Was Luis Arraez for Real in 2019?
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsPlaying in 92 games for the Twins in 2019, Arraez posted a .334/.399/.439 slash line. He ripped 20 doubles, notched a career best four homers, and showed plate discipline to the tune of a 29/36 K/BB. Throughout his six-year professional career Arraez has earned the calling card of a tough out that has hit at every level. He’s never owned a batting average south of .300 over the course of a full season, and his .298 tally in 48 games at Double-A Chattanooga was the low-water snapshot.
Initially promoted in somewhat of a surprise move, Arraez quickly acclimated himself to the starting lineup. As the Twins experienced injuries through their lineup, Luis added value wherever he was slotted in. Starting most of his games in the six hole, he was able to provide solid at-bats behind Minnesota’s big boppers. With Max Kepler shelved for a time, he also grabbed 13 starts in the leadoff spot, posting a .339 average ther.
Obviously, a guy with so little power is never going to substantially benefit from home run-inducing changes to the baseball. That said, finding out whether the Twins have the next 3,000 hit candidate or a guy primed for regression is worth investigating.
Often times a lofty average can be picked apart through the BABIP lens. Fortunately for the Twins second basemen, his BABIP checked in at .355 (just 21 points higher than his .334 bating avg). A 34.7% hard hit rate is somewhere among the upper tier of modesty, and the 29.4% line drive rate is suggestive of a guy who knows his strength. 29.1% of batted balls registering as “fly” doesn’t hurt someone who doesn’t leave the yard, and the 41.5% ground ball rate isn’t egregiously negative either.
Everything about the batted ball profile suggests that we aren’t getting any significant amount of luck, and then we take a look at the plate discipline. This is where Arraez really shines, and how he’ll continue to see success going forward. From that first at-bat against Edwin Diaz on, the Venezuelan prospect has dictated the action. He posted just a 2.8% whiff rate and chased only 26.9% of the time. No one in baseball (min 350 PA) missed less and the 93.3% contact rate also topped the charts.
As we’ve seen with his Twins teammate Willians Astudillo, there’s more to a great contact hitter than plate coverage. The goal isn’t simply to impact the ball, but do so with the optimal pitch, in a location that you can do something with it. Unlike the man fondly known as The Turtle, Arraez can discern which pitches are worth his attention, and then also adequately attack them. He combines plate coverage with discipline and recognition, making the trio a truly lethal combination.
In just over 360 career games at the minor league level Luis Arraez posted a .331 average. He ended up trumping that tally with a .334 debut at the major league level. His 109 hits in 92 games would put him near the 200 mark over a full season, and we should get every opportunity to see that in action during 2020. We may never see Arraez hit four homers in a season again, but betting against him remaining in constant contention for a batting title seems foolish at best.
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