Mitch Garver Can Prove a Lot of People Wrong
Image courtesy of Image courtesy of © Sam Navarro-USA TODAY SportsPetriello put together very reasonable sources of doubt about Garver, three of which caught my attention: his lack of track record to earn him confidence, the fact that his 2019 numbers were well above what had come before, and his struggles against non-fastballs. So I raised some counterarguments for those points, to try to inject some optimism in favor of The Sauce.
Does he really have no track record?
If you consider Garver’s time as a major leaguer alone, that’s a fair point. Because he chose to attend college, his MLB debut came only at age 26. But that doesn’t mean that what he did the previous eight years is not relevant.
A while back, I looked back at some Twins collegiate careers. In four years playing for the Lobos, Garver had outstanding numbers. He maintained a slash line of .351/.421/.527 (.948 OPS) in the four years he played for NCAA Division-I. He revolutionized the program, leading it to its best seasons in history and earned national recognition, being named a Johnny Bench Award finalist (a prize now known as the Buster Posey Award) two times. That’s why his breakout 2019 didn’t come as a surprise for his college coach Ray Birmingham, as he told Twins Daily last year.
As Petriello points out, he also earned some recognition for his minor league career, being named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2017. In 110 games at Triple-A, good for 456 plate appearances, he slashed .298/.386/.520 (.906 OPS). Even though he was never considered a top prospect during his years in the minors, he did have a very solid time there. So 2019 shouldn’t have come as much as a surprise.
Did his breakout really start only in 2019?
In his article, Petriello chose to separate Garver’s MLB career into 2019 and 2017-18. But did his rise really only start in 2019? Actually, in spite of his overall 2018 stats showing a rather average performance, his breakout started in the middle of that season.
From June 1, 2018 until the end of the 2019 season, he played 156 games (592 PA), hitting .278/.359/.555 (.914 OPS), with a 139 wRC+ and .380 wOBA. Oh, and he also hit 36 bombas. Those are some much more reliable numbers to back up his breakout. During that time, he shared a lot of his PA’s with two or three other catchers, so it will be fun to see him finally being the Alpha of the Twins’ catching position.
How did other hitters perform at the same point of their careers?
Maybe the greatest mystery for Garver in 2020 is whether his struggles against non-fastballs are going to hurt him or not. So, I tried to investigate other hitters that had similar problems after three seasons in the majors and if that affected their following seasons or not.
Two proven power hitters, who had very similar gaps between their fastball numbers and at least one other type of pitch. Such difficulties didn’t stop them from becoming two of the most feared bats in baseball. Both of them still display this difference nowadays, so I think it isn’t a big reason to worry. Considered by many the best catcher in baseball, Realmuto also showed an even larger lack of balance in his first two years in the majors, but he managed to even things out in his third year.
Given the amount of hard work Garver put into becoming a better catcher defensively, I don’t think it’s impossible that he becomes a better non-fastball hitter, like Realmuto did. But the bottom line is: he’s still going to see more fastballs than offspeed or breaking stuff. My guess is that he’s going to be fine either way.
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