The fun thing about watching Avisail Garcia this season is the way he seems to understand my reservations.
Last week, I noticed that he seemed to have a more discerning eye for breaking balls below the zone, but he still looked vulnerable to fastballs at the top of it. Then he went and smoked this decently located 0-1 98 mph heater from Ryan Pressly out to right for a tie-breaking blast in the 10th on Sunday.
OK, great. He had two home runs on the young season then. But both of them were out to center and right, and he’s shown that relying on brute oppo strength for power makes for tough sledding. He’ll occasionally have to lift something with conviction to left field, but he only had one line drive in that direction:
... until Tuesday night, when this little guy joined the party:
Luis Severino was quite good on Tuesday, especially against a patchy White Sox lineup. One of the reasons why: He didn’t really have a fastball count. In the rare occasion he was behind, he was able to drop an effective breaking ball to change the complexion of the at-bat.
Earlier in the seventh inning, Severino fell behind 2-0 to Tim Anderson. He then threw a perfect slider that Anderson couldn’t even consider swinging at it order to get back into the count.
Severino ended getting to an even count when Anderson chased a fastball, but his putaway slider hung over the plate, and Anderson lined a single to center.
When Garcia came to the plate three batters later (I originally said two, having blacked out when Jose Abreu squared to bunt), Severino started him with a fastball just off the plate. He tried again with a heater, just missing the low-and-away strike. So Severino was down 2-0 for the second time in the inning, and for the second time in the inning, he tried to grab a strike with a slider in that count to get Garcia’s wheels turning.
Just two problems: It wasn’t a good slider, and Garcia was ready for it.
"He throws really, really, really hard," Garcia said. "He throws everything for a strike so you've got to be careful and don't try and do too much with that guy. My second at-bat he threw me a lot of sliders. My third at-bat he threw a couple of fastballs and I was looking for what he threw me a lot.
"Was looking for the slider he threw me and I put a good swing on it."
Indeed, the league has been attacking Garcia with sliders early on. He’s seeing them for 23 percent of his pitches, a notable jump from the 15-16 percent he’d been seeing the past couple years. It just doesn’t seem to be working the way it used to early on. He’s tightened up the low and/or away swings considerably:
The Small Sample Size Song applies here, of course. For instance, it was only a couple days ago that he lowered his chase rate 5-6 percent from 2016 -- now they’re within a rounding error of each other. A one-week relapse elsewhere can erase a lot of the good he’s done.
It’s also true that he’s never been this good at any point in his White Sox career, and that’s worth appreciating no matter how long it lasts. He’s leading the league with a .440 batting average, 22 hits and a 1.161 OPS, and he’s doing it with improvements he’s long needed. He seems to have better recognition of pitches he’d roll over, and so he’s finally getting some lift on a regular basis (his average launch angle has doubled early on).
Better results usually have better components, so the easiest conclusion is still mere streaking, even if it’s of the red-hot variety. I’m hoping that this is the result of Garcia thinking along with pitchers better than ever, because I didn’t know this kind of fun was possible, and it’d be cruel to lose it that soon.