However, a bevy of early-season injuries suffered by Twins outfielders resulted in the erstwhile Oregon State Beaver making his big league debut on May 8. He went 0-for-4 with a hit by pitch as the Twins fell to the Detroit Tigers 7-3, but by the end of the month, Larnach was slashing .228/.389/.456 to go along with three home runs, four doubles, and a 19:12 K:BB ratio. By the end of June, his batting average had risen to .245, his home runs (5) and doubles (8) continued to climb at a steady pace, and it was widely believed that the lefty masher would not only be a staple in the Twins’ lineup for the remainder of the increasingly lost season, but for years to come as well.
Larnach was demoted to Triple-A St. Paul on August 16th with his OPS sitting at a gloomy .672 and his strikeouts outnumbering his walks 3-to-1. His decrease in performance was less of a drop off and more of a sheer cliff. The reasons for Larnach’s struggles are often attributed primarily to an inability to hit off-speed pitches, and while it is true that he did struggle mightily, in actuality, they extend far deeper.
Baseball Savant is a fount of knowledge if you know where to look. Within its walls of dizzying statistical text and confusing graphical representations exists all the insights one could ever desire to know about a given player. The data summarizing Trevor Larnach’s rookie campaign provides no exception. (Note: All images and data used and analyzed below come via Baseball Savant.)
By adjusting inputs and parameters provided automatically by Savant, it’s possible to extract detailed information about Larnach’s season, including how opposing pitchers approached his at-bats and, ultimately, how he fared. To begin, the graph below displays the pitch-types Larnach faced on a month-to-month basis in the form of a percentage.
In short, opponents offered Larnach a healthy helping of fastballs immediately upon being called up in May, but that number dropped precipitously in June and rose again in July before falling in August. Additionally, it should be noted that the number of breaking balls Larnach faced — defined as sliders, curves, knuckle-curves, and the ever-nebulous “other” — generally increased consistently as the summer progressed, to the point where he was seeing nearly an equal amount of fastballs and breaking balls in June and August.
“I could tell teams were not going to be throwing fastballs a whole lot when I started to see a heavy dose of off-speed and changeups,” Larnach told Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic in late June. “You’re still going to get [fastballs]. They have to establish that or show them. I try to have a plan when I go up there and stick with it.”
However, as the season progressed further, opponents began to offer fewer and fewer changeups while throwing more and more sliders. Simultaneously, Larnach’s swing and miss percentages increased across the board. (Note: There is quite a bit of noise present in Larnach’s batting data against off-speed pitches due to an extremely small sample size.)
To make matters worse, Larnach’s average exit velocity numbers as well as his batting average and slugging percentages (.382/.765 in May compared to .229/.375 in July) against fastballs plummeted. In essence, not only was he swinging and missing more as the season progressed, he was also making weaker contact with the one pitch he generally destroyed when he did manage to meet leather with wood.
Often such a significant drop in exit velo and overall contact is accompanied by an increased proclivity to chase pitches outside of the zone. In general, Larnach has a discerning eye at the plate, ranking above average in take rate compared to his major league peers; however, his propensity to swing at breaking balls out of the zone reached its zenith in July, just prior to being sent down.
And even if he wasn’t chasing as many fastballs or off-speed pitches as one might assume based on the numbers provided above, he wasn’t exactly making a ton of contact when he did.
By the time Larnach’s run in the bigs concluded, he was seeing an increased number of sliders down and away and fastballs on the outer-half of the plate, both of which were met by an alarming number of swings and misses.
The end result was a statistical profile that laid out clearly the best way to get Larnach out.
So, was Larnach’s inability to hit off-speed pitches and breaking balls a major factor in his decline during his rookie campaign? Undoubtedly. But so was a sudden inability to hit fastballs, due in part to pitchers throwing fewer — and the ones they did throw being closer to the outer edge of the plate — as well as what was likely a subsequent reduction in overall confidence.
Larnach still overflows with raw talent and power, but it’s possible he never figures out how to hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches. If the 2021 season taught us anything, it’s that his overall success will rely on his ability to consistently mash fastballs and if he can’t, well, the consequences could be severe.