Any way you slice it, 2017 was a career-defining season for Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia. After a number of years in which he was a below-average contributor, he produced 4.2 fWAR while slashing .330/.380/.506 with 18 home runs, 80 RBI, and 75 runs scored in 561 plate appearances.
He was also rewarded for these efforts by being named an American League All-Star for the first time in his career. The White Sox — who are clearly in the midst of a full organizational rebuild — could’ve looked to maximize his value in the trade market this past winter, but that didn’t happen. This made some sense at the time when considering he’s still under team control through 2019.
However, the way in which he arrived at those career-best numbers set him up for regression. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but it’s not looking good through Garcia’s first 76 plate appearances.
Prior to hitting the disabled list Tuesday with strained right hamstring, the 26-year-old is slashing just .233/.250/.315 with 1 homer, 4 RBI, and 5 runs scored. That susses out to a 54 wRC+, .249 wOBA, and -0.5 fWAR.
And judging from certain advanced metrics, his process still hasn’t changed — in some respects, it’s actually looked a little worse over the first month of this season.
Even Less Plate Discipline
Having a traditionally sound approach at the plate has never been a quality Garcia has shown consistently. Between 2012 and 2016, his 57.0% swing rate, 42.6% chase rate, and 17.0% swinging-strike rate all ranked among the top 10 in the league.
When looking at that breakout 2017 campaign, those numbers settled in at 59.0%, 39.8%, and 16.2%, respectively. So it’s not as if he completely revamped his approach en route to achieving the level of success he did.
The early returns on what he’s done in 2018 doesn’t show us he’s making any real strides in these departments, either.
It’s good that his swing rate on strikes is still up at 79.5% (it was a career-high 83.4% in ’17). However, he’s swinging at 61.5% of pitches overall, 48.0% of them are outside the zone, and he’s missing on those swings at a 17.3% clip.
When you’re swinging this often, you’d hope it’d also be accompanied by a spike in contact (at least on pitches in the strike zone). That hasn’t exactly been the case upon comparing what he’s done in recent years.
There’s also one important fact we haven’t touched upon yet, which is a complete lack of walks. Among the 175-plus players who currently qualify for the batting title, there’s just one player who has yet to draw a base on balls. That man is Avisail Garcia.
For someone with his particular batted-ball profile, that makes his life a little harder than it needs to be.
Even More Ground Balls
Garcia has always been a hitter that’s heavy on ground balls, but something changed last year.
Between 2014 and 2016 with the White Sox, his ground-ball rate never dipped below 48.8% and his overall BABIP was never above .320. It’s also worth noting that his wRC+ for this batted-ball event couldn’t get above 38 during that time.
In 2017, though, he produced a league-high .392 BABIP despite a 52.2% ground-ball rate. And while his soft-hit rate (20.2%) on grounders was nearly higher than his hard-hit rate (23.9%), he produced a career-high 99 wRC+ in this situation.
The young outfielder has a similar wRC+ for this batted-ball event so far this year (95) to go along with a much improved hard-hit rate (41.2%), but his overall BABIP has cratered to .286. It’s also come with a ground-ball rate (59.6%) that’d be a new career high if sustained throughout the year.
One solid trend is Garcia’s overall hard-hit rate, which has continued climbing (it’s currently at 42.1%). However, this is also coming at the expense of line drives, a batted-ball event that’d give him the highest chance at success with regard to overall production.
After posting a 20.3% line-drive rate in 2017 (the third straight year it was above 20.0%), that number is currently sitting at 14.0%. His 26.3% fly-ball rate is nearly identical to last year (27.5%), but his infield-fly rate is 13.3% at the moment, which is a sizable difference from 2017’s 5.4% mark.
Knowing that should make it no surprise that he owns a -20 wRC+ on fly balls after producing a career-high 231 mark last season.
The 2018 campaign hasn’t gotten off to a good start for Garcia, and landing on the disabled list during these struggles doesn’t help. He’s got his work cut out for him whenever he’s able to return, but it could be hard to escape regression if his approach continues mirroring the rest of his career.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.