Betting on a Batting Title for the Twins in 2020?
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsLast season Arraez played in 92 games posting a .334 average. While OPS will always reign supreme, it’s the batting average and on-base prowess that draws interest for light-hitting types. Known for his ability to command and control the strike zone, the Venezuelan posted a .399 OBP drawing 36 walks while striking out just 29 times. He hasn’t had larger deficiency between strikeouts to walks than three since 2018 with Fort Myers, and he’s walked more times than whiffing in five of his eight affiliated stops.
A career .331 hitter in the minors, his .334 average at the big-league level should hardly be a surprise. Sure, against the best in the game there’s expectation of some regression, but his approach is one that should translate to almost all situations. Power isn’t his thing, and the four homers he hit for the Twins nearly trumped the six he’d launched in 459 professional games previously. Being able to place the baseball and go with pitches he’ll run into some doubles, but he’s more than content utilizing what is offered.
From an upward trajectory standpoint, Arraez won’t often find substantial benefit in splits between average and BABIP. Given the process, results often will be earned and seldom stolen. He’s not driving the ball high into the air, but does a good job elevating enough off the ground. A 20-point difference between the two was present last year, and that’s the exact same amount Steamer projections see for 2020. It’s consistent with career norms and means we should have a relatively well-assumed set of expectations.
The recipe for success with Arraez is a formula that won’t need tweaking. He hit the ball with what’s designated as medium exit velocities just over 50% of the time and had his soft contact percentage in the doldrums at 12.3% (top 15 in baseball). He utilizes all fields to nearly an exact one-third split, and then we get to his discipline. A 2.8% whiff rate was the lowest in baseball and only 28 qualified hitters expanded the plate more than Arraez’s 26.9% chase rate.
From a summarization standpoint, that leaves us in a very good place. Luis Arraez is a contact hitter that is choosy with what he attacks. He executes within himself, has an incredible eye, and has an established track record of not deviating from these norms. The inputs are there to produce a result no Twins player has had since Joe Mauer in 2009.
Now, with an award handed to one of hundreds, there’s also going to be a certain component of luck. Take the White Sox' Tim Anderson for example. He captured the American League batting title in 2019 with a .335 average. He entered the year as a career .258 hitter and enjoyed a Danny Santana-esque .399 BABIP. No AL champ has worn the crown with an average south of .330 since Joe Mauer captured his second in 2008 with a .328 mark. Conversely, Christian Yelich has picked up the nod in the National League each of the last two years being at .329 and .326 respectively.
It’s hard to prognosticate what bar will need to be cleared in order to win the American League crown in 2020. It’s not outlandish to suggest the number will be at least north of .325. Projection systems have Arraez between .309 and .311 in year two, which could prove correct as opposing pitchers adjust to his abilities. I’m not going to be against a guy that’s cracked the .340 mark in multiple stops however, and certainly not one that debuted as well as he did.
Minnesota’s second basemen may not be the favorite, and ultimately 2020 might not wind up being the year, but immediately or in the not-so-distant-future I’d be more than comfortable suggesting it’s a matter of when and not if.
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