Think back to October 2019 – the Twins had just gotten pantsed in the playoffs. Again. A really fun season had ended in disappointment. Again. But there was still ample reason for hope. One such reason for optimism was the emergence of Luis Arraez, a rookie contact-hitting savant. Now, one (odd) season later, and we’re in about the same place. The Twins are fresh off another fun season that ended in postseason embarrassment, but this year, we’re much less excited about the 23-year-old second baseman. And for what? All Arraez did in 2020 was fight through injury to hit for a .321 batting average (best on the team) and a .364 on-base percentage (second best) while playing a decent second base. So why are some Twins fans throwing his name into every possible trade deal or into a platoon with whoever ends up as Minnesota’s utility man? Hasn’t Arraez earned himself a spot in the Twins future?
Okay, obviously saying that Arraez “fought through injury” to bat .321 is a fairly rose-tinted way of looking at what Luis brought to the Twins last year. To put it a different way, “Arraez was an injury liability and, when he was in the lineup, he regressed in all major stat categories and offered very little in the way of power.” The truth about Arraez is somewhere in between these two takes, but I’ve heard a lot more extreme pessimism than optimism. Yes, he regressed last year and no, he doesn’t help the team when he’s injured, but we’ve found ways to excuse nearly every other Twin for those same exact problems without casting them off as trade bait (I’m looking at you, Garver and Buxton). Also, Arraez’s “regression” brought him down to a .321 average that would’ve been good for third-best in the American League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still a pretty good season.
I understand that, nowadays, you often have to do more than just hit at a high average to be a solid MLB player, but worry not, because Arraez actually improved slightly in a number of more telling advanced statistics last season. His 2020 campaign saw him improve in average exit velocity, sweet spot percentage and hard hit percentage, per Baseball Savant. None of these improvements was particularly significant and he’s by no means excelling in any of these categories, but it’s clear by looking at the advanced metrics that Arraez is not getting worse at the plate. In fact, it seems that his 2020 season should have been even better than his breakout rookie year.
So why did it feel disappointing? Because we were hoping for that second-year leap and we got a regression to the mean instead. Arraez’s improvement in advanced hitting metrics and regression in average and OBP show us that his rookie year was a statistical outlier more than it was a stepping stone to even greater success in the future. Still, if .321 is the mean he regressed towards, Twins fans ought to be excited, especially considering that he was injured and is still only 23. We’ve written off much worse pandemic performances from healthier and more experienced guys, so let’s afford Arraez some of that forgiveness.
Unfortunately, ZiPS (and every other projection service) doesn’t seem to be helping me make my case. They predict a slash line of .313/.371/.406 for his third year in the bigs. On the surface, this looks worse than it is because Arraez’s average is projected to take another hit, but ZiPS actually projects that .313 mark to lead the majors. They have his on-base and slugging numbers improving, too, so, really, they’re not down on Arraez at all. Even if Arraez does level out as a .313 hitter – and I think he’ll be better than that long-term – adding some power and taking more walks would be a massive improvement for his career and for the Twins lineup. And I believe he can make those improvements because, again, he’s only 23.
So, where does that leave us? I saw the regression from his rookie year (we all did) and no, his 2020 year wasn’t what we hoped for, but Arraez is still a great asset for the Twins moving forward. I believe in his contact hitting that has been the best on the team and I believe in the advanced metrics that show his improvements in other areas. Most of all, though, I believe in the player. Arraez has hit .300 at every level of professional baseball, and is the same age or younger than some of the Twins’ top minor-league prospects. He’s already a great hitter and he has a lot of opportunity for growth ahead of him. Luis Arraez may very well win a batting title soon, and the Twins better make sure he does it in a Minnesota jersey.