Ruth Behind the Dish for Twins
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsAfter assuming regular work in a season that Jason Castro found himself hurt, Mitch Garver began a breakout in 2018. He posted a .268/.335/.414 slash line en route to a 104 OPS+. Essentially, he was just above league average while showing some pop and having a good display of plate discipline.
In September Willians Astudillo came onto the scene and caused the collective whole of Minnesota Twins fans to lose their minds. He raked, and didn’t so unconventionally, while being the living embodiment of a shelled animal. When Spring Training kicked off, there were discussion that the option eligible Garver could be the one sent back to Triple-A to accommodate a roster crunch. Fast forward to today, and any downplaying of Garver’s ability looks sillier than it ever has.
To be certain, the New Mexico native needed to work on his defense behind the dish. Consulting Tanner Swanson for help from within, Mitch changed his receiving style and looked to push his abilities behind the plate to an average at worst barometer, instead of that being his ceiling. The -16 DRS in 2018 was abysmal, and the strike percentage was far from where it needed to be. Both of those statistics have been addressed in a big way this year, and it’s made the offensive swoon that much more enjoyable.
Without yet going into the how, here’s the what. Garver came into Tuesday night’s game with a ridiculous .333/.425/.733 slash line and a 204 OPS+. He’d surpassed his career total in homers (7) through just 24 games and launched his 9th early in game 25. The 19/11 K/BB isn’t indicative of a guy that’s selling out for power, and that strong plate discipline has earned him multiple starts out of the leadoff position for the Twins.
So, where is this all coming from? Basically, Mitch took a part of the game he was already good at (hitting) and launched it into another universe. His already strong whiff rate Is now down to 6.3% (1.5% drop from 2018), while he’s gone from chasing 22% of the time to just 16%. Nothing has changed in his contact rates, and his swing rates have actually taken a dip. Now, get ready for it, this is where it gets fun.
Garver owns a career best 42.9% hard hit rate in 2019. That is only a 2% lead from 2018; he was already hitting the ball hard a year ago. Instead of hitting ground balls nearly 40% of the time however, he’s putting balls in the air nearly 50% of the time. It’s jumped his HR/FB rate from 8% to 30%. In 2018 Garver had a 9.5-degree launch angle on base hits. In 2019, that number is 13.6 degrees. He’s using a similar approach while hitting the ball harder and higher, enjoying the flight of it going even further.
To be fair it’d be crazy to expect any player to continue this level of production over the course of a full season. Garver is on an impressive tear, and a slump will certainly come. What is good new though, is that nothing about his approach leaves him susceptible to being beaten ober the course of an extended period. Forcing pitchers to work, he’ll still be able to attack the offering that suits him best and has the ability to do damage.
Right now, Garver is the best catcher in baseball. He’s posted a better fWAR mark than anyone at the position, despite playing a handful less games. He’s tracking towards an All-Star berth, and we are getting out of the small sample size realm. This is fun, he’s for real, and Minnesota probably found their long-term solution behind the dish.
- Mike Frasier Law, mikelink45, Minny505 and 1 other like this