Minnesota’s Best Rebound Candidate
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsSuggesting there’s someone better for a comeback than Donaldson isn’t a knock on him, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Despite appearing in just 28 games due to his lingering calf issues, Donaldson posted an .842 OPS. That’s nothing to scoff at and isn’t far off from his .877 career mark. The Twins want to see something closer to .900, but that should be a pretty safe bet if he’s healthy.
If you’re looking for a rebound, it comes in the form of a 30-year-old with newly announced dad-strength. Enter Mitch Garver. Maybe cast aside a bit with the emergence of Ryan Jeffers a year ago, Garver getting right would give the Twins arguably the best backstop tandem in the game. The only question for Garver is what exactly constitutes “right?”
When Minnesota became the Bomba Squad in 2019 Garver contributed to the tune of a .995 OPS and 31 bombs. Last year he was available for just 23 games and posted a .511 OPS with only two longballs. The likely and most logical answer is that the real version of Mitch lies somewhere in between.
In the minors it was his bat that carried him, and Garv posted a .928 OPS back in 2017 for his final 88 Triple-A games. He’s got a career .791 OPS on the farm and that’s watered down some by stops in the Appy League and Double-A Chattanooga. It’s not that Mitch simply forgot how to hit a year ago as much as it’s the likelihood he was dealing with complications from the eventual intercostal strain before it landed him on the Injured List.
An intercostal strain does not have to happen in an instant and can be a gradual progression of pain in the ribs. It is problematic when twisting and taking deep breaths, as well as being a significant detriment to uncoiling while attacking a baseball. A 60-game season doesn’t provide much of a runway to properly heal or get back into action, and there was also no rehab assignment options available short of intrasquad action at the alternate site.
If you’ve studied the Twins at all, there’s arguably no more intelligently invested hitter than Garver. Josh Donaldson has been called a hitting savant, and it was Garver that immediately piped up with excitement to pick his brain a year ago. The Twins backstop is intellectually invested in perfecting his craft and finding ways to generate optimal outcomes will always be a part of his process.
When right in 2019 Garver saw success utilizing optimal launch with max velocity. His hard-hit rate sat at 47% and 29% of the balls he put in the air left the yard. Last season Mitch saw a 6% dip in his hard-hit rate, while dropping fly balls over the fence at just a 15% rate. He increased his pull percentage substantially as he sold out to get around on pitches, and the rollover caused a spike in medium contact.
It’s not so much that the outcome of contact waned, hard hit rates we’re still acceptable, but quality at point of impact dropped off a cliff. In 2019 Garver produced an elite 9.2 barrels per plate appearance rate, and a season later than number was all the way down to 3.7%. Again, needing to cheat through the zone to make up for a nagging side likely led to diminished timing windows for success.
Suppose Garver is healthy coming into 2021, as should be the expectation, I’m not going to tell you that a repeat of the otherworldly .928 OPS is in store. However, he should be able to go from an out of whack whiff rate (13%) back to career norms (8%), and in turn find greater windows of optimal connection points. Mitch has made substantial strides defensively, but it’s been his bat that has allowed for success at the big-league level. Unleashing the max effort once again, at opportune times, should see a catcher that may find himself in an All-Star Game for the first time.
Yes, I’d love a healthy Josh Donaldson for the Twins in 2021. The outcome of that player is all but determined. A healthy Mitch Garver is overlooked right now though, and his production could be equally as imperative.
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