In Search of a Why Behind Mitch Garver's Slump
Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY SportsWhen I dove into this analysis, I expected to find that opposing pitchers were avoiding Garver’s barrel by refusing to throw him fastballs for strikes. What I found was actually less of an answer to my question and more of a gateway to other questions.
Garver is getting fastballs at about the same rate as last year, despite punishing the pitch with no mercy in 2019. He’s just whiffing more often, driving his strikeout rate way up against righties and lefties alike, all without the tradeoff of harder or better contact when he does connect.
Twins GM Thad Levine told Twins Radio Network over the weekend that the Twins expect that a Garver Breakout is right around the corner. Levine attributed the early season slump – and we should emphasize here, we’re talking about 44 plate appearances entering Wednesday – to better plans of attack and, anecdotally, trailing in the count more often.
“We’ve become so sophisticated in our advanced scouting that usually the [opposing] team counter-punches,” Levine told TRN. “The best players continue to evolve and always stay one step ahead of the advanced scouts.”
Whereas a year ago, guys like Garver or Luis Arraez would surely show up on the scouting report, they might not have earned as much ink as, say, Nelson Cruz. This year, the league is taking those hitters “extremely seriously,” Levine said.
Of all the fastballs he saw last season, Garver only swung through 5.7% of them, according to data from Baseball Savant. Compare that with a 16.5% whiff rate on offspeed pitches and 9.9% on breaking balls.
So, again, I expected to see that teams were going away from fastballs and teasing Garver with secondary stuff, especially off the plate, or to steal strikes early in counts. But I didn’t see a big, meaningful difference in the type of pitches he’s getting. Pitchers are, according to FanGraphs, trading a few sliders and curves for changeups, at least until Garver proves dangerous against the slower offspeed pitches.
I set out in search of a diagnosis for Garver’s offensive slump – and maybe by extension a suggested cure. But I’m afraid what I found might only be a little more granular explanation of the symptoms.
Here’s a quick glance at the location of pitches to Garver from last year vs. this season to date.
Source: FanGraphs.com (support FanGraphs)
All this really tells us is that in the early goings of our shortened 2020 season, opposing teams are doing a better job of keeping pitches away from the Happy Zone when Garver's at the plate. That’s one way to try to neutralize a dangerous hitter.
More words from Derek Wetmore
Check out Derek Wetmore's newsletter on the Minnesota Twins, and consider becoming a member
Moving on to Garver’s contact profile is as close to a “takeaway” as this report is going to yield. More work is needed to provide a better explanation of why this is happening – mechanical, game plan or maybe something else.
For this section, don’t worry about the math as much as what the numbers are saying.
When Garver swung at a pitch in the strike zone during 2019, he hit it 88% of the time, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Few catchers make contact with those pitches more often and, worth noting, we in Minnesota were spoiled for years by Joe Mauer (and, weirdly, A.J. Pierzynski and Kurt Suzuki).
Anyway, 88% contact rate on pitches in the zone last year for Garver. This year, that’s down to 78%, or a decrease of 11%. On pitches outside the strike zone, Garver made contact 55% of the time last year and that’s down to 44% this year (a decrease of 20%). And to amplify the swing-miss conundrum, Garver is taking cuts more often, swinging at 63% of pitches in the zone this year, compared with 56% last season.
Unfortunately for Minnesota’s Silver Slugger, it doesn’t appear obvious to me that there’s some simple wave of a wand that will lead to more contact and more damage.
“He’s just in one of those ruts right now where he seems to be in pitcher’s counts all the time, quite often in 0-2 counts, and so it leaves a hitter a little bit defensive,” Levine said in that interview with TRN. “I think we also have to recognize in the context of the season, we in the front office would never over-value a 30-40 plate appearance stretch for a hitter."
“So I think Mitch is a couple games from righting the ship and getting right back out there… We think it’s just a matter of time before he breaks out,” Levine said.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
- VivaBomboRivera! likes this