While he enjoyed the best offensive season of his career in 2020, the fact that the BCB readership made Orlando Arcia the first offensive player to appear on this year’s Most Valuable Brewers list is probably an indication on just how poor the Brewers’ offense was this year.
That may be a bit harsh for a young player (he’s still somehow only 25!) who did legitimately improve this year, it’s just... you would hope he’d be a nice surprise at the bottom of the lineup and not one of the 2 or 3 most consistent bats in your starting nine, you know?
But let’s focus on the good, shall we?
Arcia posted a career-high 96 OPS+ and 96 wRC+, which ranked 16th among MLB shortstops (it should be noted that we’re in a golden era for offense at the position, with Trea Turner leading the way this year with a 157 OPS+). Way back in the original spring training, Arcia’s newfound power stroke was one of the early storylines before the world changed and baseball was shut down. There was some question on if that power was for real and would translate once games started being played in July.
It turns out that it largely was, at least from what we could tell in the limited 60-game sample. Arcia played in all but one of the Brewers’ games this year, finishing the year with a .260/.317/.416 line that was a vast improvement over his historically bad 2019, which saw him hit .223/.283/.350.
Arcia actually hit home runs at a similar rate compared to what he did in 2019, when he tied a career-high with 15 during the Super Ball season. With the baseballs seemingly playing more normal this year, the steady home run rate could actually be seen as an improvement, in a way. But the improved power was about more than home runs.
That’s seen in both raw counting stats — he hit 10 doubles in 173 at-bats this year, after hitting just 16 in 494 at-bats last year — and in the underlying metrics. He improved his average exit velocity from 87.9 mph last year to 89 mph this year — easily a career high and a sign he started to hit the ball with more authority. As a result, his hard-hit percentage rose from 31.3% last year to 38.7% this year. For a point of comparison, league average is about 88.3 mph in exit velocity and 34.9% in hard-hit percentage.
Not bad at all for a player who you consider any offense from as gravy. Maybe even exciting, when you consider how young he still is and how early he was rushed to the majors.
Sure, there’s still room to grow — you’d like to see him get more selective at the plate, and he actually walked less than he did in 2019 — but there’s also some suppor to the notion that ambushing the first pitch actually works out for the better for him. In fact, he hit .357 with a .661 slugging percentage in at-bats in which he swung at the first pitch, including 2 first-pitch home runs and 2 first-pitch doubles.
While he may have a reputation of doing most of his damage in garbage time while the game is out of reach, that wasn’t really the case this year — likely contributing to his finishing so high in this contest.
With huge, blinking SMALL SAMPLE SIZE lights buzzing here, consider this: Arcia hit .308/.379/.462 in 29 plate appearances with 2 outs and RISP, .273/.292/.682 in 24 plate appearances in “close and late situations,” .308/.373/.538 in 59 plate appearances in innings 7-9, .333/.381/.590 in 42 plate appearances in tie games, and 4 of his 5 home runs came when the game was still within 2 runs.
(Cubs fans would tell you he hit at least .750 against Chicago, but this year it was actually only .290.)
On top of his accomplishments with the bat, Lando also proved to be one of the best in-game interview photobombers in the sport.
You’d be forgiven if you’re still skeptical on Arcia’s longterm outlook, but at the very least, it looks like he’s earned his way back into the team’s longerm plans, even with Luis Urias now in the fold.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and Statcast