason. He slugged a home run while posting an .875 OPS during the three-game sweep of Colorado in the NLDS and has so far produced a 1.000 OPS through three NLCS games against the Dodgers. His two-run, opposite field home run last night - Arcia’s third dinger of the playoffs and second of the series - provided important insurance on the way to Milwaukee’s 4-0 victory.
Arcia on his HR: 'That was the 3rd at-bat again him, and he's pitched me the same sequence. He started with breaking balls early. I was looking for a fastball that I could put a good contact on it'— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) October 16, 2018
#Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia is only third player in postseason history to follow a regular season with three or fewer homers with a postseason of three or more homers.— Tom (@Haudricourt) October 16, 2018
It’s well-known what Orlando Arcia brings to the field with his glove. But down the stretch he has emerged as yet another unlikely hero during Milwaukee’s thrilling run through September and October. The guys like Cain and Yelich carried the team through most of the regular season while the bottom of the order often looked helpless, but it has been those last few guys in the lineup - Arcia, Erik Kratz, and even the pitcher’s spot - that have stepped up and shouldered the load in the playoffs.
Is Orlando Arcia’s offensive surge sustainable? Probably not. But that isn’t what is important in small sample size that is the MLB postseason. Right now, Orlando Arcia may be the best hitter in baseball. It only needs to last long enough for the Menomonee Valley Nine to secure six more wins.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs