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Luis Arraez Revived the Lost Aesthetics of Baseball


Twins Daily Contributor

The Luis Arraez for Pablo Lopez (plus prospects) trade is one that entirely makes sense on paper. For Twins fans, it seems destined to be unpopular. It isn’t that Twins fans do not understand the point; instead, the question is: what makes for good baseball?

Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For the last decade, players, fans, owners, and the media have become obsessed with “fixing” baseball. Some of these complaints have been unfairly placed on “analytics,” which has become a catch-all term for anything not understood by older generations. But the rise of Three True Outcome baseball has fundamentally changed the game, and not by making it necessarily as pleasing to the eye as it once was. That’s why players like Arraez have remained almost as important as winning. He provides unique, aesthetic entertainment value.

When Luis Arraez stepped up to the plate, it wasn’t just the excitement that he might score another hit and put the Twins in the potential place of winning. It was the question of how he might do it. Arraez would essentially perform something akin to a TikTok dance of quick moves, funny glances, and incredible gestures. His little swings were hardly the elegance of big boppers, but like strange little darts to foul balls that would surprise when he made contact. Whenever he poked one into foul territory or even took a critical ball just off the plate, he would jump up and down with excitement. There was a reason veterans like Rod Carew and Ichiro Suzuki quickly saw the potential for a batting title champ. He seemed transported from their era of baseball. 

Any look at Baseball Reference or FanGraphs will show something different of course: Arraez made plenty of contact but ultimately was not worth the same as players like Buxton or Correa. Part of that came from his lack of defensive skill—though he notably was cited as a Gold Glove finalist after moving to first base—but also because the way statistics have changed our understanding of value. To put it in context, incoming Twin Joey Gallo produced more WAR hitting under .200 but with 38 homers in his 2021 season than Arraez did in 2022. Singles aren’t worth much when the home run ball is the only thing that matters.

But this has been the precise problem in baseball that many are trying to fix. Whether it’s high strikeouts, low BABIP, or just the exceedingly long pace of play, baseball is in need of some fixes. When Theo Epstein, who revolutionized both the Red Sox and the Cubs into World Series winners, joined the MLB Commissioner’s Office in 2021, he joked in part it was to reverse trends he had helped create. Does it matter what the game looks like if it isn’t particularly fun to watch anymore? The new rules coming in place this year are responding to exactly that. 

For some, and in the eyes of a recent book on the Astros by Evan Drelich, Winning Fixes Everything. And for a lot of Twins fans, a playoff win is the only thing that will fix the problem. But the reason Arraez was so special for so many fans was not necessarily about his on-field production. He represented an entire aesthetic experience that has been dwindling in baseball (his Wario-like twin Willians Astudillo was similar though lacked an ability to make it to first, making Arraez a bit better of a balance). His plate appearances became appointment viewing because you were about to see something that few other hitters might do. He has always seemed determined to buck the trend of what baseball is supposed to look like, waving his finger at pitchers he refused to hit. Losing Arraez’s ballet at the plate will sting no matter how many swings Lopez gets on his change-up.

Years ago, former baseball writer Sam Miller explained why we watch baseball in what became a bit of insider lore on the sport:

Quote

The point of it is not to decide who is the best team. The illusion that that is what we’re doing has long been a powerful draw to sports…the point is to entertain people and make them forget that we are all dying right in front of each other — that this is just this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis, that we are going to lose everybody we know, that we are going to lose everything we have and the only way to distract ourselves is by separating our day into distractions.

That might seem a little drastic, but part of the point for us to ask us to actually define the entertainment of baseball, in which we demand so much from people that we will never meet in our lives doing something none of us could do even to a sliver of a percentile as better. I understand for many Twins fans, watching the best baseball team possible is the point. But for many of us who cherished Luis Arraez, the point was in part, to see them having as much fun as we did. I know I won’t be the only Twins fan checking in at Marlins games this season.
 


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57 minutes ago, rwilfong86 said:

Nice article, we'll miss the long at-bats and battles, hopefully Lopez will become Johan Santana 2.0. (We can hope, right?)

Arraez didn’t really have long ABs.  That’s an incorrect perception that’s been developed for one reason or another.

Gleeman and Bonnes had some great stats to back this up on their podcast.  On average, there are a number of Twins players that see more pitches.  Arraez is nearly exactly league average in that department.  I believe his average per AB or PA (don’t remember which) is exactly the same as Gilberto Celestino.

I haven’t yet heard anyone lament the impact that Celestino in AAA will have on the lineup (they’ll see fewer pitches from the on deck circle).

It’s funny how that perception is created.  Guys like Sano and Gallo see a ton of pitches.  But, people think they’re up there hacking at everything because of the K numbers.  It’s actually the opposite.  They are just often in 3-2 or 2-2 counts before swinging the bat.  (Another nice bit of context/info from Gleeman/Geek). 

I’ve heard national guys saying this too.  How guys like Jazz Chisholm will benefit greatly from seeing all these extra pitches with Arraez in front of them. Staring into the camera saying things are completely made up and false.

Fascinating little case study in mis/dis information.

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46 minutes ago, Beast said:

Arraez didn’t really have long ABs.  That’s an incorrect perception that’s been developed for one reason or another.

Gleeman and Bonnes had some great stats to back this up on their podcast.  On average, there are a number of Twins players that see more pitches.  Arraez is nearly exactly league average in that department.  I believe his average per AB or PA (don’t remember which) is exactly the same as Gilberto Celestino.

I haven’t yet heard anyone lament the impact that Celestino in AAA will have on the lineup (they’ll see fewer pitches from the on deck circle).

It’s funny how that perception is created.  Guys like Sano and Gallo see a ton of pitches.  But, people think they’re up there hacking at everything because of the K numbers.  It’s actually the opposite.  They are just often in 3-2 or 2-2 counts before swinging the bat.  (Another nice bit of context/info from Gleeman/Geek). 

I’ve heard national guys saying this too.  How guys like Jazz Chisholm will benefit greatly from seeing all these extra pitches with Arraez in front of them. Staring into the camera saying things are completely made up and false.

Fascinating little case study in mis/dis information.

Ranked #17 in the AL in 2022 and 2nd on the Twins behind Correa. image.png.0c5b40a574c33b708cc58291e8cb2848.png
http://stats.washingtonpost.com/mlb/getleaders.asp?rank=039

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1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

It pains me to see any comparison of Gallo and Arraez - there is the reason so many of us have less passion for the game than we used to. 

Yes. Count me among that "many." I'll give the 2023 Twins a chance to win me over, but my prediction is that my MLB.TV subscription will not be used much this year. Watching three-outcome hitters is about as exciting as watching someone roll Strat-O-Matic dice.

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2 hours ago, rwilfong86 said:

Ranked #17 in the AL in 2022 and 2nd on the Twins behind Correa. image.png.0c5b40a574c33b708cc58291e8cb2848.png
http://stats.washingtonpost.com/mlb/getleaders.asp?rank=039

Not going to lie, that is the first time I've ever seen the washington post stats page listed as a resource. I didn't even know that existed. Well done. 

But here's a real baseball resource. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/majors/2022-pitches-batting.shtml

League average was 3.90. Arraez was at 4.01. So .11 pitches per plate appearance above league average. He was 41st in baseball for hitters with at least 502 plate appearances. 41st out of 131 is nice, but not something crazy. And when you lower the threshold he falls even further down the list. Not sure what your source is basing their numbers on to get him up to #17. 

Edited: I see you're on AL only. So that's why he's up higher.

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33 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

Not going to lie, that is the first time I've ever seen the washington post stats page listed as a resource. I didn't even know that existed. Well done. 

But here's a real baseball resource. https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/majors/2022-pitches-batting.shtml

League average was 3.90. Arraez was at 4.01. So .11 pitches per plate appearance above league average. He was 41st in baseball for hitters with at least 502 plate appearances. 41st out of 131 is nice, but not something crazy. And when you lower the threshold he falls even further down the list. Not sure what your source is basing their numbers on to get him up to #17. 

Edited: I see you're on AL only. So that's why he's up higher.

Yep, #17 in the AL just like I said. Thanks for corroborating my info with another site that you deem more reliable!

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32 minutes ago, rwilfong86 said:

Yep, #17 in the AL just like I said. Thanks for corroborating my info with another site that you deem more reliable!

You're trying to make it sound like he was something crazy. There only 131 qualified hitters last year. He was .11 pitches over league average. That's nothing. The narrative that he was up there having crazy long at bats compared to everyone else is simply false.

Miguel Sano has longer at bats than Arraez, are you going to miss those "long at-bats and battles?" I mean if seeing lots of pitches is what you want you should love Sano. Jake Cave was tied with Arraez. You going to miss his "long at-bats and battles?" Polanco, Correa, and Larnach are still here so you'll at least be able to enjoy their ABs since they all average more pitches per plate appearance than Arraez.

The point is that we can miss Arraez, and wish he was here, without pretending he was someone he wasn't. Arraez was an absolute treat to watch hit. But he wasn't someone up there seeing significantly more pitches than anyone else.

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You do realize you can keep scrolling if you disagree with the content of my posts instead of always feeling the need to reply.😉I've seen enough games where he fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch and eventually either worked a walk or got a hit to base my opinion.

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15 hours ago, rwilfong86 said:

You do realize you can keep scrolling if you disagree with the content of my posts instead of always feeling the need to reply.😉I've seen enough games where he fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch and eventually either worked a walk or got a hit to base my opinion.

I simply want to provide some perspective and information. I agree, he's had plenty of times where he had wonderful at bats and they were a delight to watch. I will miss him so much that I'm going to pay whatever ridiculous amount MLB is charging for MLB.tv this year so I can continue to watch him in Miami. But when there's actual information on things I find it important to provide it so people are aware of the actual facts of things. Not just in baseball, but everything. And I realize it's one of my more annoying qualities 😔 But provable facts need to be carried with more weight than opinions in our world again. And I enjoy engaging with you because you put real thought into your posts, and provide useful, and interesting, perspective. It's a sign of respect that I'm willing to annoy you more than others! 🙂

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22 hours ago, Peter Labuza said:

Some of these complaints have been unfairly placed on “analytics,” which has become a catch-all term for anything not understood by older generations.

Just a note ... you could have made your point without the stereotyping of 'older generations.' I'd say there are plenty older folks on here who perfectly understand the analytics and plenty of younger folks who don't. And plenty of older and younger who may not understand them all, but still give them their due. And then there are plenty of older and younger who complain about them. I don't think this is just an 'older generational thing' at all. 

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2 hours ago, chpettit19 said:

I simply want to provide some perspective and information. I agree, he's had plenty of times where he had wonderful at bats and they were a delight to watch. I will miss him so much that I'm going to pay whatever ridiculous amount MLB is charging for MLB.tv this year so I can continue to watch him in Miami. But when there's actual information on things I find it important to provide it so people are aware of the actual facts of things. Not just in baseball, but everything. And I realize it's one of my more annoying qualities 😔 But provable facts need to be carried with more weight than opinions in our world again. And I enjoy engaging with you because you put real thought into your posts, and provide useful, and interesting, perspective. It's a sign of respect that I'm willing to annoy you more than others! 🙂

I can remember a game I went to in Kansas City in 2021 and Arraez had an at bat and kept fouling off pitch after pitch and the Royals fans all around me were getting so annoyed at it, I can't remember many of the details but that was one thing I will never forget. He sure did give us some fun at bats and was never gonna go down easily (like we saw in the one with Diaz in the OP). Looking forward to seeing him with the Marlins.

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Love this article and the point about the aesthetics of baseball.  Watching Arraez was just fun.  His animation, bat control, and joy were fun. A rare craftsman in this age of baseball.  Yet I do think the Twins improved the team by trading him

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Very nice article. 

I was in the game thread the night Arraez broke up Dylan Cease’s no-hitter, and if I recall, there was some brief back-and-forth about whether Cease should pitch around Arraez and walk him, or earn the no-hitter by retiring Arraez for the last out. Arraez being Arraez, lofts a single to right center. 

This is a huge, huge loss, and it’s impact will be both seen in the standings and also felt in the hearts of fans who care more about the team than the cold calculation of player values generated by a computer program somewhere.  

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23 hours ago, Brandon said:

 But how many times have you seen Arreaz foul off strike 3 several times before getting a hit or walk.  A fair amount hence the reputation.

I've seen him get hits on the first pitch and also turn an at bat into 8 or 9 pitches. Both are good Arraez at bats. Will definitely be missed.

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