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Game Thread Twins @ Cubs 9 /20/2020 6:00 PM CDT

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In Search of a Why Behind Mitch Garver's Slump

I set out in search of a diagnosis with regard to Mitch 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. Let's not worry about the math as much as what the numbers are saying.
Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
When 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.

Attached Image: Garver2019.png

Source: FanGraphs.com (support FanGraphs)


Attached Image: Garver2020.png

Source: FanGraphs.com

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
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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.

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10 Comments

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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 12 2020 09:59 PM

Nice work. The graphs really say it all - the two black spots merged into one, and their center moved lower and further inside, but still well in the strike zone.Pitching coaches were paying attention, and so far this year the pitchers have good command against him.

 

Our man went three for six (one off Gyorko) today, scoring twice but sadly contributing no RBI.No shortage of confidence from Rocco in sending him out to lead off today after 1-for-4 with 3 SO yesterday's disaster.Now hitting .167/.280/.238 in 50 PAs, just 2 RBI, 1 XBH. Really hope Levine is right and the guy finds himself during this home stand.

    • Dman and Derek Wetmore like this
I haven’t looked into much myself, but Gleeman noted on a recent podcast that his underlying numbers suggest some incredible bad luck (a wildly low BABIP with exit velo numbers not far off from last year).

I’d prefer Baldelli not bat him lead off against lefties when he’s slugging under .200 (especially with Buxton now OPSing higher than Nelson Cruz on the season).....but I’m not overly concerned long-term. Stick him down in the 7-8 hole and let him work his way out of it.
    • VivaBomboRivera! and BeatTheRich like this
By the way, I was a huge fan of the SKOR North Twins show. Great show.

The content is now unlistenable without you and Ramie. Zulgad’s constant click-baitey “cool contrarian” act paired with the insufferably condescending Phil Mackey has destroyed what they had going there.

Glad to see you land over here. Are you/are you planning to be involved in any more Twins podcasts?
    • USNMCPO and bighat like this

For me, with all the struggles for all the hitters you need to remember it is still a short period compared to what we normally see.It is not even a month into a season, but nearly 25% of this season.For most of these guys we would say it is still early and give them time they will come around.I am sure we could find some bad 15 game stretches for everyone in their careers.This season just magnifies those 15 game stretches. However, with way Avila is swinging I wonder if there will be much more of a platoon going forward.  

    • BeatTheRich likes this
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Derek Wetmore
Aug 13 2020 07:39 AM

 

I haven’t looked into much myself, but Gleeman noted on a recent podcast that his underlying numbers suggest some incredible bad luck (a wildly low BABIP with exit velo numbers not far off from last year).

 

I haven't had a chance to catch that pod yet but I think the quality of contact (and higher whiff rate) makes it hard to call him extremely unlucky. I do think he'll work his way out of it and you'll start to see that babip number climb. Might have already started last night. 

 

As for a future podcast. .... Might need you to keep a secret.

    • BeatTheRich likes this

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.

From my extreme "armchair" perspective, it's not a good idea to be a one-dimensional hitter. Major league pitchers are just too good, when you present them that simple of problem to tackle. Having a Happy Zone is great, but you need a way to punish pitchers who stay away from it, by having a second or even third approach to low-outside pitches or whatever isn't "Happy". Brian Dozier was a good example, being someone who feasted on high-inside pitches, but occasionally would demonstrate a willingness to go the other way and make the pitcher pay with a higher on-base approach. I don't know if Garver is predictable to the same extent Dozier sometimes was, but if Garver is productive only in the Happy Zone then it's a problem.
 

    • JoshDungan1, VivaBomboRivera! and Derek Wetmore like this
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Parker Hageman
Aug 13 2020 10:25 AM
I haven’t looked into much myself, but Gleeman noted on a recent podcast that his underlying numbers suggest some incredible bad luck (a wildly low BABIP with exit velo numbers not far off from last year).

 

Average exit velocity probably isn't a good measure because when you dig in you'll see there are two different stories.

 

Overall, yes, he's hitting the ball 89.8 in 2020 and was at 91.8 in 2019.

 

The reason it's not far off this year is because his exit velo on ground balls is much higher this year than last year while the EV on balls in the air is much lower. So the average EV looks similar. Last year when he hit a line drive, it average 98.9 while this year it's averaging 91. So the "good contact" EV is much lower than the "bad contact". 

 

So "bad luck" really isn't an answer in this case.

 

I posted this last week on Twitter but it demonstrates where his swing has been deficient so far this year:

 

 

He was a monster at hitting pitches up last year. Pitchers are still giving him fastballs up that he's just swinging under. You can see how he was coming down at the ball in 2019 but is trying to come up at it this year. This may be just a symptom of minimal reps heading into the season. Feels like he could use some high-spin fastball machine work or doing some of the high tee drills that Nelson Cruz loves. 

 

The last thing I'll add is that since the second half of last year, Garver has broadcasted everywhere that he goal is to pull the ball. That's not a bad goal, to be sure. Brian Dozier always said the shortest way out of the park down the left field line. Given that opponents are just throwing stuff away at him, it's likely they are trying to get him off that game. Trueblood touched upon that today too but Garver may have to make that adjustment of being able to drive that outer-third fastball into center-right-center instead of his usual pull mindset. 

 

Thanks Derek for the discussion.

    • h2oface, JoshDungan1, VivaBomboRivera! and 2 others like this

Garver needs to not read any of this, and not think about it, and relax and hit. Like he did yesterday. Then eveyone can make up more things about what he doesn't have to think about. This timeline is basically the end of spring training right now for timing at the plate.....

    • bighat likes this

Garver needs to not read any of this, and not think about it, and relax and hit.

Then how will he know to relax and hit? :)
 

    • h2oface, bighat and VivaBomboRivera! like this
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Parker Hageman
Aug 13 2020 06:41 PM

Garver needs to not read any of this, and not think about it, and relax and hit. Like he did yesterday. Then eveyone can make up more things about what he doesn't have to think about. This timeline is basically the end of spring training right now for timing at the plate.....


wouldn’t it be something if players came here to read about what to do.

wait, maybe that’s what happened in 2016.

    • ashbury and bighat like this