Tampa Bay Rays Sign Right-Handed Platoon Outfielder Avisail Garcia | The Process Report

Tampa Bay Rays Sign Right-Handed Platoon Outfielder Avisail Garcia

Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays seemingly reached an agreement with right-handed right fielder Avisail Garcia, formerly of the Chicago White Sox, whom this site reviewed earlier this offseason. At that time, it became fairly obvious that playing through lower body issues pulled down what was looking like a continuation of the breakout seen for the player in the year prior. With the signing all but final pending a physical we are presented with a good reason to look further into the strengths and weaknesses of this player and how he profiles going forward. While this is certainly not the splash signing that Tampa Bay alluded to when they released C.J. Cron, Garcia is an interesting player that can fill a niche, yet necessary role for the club.

In the review of the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays it became eminently apparent that the team has a couple of lefty mashers in Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi that showed sustainably good production in their smallish samples last season. However, both showed in even smaller samples that they might not be viable candidates to face lefties, and neither boasts the kind of glove that would make a team inclined to find out if they can figure it out at the highest level. This created a need for a right-handed hitter that can designate hit with Choi. Several players presented as good options for this kind of role, but Josh Donaldson signed with the Braves and Paul Goldschmidt was traded to the Cardinals who offered a more pleasing package than the Rays could muster. Current options like Nicholas Castellanos and Jose Martinez boast better bats, but our objectively unplayable in the outfield where Garcia has shown an ability to be something like an average player when healthy.

Arguments can be made that either of those players would be more ideal for the role, but each would require an agreeable return, something yet to be seen. Between ability to acceptably play in the outfield, along with hitting lefties, Garcia seems like a good fit for a role that likely held little appeal to a player like Nelson Cruz who would prefer to play everyday, which would deprive any opportunity for Choi. Additionally, with current options aplenty, and many more on the come, it makes sense for the team to take a risk on a bounce back candidate that can be easily cast back to the winds if offseason knee surgery does little to quell an issue that obviously hampered the player. Let’s dig into the data to get a better idea what we’re looking at.

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Utilizing Statcast data since 2015 we can drill down to how the player profiles over these past four seasons. Readily apparent is that he is an above average hitter versus lefties, but also a bit below the average when facing same-handers. Nothing abnormal there other than the hopes that a player could be strong against both when the bat is the better tool than the glove, but ifs, buts, candy, nuts, and all that. In total he comes in a bit above his peers, but barely. We can get the sense that he’s a bit of a free-swinger that walks less than the average, while striking out around the norm. The walk rate is fairly similar dependent on pitcher handeness, but the strikeout rate does climb a touch versus righties. We can also see that average contact versus those righties turns into well above production on those balls in play when holding the platoon edge, and both sides show a slight failure to get to all of his expectations that is mostly in line with the rest of the league, but may indicate a lack of athleticism that can hold him down a touch.

The format going forward will be total on the left and strictly versus lefties on the right as we go through the charts starting with true production versus actual. You can see the earlier part of his sample showed a below average hitter that saw actual production even lower, for the most part, but then we start to see his breakout 2017 showing, yes, he did start to improve his ability to produce even if the actual production suggests a bit of overperformance. The most recent stuff shows a continuation before playing through the knee and hamstring injuries took their toll. This served to soak his overall line last year, but the initial strong run suggests a healthy Avisail is a good one. Especially if the team can manage his usage to help him hide from righties. We see versus lefties he has always been an average or better performer by expectations including last year’s second half slide. He has often failed to see his actual production mesh with the expected, though. Initially that manifested as underperformance, but then butterflied from there to show how much of his 2017 strong performance was keyed by unsustainable performance versus lefties.

Moving along to when he fails to put the ball in play we can see the aggressive approach showing mostly an average or worse strikeout rate coupled with an average or worse walk rate that has mostly fallen off a touch from a more patient approach in 2016. Focusing on just the plate appearances versus lefties you can see the strikeout rate falling slightly, though not without spikes, and a curious twist in the walk rate that saw an initially passive approach turning into a very aggressive one. Part of that might be his own mindset, but it could also be pitchers becoming more aggressive in the zone. Whatever the reason, the more recent lower walk rates would seem to indicate more of who he will be going forward. The lack of zone control here presents an obstacle to being an above average hitter, and we have enough of it over his career that this is probably who he is.

Leaving behind the walks to first or the bench to look at what happens on contact you can see something fairly peculiar that offers considerable insight into the type of hitter Avisail Garcia can be. You’ll want to blow these up in a new tab, but look for the 20 degree mark on the vertical axis and trace that across mentally. There’s a few deserved singles at the lower velocities aka the classic ducksnort, and his higher exit velocities do show his deserved homers. However, in between you see a wasteland of outs where many hitters at least see some of those balls falling in. The inference should be that Garcia is a top-hand hitter that can topspin balls pretty well. That is going to limit over the fence power, but does imply a guy that can have a lot of success on his balls in play.

The other obvious takeaway is all that incredibly hard contact even at those downward trajectories and he has seen a good deal of even the lower angles go for base hits solely due to how very hard he hits the ball. Hard contact is always the first step, and while many will think all he needs to do is lift the ball more, it doesn’t look like he actually has much success via that route other than when he’s pairing ideal angles with very hard contact. Something you could tell every player to do more often. Looking at lefties you can see how much of his production came on line drive like contact including many of his homers that were utterly scorched piss missiles clearing low walls. Like with Yandy Diaz, many would like to see more elevation leading to celebration, but it’s an approach that is already working. Unlike Diaz, Garcia’s inability to control the zone means he has no margin on this type of contact. If he isn’t hitting the ball hard then he’s not going to have the kind of success necessary for his role. Luckily, that looks like something you can project going forward.

Over these past four years it is plainly evident that he can hit the ball hard, and has shown some ability to amp that up gradually since the beginning of the sample. That is especially true when looking at performance versus lefties where he hits the ball as hard as anybody in the league. Less progress has been made in increasing his launch angle, but as noted above this seems like a product of his skillset, and something that might lead to less success going forward if altered. Of course, the team would love to see more of the nitro zone pokes, but not if it costs him in other ways. Average launch angle can often be misleading as higher might seem better, but not if it’s driven by a plethora of pop ups that almost always go as outs.

To that end, we can convert those exit velocity-launch angle pairs into expected and actual production, adjusted for pitcher handedness in the park where the events occurred. This is similar to the true versus actual production, but does strip out the walks and strikeouts to focus solely on balls in play. Here you can see how he is able to have a modicum of success despite less than stellar strikeout to walk ratios. Early averagey success has oscillated between above average to very strong production. The 2017 overperformance stands out starkly here as the rest of his career shows a bit over underperformance including the period where he battled injuries this past season. Restricting to just the lefties he faced we can see he has always posted above average expected production, though that weird under to overperformance butterfly does fly brightly here, as well. Merely meeting his expectations would indicate that he can be an above average performer on his balls in play, and the true production above suggests he can be so good on his contact that it can more than offset his less desirable zone control.

This might not be the high end signing so many drooled over, but that should not cloud the fact that this is an excellent buy-low on an above average hitter who fits the team’s needs better than similar alternatives around the league. Shooting the moon for a true slugger would deprive other candidates of the kind of opportunity that they have shown they deserve to build upon. Others that are demonstrably better hitters, albeit less so than the pure, no-glove masher(s), give back enough in the field to make them fairly similar options in aggregate. For the small role the team requires Avisail Garcia seems like a worthy gamble. If he can prove that injuries derailed what had looked like over a year of good production then the drop in the bucket $3.5M expenditure will look well justified. If the injuries are more of a permanent issue going forward then it’s a small price to pay that can be easily cast back to the winds with a horde of other good options ready and willing to run with opportunity.


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