Avisail Garcia is More Interesting Than You Think

There are a lot of appealing things going on for Avisail Garcia that make him an enticing option in 2020.

On the surface, a player like Avisail Garcia looks like an average one. Being an average player isn’t exactly bad, as they still can be useful, but there isn’t much excitement around average players. I haven’t seen a projection system that puts Garcia’s projected wRC+ at much more than the league average 100.

At 28-years-old, we essentially know who Garcia is at this point. We’re not expecting a lot of walks, and nothing overly flashy in the power department. He hit 20 home runs in 2019, which while useful, wasn’t anything earth-shattering given how extreme his offensive environment was last year. He shouldn’t be getting worse yet at age 28, but we wouldn’t expect him to get much better either, and when you want to get excited about him, you can easily pull up his career stats to see how much he regressed in 2018 following his superb 2017 season, and think that it could always happen again, and at that point, he probably wouldn’t have many believers left.

All that being said, I am actually pretty excited about Garcia. Well, maybe excited isn’t the right word, but I am extremely interested.  As mentioned before, my biggest area of interest this offseason has been evaluating why hitters have gaps in their expected and actual slugging numbers. As I’ve been filtering through the xSLG leaderboards for what feels like forever, I noticed that Garcia ranks fairly well in this department. This is how I first got interested in him.

Garcia’s .494 xSLG isn’t the best or anything like that, but it is in between a nice range of hitters from a season ago. Out of hitters with at least 500 plate appearances, Garcia’s mark ranks 48th out of 137 hitters, right in the range of some of 2019’s most outstanding hitters, including Gleyber Torres, Marcus Semien, Jose Altuve, and Michael Brantley.

While expected stats are not everything and shouldn’t be treated as such, I will always have interest in a hitter with an xSLG mark right around some of the league’s better hitters and is going super late in drafts. With an ADP past pick 200 in all of the major formats, this is a player that I would have no problem taking a flyer on late in drafts.

That fact isn’t enough to justify a post about Garcia but thankfully there is more to talk about. One of the big gripes about Garcia in the past is although he does hit the ball hard, he hits too many on the ground. While that was still true in 2019, there is some good news here too. His ground ball rate has been trending down, and has gotten better each season. Going back to 2015, the first season he became a regular player, Garcia’s batted-ball distributions have gotten much better:

Avisail Garcia: Batted-Ball Distribution 2015-2019

While not perfect, Garcia’s batted-ball splits have gotten much better, especially compared to where they once were. He’s gotten his ground ball rate down to nearly matching the 45.4% league average, traded some of those grounders for a nice helping of line drives, and while he would be better off keeping this trend going and shaving a few more percentage points off his ground ball rate, I’m not going to complain about these splits as-is, especially because he still is hitting the ball hard and hitting it well. Garcia has an average exit velocity of 89.5 miles-per-hour that is right in line with his career norms, a hard-hit rate of 40.3% that is well above the 34.5% league average, and a strong barrel-rate of 11.7%, which was inside the top-50 of qualified hitters in 2019.

The key theme that I’ve noticed when evaluating Garcia is that while he isn’t the best at anything, he’s still pretty good at mostly everything, at least on the batted-ball side. None of his Statcast metrics will jump off the page, but he is consistently above-average in most of his Statcast metrics. Instead of saying where a player ranks in one particular leaderboard, one exercise that I like to do to try and add more context to a player’s Statcast metrics is to try and find comparable players in a range of a single player’s Statcast metrics to try and find some overall player comparisons.

To try and find some comparisons for Garcia, I looked for all hitters with at least 500 plate appearances in 2019 that had an average exit velocity between 89 and 91 miles-per-hour, a hard-hit rate of at least 40%, a barrel rate of at least 11%, a combined rate of fly balls and line-drives that was at least 47%, and finally, an xSLG between .480 and .520. Doing this returns a group of seven hitters, and should be pretty close batted-ball comps to Garcia from 2019:

Avisail Garcia: Batted-Ball Comparisons

Looking at some of the names in this table, I like that there are three players that should be pretty high draft picks in Paul Goldschmidt, Javier Baez, and Eugenio Suarez, mixed with three names that I consider to be sleepers in Luke Voit, Domingo Santana, and Justin Smoak. Smoak, of course, is also going to be joining Garcia in Milwaukee this season, and the two may be fighting for playing time, but overall, I do actually like the names in this table.

Where Garcia trails the others, except for Baez, is his batted-ball distribution. Baez is perhaps better able to get away with hitting more grounders because he generally hits the ball harder, and gets more barrels, so for Garcia to reach that next level as a hitter, he needs to keep the lower ground ball rate going in the future, but overall, there is a solid foundation for Garcia in his current profile that he should continue to be a productive hitter.

While the above is a look at some of the readily-available stats from Garcia, we can go a little deeper with it. It’s nice and all to see that Garcia is above-average in most Statcast categories and compares well to some attractive hitters, but what turned me from casually interested in Garcia to now being very interested in him, is when looking at his performance on fly balls. This interest came during my lengthy twopart look into a new way of evaluating hitters by their Long Fly Balls.

I’ll leave you to read those two posts if you are interested, but to get right to the point, Garcia was one of the best hitters in 2019 when it came to getting Long Fly Balls, which should be a good thing for his home run totals, as Long Fly Balls are generally a good indicator of total home runs. The thing is, Garcia was actually one of the hitters that this wasn’t quite the case for last season. He had the 11th-best rate of getting Long Fly Balls in 2019, which is extremely impressive, but when you compare his total amount of Long Fly Balls to his total home runs, he was one of the biggest underperformers. To illustrate this, here is the graph that I used in my analysis of Long Fly Balls that showed the overall relationship between Long Fly Balls and total home runs, but this time, singling out Garcia as the point in red:

From this graph, you should notice how much of an outlier Garcia looks like when you compare his Long Fly Ball total to his home runs. Indeed, that is the case, and Garcia was one of a few hitters to be extremely unlucky in this department. Let’s take the graph above and turn it into a table:

Biggest Differences in Total HR and Long Fly Balls

This table shows the hitters with the biggest differences in their home run totals and their Long Fly Balls, and it also shows that Garcia was among the most unlucky when evaluating him using this method. I talked about other notable names here such as Nick Ahmed and Mookie Betts in my look at Long Fly Balls, but what makes Garcia stand out and makes him much more interesting is how high his rate of getting Long Fly Balls is.

While most of the hitters in this table have better expected slugging marks than their actual ones, only Betts has a better xSLG mark  than Garcia’s .494. Garcia’s strong ability to get a lot of Long Fly Balls puts him in a position to have a good xSLG, then add in all the rest of his better-than-average Statcast metrics discussed earlier, and now we have a hitter who should now have a better-than-just-good xSLG. Now we throw in this wrinkle that he may have been extremely unlucky on turning his Long Fly Balls into home runs, and we end up with a hitter that I am now extremely interested in.

Let’s contextualize this a little more. Looking at the hitters inside the top-25 in Long Fly Ball rate, the average slugging of hitters in this group is .543. Garcia isn’t particularly close to this number, but that’s okay, we aren’t expecting him to slug like Matt Olson, and if we were he wouldn’t be a post-200 draft pick. This .543 average slugging mark is significant though, because the average xSLG of the hitters in the top-25, is .541, which is essentially the same. This tells me that, at least for those hitters that are the best at getting Long Fly Balls, there shouldn’t be much discrepancy between their actual and expected slugging marks. That isn’t the case when it comes to Garcia however, as he has one of the biggest gaps between his actual and expected slugging marks:

Biggest SLG – xSLG Differences, Top-25 in Long Fly Ball %

We see that out of the top-25 best hitters in terms of Long Fly Ball rate, Garcia’s -0.030 difference between his actual and expected slugging was the fourth-largest. The hitters around him though are already pretty great sluggers. Looking at the hitter directly above him in Olson, if he slugged at a rate that was more in line to his expected mark, he would turn from the 32nd-best hitter in terms of slugging percentage into the 15th-best one from 2019, and have a slugging percentage more in line with a hitter such as Charlie Blackmon. Both are already great hitters, and it wouldn’t change Olson’s stock very much. Doing the same exercise with Garcia though, hitters with a similar slugging percentage to Garcia in 2019 are hitters such as Derek Dietrich, Chris Taylor, and David Peralta. All fine hitters, but by xSLG, Garcia moves into a range that includes hitters such as Michael Conforto, Trea Turner, and JT Realmuto. A much different tier of hitter.

Drilling down deeper, let’s hone in on these hitters results on fly balls compared to the expected mark. Knowing that Garcia’s overall xSLG lags so much behind his actual one, and seeing his lack of performance in relation to his Long Fly Balls to total home runs, I’d guess that Garcia’s results on fly balls aren’t the best, but his expected ones are much better.

Indeed that is the case, as Garcia’s 1.092 actual slugging mark on fly balls in 2019 ranks just 120th out of 273 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. Looking again at the group of hitters who are inside the top-25 in Long Fly Ball rate, the average slugging on fly balls is 1.457, so despite being so great at getting Long Fly Balls, Garcia wasn’t exactly getting the results that one would expect him to get. Compare this to his expected slugging mark, Garcia jumps up to rank 43, again out of 273 hitters at 1.273, which places him in a range of hitters that includes Marcell Ozuna, Keston Hiura, and Juan Soto, which is pretty good company to keep.

Overall, Garcia’s -.181 difference in actual and expected slugging on fly balls was the 13th largest in 2019, and none of the hitters ahead of him hit Long Fly Balls at a better rate than Garcia did in 2019. Based on these perhaps unlucky results on fly balls I would bet, at least right now, that Garcia will see some positive regression in this department in the future, assuming he can still hit his fly balls pretty hard and far.

If Garcia were to maintain the same profile that he had as a hitter in 2019, meaning if he changed absolutely nothing, he would still likely be an average-ish hitter. Assuming that he maintains his profile as a hitter with above-average marks in nearly every single Statcast metric, most notably his average exit velocity, barrel-rate, and hard-hit rate, he would likely have a similar season to last year, which would be an extremely solid but unspectacular one. But one that could pay dividends to fantasy players that drafted him.

However, if we also assume that he continues to be one of the best hitters at getting Long Fly Balls, a metric that should correlate well to home runs, he should then end up with a Long Fly Ball total that is nearly identical to his home run total, which would be a contrast from the season before, which would help out his actual slugging totals on fly balls, which as we know severely lagged behind his expected ones in 2019.

This is all assuming that nothing changes within his profile as a hitter. While it’s unlikely that he magically develops into a plate discipline machine, Garcia has consistently changed up his batted-ball distribution to hit fewer ground balls. Since 2016, Garcia’s ground ball rate has been dropping more and more, and in 2019 it was essentially league-average.

What if he keeps that trend going and gets that rate to a level that is better than league average, combined with his fly balls that should be getting those good results? Add in that he is leaving Tampa Bay, which while a good place to hit, isn’t the bandbox for right-handed hitters that Milwaukee is. Is it outlandish to think that he could be a 30 home run guy over the course of a full 162-game season, who also chips in some steals due to his 90th percentile sprint speed? That wouldn’t be a bad payoff for a hitter being drafted after pick 200 basically everywhere. While there are some playing time issues with Ryan Braun still hanging around for the Brewers, there was already a lot of uncertainty about this playing time situation, and right now there’s a lot more uncertainty over the 2020 season. I won’t blame you if you don’t draft Garcia and opt for something a little bit more stable in these absolutely crazy times, but maybe now you have the same interest in him that I do.

Featured Image by Alyssa Buckter – alyssabuckter.com

Matt Wallach

Matt studied accounting at the University at Albany and graduated in May 2019. He is a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees and can always be found talking baseball on Twitter @Wallach18

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