With Avisaíl García on injury hiatus (seemingly along with every top White Sox prospect), now is as good a time as ever to look into how he has become a power hitter.
Over 42 games between AAA and the majors, García has 12 home runs and 23 extra-base hits, for a slugging percentage well over .500. He currently has a career high in ISO at .261, which would blow away his previous career high of .176 last season. But is this new power breakout real?
Let’s start off with a look a the stats, to determine García’s concrete changes and signs of clear improvement.
Avi is hitting the ball much better than at any point in his career. This season, has a career-low in soft contact at 15.5%, and a career high (by almost 10%) of hard contact, at 44.5%. This has led to an average exit velocity of 93.6 mph, over three MPH faster than his previous best because of — guess what — another career high, in barrel percentage, at 12.7%. If you have been watching games García has played, this all seems obvious. However, it does not necessarily indicate a change in plate swing pattern or plate approach.
What does indicate a change, is that Avi’s launch angle has risen more than one degree to 8.7 since last season, and has been trending upwards over the last two seasons. This has led to about a 5% increase in fly ball rate.
On top of the launch angle increase, García has decided to swing at a rate he never has before, at 60.6%. However, indicated by the 1.4% walk rate and 23% strikeout rate, he is swinging more often at pitches outside the zone and is becoming more patient with pitches inside the zone. In other words, Avi is still chasing, but has been able to wait for the right pitch to hit when it is available, and is hitting those pitches inside the zone harder than ever before.
That’s not even where the weirdness begins.
Avi is doing worse with the pitches he crushed last season, using García’s runs above average per 100 pitches (just to try and even out the small sample of 2018) against different types of pitches. He smashed fastballs last year at 1.14, but his fastball runs above average per 100 pitches in 2018 has fallen to 0.25. Other pitches that García is considerably worse against are the cutter and changeup.
On the positive side, García’s slider runs above average per 100 pitches is up to 5.42, a career high, and his curveball runs above average per 100 pitches is up to his highest since his rookie season, at 1.30. Pitchers have noticed this and started throwing the fastball more often and using fewer breaking pitches, but García still has been able to hit home runs and keep a high average. However, there is some concern on the sustainability of this power streak.
Home run per fly ball rate is an informative stat to look at when trying to determine the sustainability of power. Now, there is no arguing that García’s contact has been much improved and that it would lead to more home runs; however, a quarter of the fly balls Avi has hit have left the yard. His previous high was 18.9%, in 2014. García is also becoming a pull-centric hitter. Since 2015, his pull percentage has gone up every year, from 36.1% in 2015 to 50% this season. He seems to be becoming a one-side hitter, which usually does not bode well — unless he becomes a true power hitter.
There are a lot of career power highs right now for Avisaíl García. Are they real? Which season is the aberration, 2017 or 2018? It is hard to tell with this small sample, but if I had to make a guess, this year’s Avi is more real than last year’s and two stats swayed my opinion.
Even with García’s actual .330 batting average last year, García’s highest expected batting average has come this season, at .299. Furthermore, with a career high in actual slugging percentage in 2018 (.542), his expected slugging percentage is even higher, at .584 — all while doing worse against the fastball.
García still needs to learn how to lay off pitches outside the zone and draw walks. However, maybe, just maybe, the six-foot-four, 240-pound outfielder has started to hit for power like he was supposed to.
But still, sorry Hawk, he’s not Miguel Cabrera.