This time last year many writers were squeezing a few hundred words out of Avisail Garcia‘s unsustainable .392 average on balls in play (BABIP) and how he was due for some serious regression. They assured us that his .330/.380/.506 season worth 4.2 wins above replacement was not here to stay and, sure enough, they were correct. In an injury-shortened 93 game 2018 Garcia’s average plummeted nearly 100 points to .236, a drop-off perhaps more severe than some had predicted. Garcia’s previous employer, the Chicago White Sox, when confronted with the need to give Garcia a raise from his $6.7 million contract in arbitration this winter, non-tendered the outfielder just one season removed from what could have been a breakout season. Consequently, Garcia entered the free agent market earlier than expected and for teams it is hard to know what to expect from the 27 year-old right fielder. Nevertheless, as Ken Rosenthal was the first to report Monday, the Rays decided to take a chance on Garcia, giving him a one year $3.5M deal (the figure was first reported by Jim Bowden).
A low-risk, potentially high-reward move like signing Garcia is something the Rays are accustomed to doing and there’s reason to think this deal could work out positively for them. Garcia is not a five-tool player by any means, but he does do one thing incredibly well; he hits the ball hard. Maximum batted ball exit velocity can sometimes shed more light on a batter’s ability to hit the ball hard than average exit velocity can. This is because having one ball leave the bat at 115+ miles per hour is a skill that most players simply do not have. From 2015-18, Garcia’s hardest hit ball each season has been over 115 miles per hour and over the course of his career his exit velocity profile, courtesy of Baseball Savant looks like this.
It’s an impressive profile and demonstrates how he intends to make a name for himself in the big leagues. Surprisingly, Garcia did not lose his ability to hit the ball hard in 2018, even while fighting through hamstring injuries. His average exit velocity the past 3 seasons has held steady at 90.2 miles per hour (league average is right around 87 miles per hour). Instead, his demise was mostly due to a near 7% increase in strikeout percentage. For someone who walks at a below-league-average rate, an inability to make contact can have disastrous effects. In Garcia’s BABIP-boosted 2017, he still posted an expected weighted on-base-average (xwOBA) of .363, up 37 points from the year previous. This potentially led some to think 2017 was a breakout, even if the BABIP was remarkably unsustainable. In 2018, his xwOBA was .317, almost exclusively due to the precipitous increase in strikeouts.
If the Rays have reason to think that this increase in strikeout percentage was injury-related, or a problem they can fix, this signing could work out very well. However, the power hitter that strikes out too often is nearly a cliche in baseball today and it’s not often that same hitter remedies his strikeout problems without sacrificing any power whatsoever. Despite being an outfielder his entire career, it is possible Garcia sees most of his playing time as a designated hitter next season, given the Ray’s trio of Pham-Kiermaier-Meadows looking like the starting outfield. Still, he joins Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi in Tampa Bay to form a triumvirate of designated hitters that hit the ball extremely hard despite other flaws. If Tampa Bay is able to find a way to improve any of the three above hitters, they could get some real contributions from a DH spot that looked suspect at the beginning of the offseason, after C.J. Cron‘s departure.
Featured Photo: Keith Allison, Flickr