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  • What Happened to Trevor Larnach?


    Lucas Seehafer

    Minnesota Twins outfielder Trevor Larnach was not supposed to make his MLB debut during the early portion of May 2021. In fact, somewhere in the multiverse, there is a world in which Larnach did not reach the major leagues at all this past summer, instead spending time marinating in Triple-A, a level at which he had not competed at prior to 2021.

    Image courtesy of Peter Aiken, USA TODAY

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    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. 

     

    -fj1kXv9WTBQiAS-morGM-DKBSTfSwf0ILJ9zLEnsr3yTnZwbS80QzownB9T-7rZOtUs9sCsm0c84n08QgM5L8LezpwsD3GAve_GAaV_hiSpuMEkcKtOGlriwEy3DjWjJxbqsKmP

    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.)

    25rI3S8sCCzGEVqLf8GUNsN_eZq7MXkg3eGHw7GbxCPNjWaiu0pGlJMPkRdEbZKZZuSG2QvFvuCocoXAQc2najzBb4EAqwzQ8uP2Q-t4UpasB7M8Mg5UdQElgT3lU6FWEJUJVNro

    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. 

    -aRpjLxqYX9dZpxhHfce4IZ01JAIuDNO-_CUwzbmCCFKz6n8OEfTVDDxf3ppzTM36p1NmeKDL35pmeP3IFVcbYiDVTOztEbVkeXV0t84uf0PLPvBj81buBfoIoKWlVW5qmPatxnm

    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.Ex8f7-RCUJ0M9J7oPPTddikb1OT7mdNHnWdYorjg-bq1dQ19CIg358agba3dCFF01FyjKeCfdhgh5ovOcatZEfdJX7YOuhxxJu1xxkZVkSXwNhp5TBsZ9duTC3YhLtNNoK5GP-lU

    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.

    qVMsAIG7dIuZ7mOGHyXPJKQM9fws9UjuGR-rpMfkHP1dm8o5ZmAOLPxbWQkHn8HDJXBOzGLVZ2FJBRxOKVTysEtsJOZRHk4sFuD6p2vKTTOo8WMUgAQmZUwnHYmhC9CbtHdg5Zib

    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.

    hYG7PSbLAiWhTSsMXE9jyQngnG2IP3WYWiDaTBk0ATc_b22WxnWbhsX2QDlkqIcWIU2NWdQRh8XdiWWfqMO-oQ9U3Y-znG5rxmwAWg6ZruvGLrTUsdqs9SB6uFxHrU0mavnTsh0P

    CdoiOqvMjlG1r1gFtZ0Z3zxZDJDBIUzrK03AmHvRzvjJNUGdZXVdC-IYQ4wes5CQ7OQLkP2Jru2KKoY9pFgftbNjuUBtYucWpHOBMrfqvRCBQ_02vfXNo6YoVWiwYw8ZZ50dlX7j

    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.

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    He is a smart kid, so hopefully he is spending the off season working with someone who can help him adjust.  But, this situation is a good reminder about prospects--there are no guarantees.  Actually, I had a baseball scout tell me once that if you have three good prospects coming up through your system, once they reach the majors, one will end up as good as you thought, one will end up even better, and one will never reach his potential. If you look at the Twins, for every Polanco and Buxton, there is an Arcia, Kepler or Sano.

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    I think Larnach will eventually figure things out.  To what degree as a hitter remains to be seen.  His upside is Jesse Winker.  His downside is our current version of Max Kepler without the defense.  Speaking of Kepler, the Twins are certainly assessing what his top and bottom as a hitter will be.  One thing that is clear about Max:  The shift is his kryptonite.  Will MLB come out with a rule requiring 3B/SS's and 1B/2B's to remain on "their side" of the infield as the pitch is being delivered and also restricting how DEEP an INF'er can play ??  These types of things are being discussed as a way to "revive" offense but will they come to pass ?  There's more to Kepler's struggles than the "shift" but restricting it would instantly help him.  With Larnach, the sample size is too small.  But I remember how clutch he was in the College World Series for Oregon State and see him as THAT kind of hitter.  With Kiriloff AND Larnach the Twins always had a certain degree of redundancy.  Now that Buxton is in the fold the the long term and with Martin, Lewis, Celestino, Wallner and Rodriguez in the pipeline, Larnach is the better trade chip than Kepler.  The Twins, have a LOT of young pitchers coming up in their system but with few expected to have much of an impact in 2022.   I think Arraez and Larnach are the best trade chips to bring in SP's for both short and long term pitching flexibility.  I would have considered Jeffers as well, primarily with Miami, but that ship has sailed.  Maybe Jeffers to Milwaukee.  But the Twins are going to have to be VERY active in the trade market to patch some of the gaping holes in their roster and to loosen up some of the log jams at certain positions (2B, Corner OF, 1B/DH types).

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    7 minutes ago, TopGunn#22 said:

    I think Larnach will eventually figure things out.  To what degree as a hitter remains to be seen.  His upside is Jesse Winker.  His downside is our current version of Max Kepler without the defense.  Speaking of Kepler, the Twins are certainly assessing what his top and bottom as a hitter will be.  One thing that is clear about Max:  The shift is his kryptonite.  Will MLB come out with a rule requiring 3B/SS's and 1B/2B's to remain on "their side" of the infield as the pitch is being delivered and also restricting how DEEP an INF'er can play ??  These types of things are being discussed as a way to "revive" offense but will they come to pass ?  There's more to Kepler's struggles than the "shift" but restricting it would instantly help him.  With Larnach, the sample size is too small.  But I remember how clutch he was in the College World Series for Oregon State and see him as THAT kind of hitter.  With Kiriloff AND Larnach the Twins always had a certain degree of redundancy.  Now that Buxton is in the fold the the long term and with Martin, Lewis, Celestino, Wallner and Rodriguez in the pipeline, Larnach is the better trade chip than Kepler.  The Twins, have a LOT of young pitchers coming up in their system but with few expected to have much of an impact in 2022.   I think Arraez and Larnach are the best trade chips to bring in SP's for both short and long term pitching flexibility.  I would have considered Jeffers as well, primarily with Miami, but that ship has sailed.  Maybe Jeffers to Milwaukee.  But the Twins are going to have to be VERY active in the trade market to patch some of the gaping holes in their roster and to loosen up some of the log jams at certain positions (2B, Corner OF, 1B/DH types).

    I don't necessarily disagree with you point about Larnach being a better trade chip, but to play devil's advocate a bit: For better or for worse, Kepler has a track record. He's shown that he can produce good power at the MLB level and provide elite defense in right field and solid defense in center. Teams value those attributes and I think we tend to take his talent for granted a bit because we see his negatives on a day-to-day basis. When you look at Larnach you see a guy who has the potential for above average power but no real home defensively. He'll like never be more than average in either corner due to his slower foot speed and decent arm. Frankly, I think his 80-90th percentile future outcome is something like a consistent left-handed 2012 Josh Willingham with slightly better defense. In that sense, Larnach's offense would be better than Kepler. However, Kepler's defense provides so much value that he'd probably be considered the more valuable player, even with his mediocre offense.

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    2 hours ago, wsnydes said:

    He's simply got to adjust.  Breaking pitches at the MLB level are better and in better spots than they are in the minors.  And everyone can throw them.  I think he'll get that chance, and I think he'll be fine.  But it's up to him to make that adjustment.  Coaches can only do so much.

    For sure, though even in the minor's Larnach's reputation was one of someone who can't hit off-speed stuff but absolutely mashes fastballs. He did that through the first two months after his debut but then stopped hitting them as the season went on. He'll always get a steady diet of off-speed stuff, particularly as that is the way the game is trending, but, to your point, if he doesn't adjust (and doing so is much easier said than done), he needs to continue to mash fastballs. I think that's the big adjustment he needs to make. He's going to see fewer fastballs and they're going to be primarily located outside when he does see them. He needs to learn how to better recognize those pitches and capitalize when he gets them.

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    2 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    Now the question - how do they fix this?  They have a multitude of coaches.  Who is working with him?  What do they do to change this and save a good player?

    Who's working with him right now? No one (thanks lockout). But Popkins will absolutely work with him once the lockout ends. Helping players make adjustments based on analytics is the main reason the Twins signed him.

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    28 minutes ago, TopGunn#22 said:

    I think Larnach will eventually figure things out.  To what degree as a hitter remains to be seen.  His upside is Jesse Winker.  His downside is our current version of Max Kepler without the defense.  Speaking of Kepler, the Twins are certainly assessing what his top and bottom as a hitter will be.  One thing that is clear about Max:  The shift is his kryptonite.  Will MLB come out with a rule requiring 3B/SS's and 1B/2B's to remain on "their side" of the infield as the pitch is being delivered and also restricting how DEEP an INF'er can play ??  These types of things are being discussed as a way to "revive" offense but will they come to pass ?  There's more to Kepler's struggles than the "shift" but restricting it would instantly help him.  With Larnach, the sample size is too small.  But I remember how clutch he was in the College World Series for Oregon State and see him as THAT kind of hitter.  With Kiriloff AND Larnach the Twins always had a certain degree of redundancy.  Now that Buxton is in the fold the the long term and with Martin, Lewis, Celestino, Wallner and Rodriguez in the pipeline, Larnach is the better trade chip than Kepler.  The Twins, have a LOT of young pitchers coming up in their system but with few expected to have much of an impact in 2022.   I think Arraez and Larnach are the best trade chips to bring in SP's for both short and long term pitching flexibility.  I would have considered Jeffers as well, primarily with Miami, but that ship has sailed.  Maybe Jeffers to Milwaukee.  But the Twins are going to have to be VERY active in the trade market to patch some of the gaping holes in their roster and to loosen up some of the log jams at certain positions (2B, Corner OF, 1B/DH types).

    Thanks Lucas for your in-depth look at Larnach. The Twins made a few mistakes that made them bring up Larnach too soon. He's a great hitter and will eventually figure it out. But now his confidence has been shaken and it'll take longer to really adapt to MLB.

    Adaptation is what brings mystique to the game. Pitchers, hitters and defense constantly adapting to counteract the others moves. I don't think baseball should force rules to protect players' inability to adapt. 

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    25 minutes ago, Lucas Seehafer PT said:

    Who's working with him right now? No one (thanks lockout). But Popkins will absolutely work with him once the lockout ends. Helping players make adjustments based on analytics is the main reason the Twins signed him.

    I hope he simplifies the issue for Larnach - I remember the first few years of Buxton and all the tweaks and changes that ultimately led to more confusion than success. 

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    48 minutes ago, Lucas Seehafer PT said:

    For sure, though even in the minor's Larnach's reputation was one of someone who can't hit off-speed stuff but absolutely mashes fastballs. He did that through the first two months after his debut but then stopped hitting them as the season went on. He'll always get a steady diet of off-speed stuff, particularly as that is the way the game is trending, but, to your point, if he doesn't adjust (and doing so is much easier said than done), he needs to continue to mash fastballs. I think that's the big adjustment he needs to make. He's going to see fewer fastballs and they're going to be primarily located outside when he does see them. He needs to learn how to better recognize those pitches and capitalize when he gets them.

    There are plenty of players that have that skillset.  Like you said, he needs to learn to recognize those pitches and force pitchers to stay in the zone more.  He can work himself into fastball situations more often and capitalize on those too. 

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    Pitchers in the Big Show figure out rookies, just as batters figure out rookie pitchers.

    Now he may show in the Minors if he really belongs in the Majors not just with his bat but his sub-par fielding.

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    2 hours ago, Lucas Seehafer PT said:

    Who's working with him right now? No one (thanks lockout). But Popkins will absolutely work with him once the lockout ends. Helping players make adjustments based on analytics is the main reason the Twins signed him.

    I neglected to mention this is a great article, Lucas.  Fantastic analysis.  I do think Larnach has someone to work with as there are a lot of great hitting coaches that don't work for the MLB teams.  I can't imagine he is not working on figuring things out with his old college coach, or another consultant.  Actually, didn't Buxton actually say he finally improved his approach by listening to somebody outside of the Twins system?

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    Nice article. The discerning thing I noticed about Larnach was that he was a dead pull hitter. very seldom went to the opposite field. If he can only hit fastballs and they are constantly located on the outside part of the plate, the fastest way he'll be able to make pitchers re-adjust, is to start hitting the ball the other way, otherwise those outside fastballs will just continue to turn into K's and weak ground balls.

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    Larnach reminds me of a left-handed Sano; fast ball in the zone - Smash; breaking ball - Strike 3eeee. 

    Or even an earlier version of Buxton; Byron couldn't put the bat on a breaking ball; but after 2-3 years of futility he is now awesome ($100M awesome).  It looks like Byron simplified his swing.

    I think I'd have Larnach play Pepper for at least 2 hours per day; I think he has plenty of bat speed, but needs to learn control of the bat.....   (BTW, Sano should play 2-3 hours of Pepper per day, every day)

    Just a prediction, I'll bet R Lewis will have to simplify his swing to hit major league pitching.

    Great analysis from this article, very understandable.

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    Baseball is and has always been a game of adjustments.  Many players when they come up without much scouting will get fastballs.  Then as they show they can hit them breaking balls will start to come more often until they show they can either hit them, or stay off of them.  At-bats are like mini chess matches.  Pro hitters can hit just about any pitch if they know it is coming.  Pitchers will always try to keep them off balance and not let them know what is coming.  

    If he can either learn to stay off off the non-fastballs or have a better mind of how to attack non-fastballs that are in the zone. Really much of it is figuring out how he is being pitched and try to sit on a pitch you expect.  

    It took Buck several years to reach his offense potential, give Larnach some time. 

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    22 hours ago, Lucas Seehafer PT said:

     I think we tend to take his talent for granted a bit because we see his negatives on a day-to-day basis.

    There are many things I wish Kepler did better, but if you show most fans his numbers (without his name attached) for the last 4 years and say he will make less than 7 million each of the next two years, he would be the type of player the Twins should be trading for not trading away.

    22 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

    Thanks Lucas for your in-depth look at Larnach. The Twins made a few mistakes that made them bring up Larnach too soon.

    Agreed great job Lucas.

    Kind of sounds like the plan for pitching this year?

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    45 minutes ago, Trov said:

    It took Buck several years to reach his offense potential, give Larnach some time. 

    Agreed with giving him some time, the issue might be he turns 25 in February and the next prospect might over take him as the future all star in the making.

    My hope is he has a good spring, starts off hot in AAA and is up mid season holding his own.

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    3 hours ago, rv78 said:

    Nice article. The discerning thing I noticed about Larnach was that he was a dead pull hitter. very seldom went to the opposite field. If he can only hit fastballs and they are constantly located on the outside part of the plate, the fastest way he'll be able to make pitchers re-adjust, is to start hitting the ball the other way, otherwise those outside fastballs will just continue to turn into K's and weak ground balls.

    Larnach is an interesting hitter. He's actually a great example of what happens when guys are called up too early. He's been much more pull happy in the pros than he was in college. The concern with him coming out of college is that he couldn't turn on inside fastballs and pull the ball, especially with power. He was a left center gap hitter in college. In order to close the hole on the inside corner he's been focused on being able to get to that pitch and pull it with power. He already has the natural ability to drive the ball the other way, especially to left center.

    The last step of his development is to be able to marry his inside swing with his outside swing. That's where major league pitchers took advantage of him. He had spent the last few years working on that inside corner and was working on that in the minors, where you're supposed to work on such things, then got forced into major league time before he was ready. His challenge moving forward is to marry his swings to be able to take a pitch wherever it's thrown and do damage. From all accounts he's been hitting obsessed since high school so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt since he seems to be so dedicated to the art of hitting and will do everything he can to succeed. Will be interesting to see what he can accomplish.

    Baseball Savant spray chart for reference:
    281776948_Screenshot2021-12-16112804.png.94ee80c5e3cb465654646448ea1c2f7d.png

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    4 hours ago, TwinsDr2021 said:

    Agreed with giving him some time, the issue might be he turns 25 in February and the next prospect might over take him as the future all star in the making.

    My hope is he has a good spring, starts off hot in AAA and is up mid season holding his own.

    Buxton showed fielding ability from the get-go, Larnach is a fielding turtle with a weak arm.

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    I took a look into Larnach a couple months ago. It looks like he struggles against almost everything except 4 seam fastballs and curveballs. The problem appears to be that Larnach doesn't recognize pitches. He had an 18.1% called strike rate which is the 3rd worst in MLB with 300+ plate appearances, and he doesn't make contact when he does swing. His whiff rate is in the bottom 4% of MLB players. Larnach's whiff rate on breaking pitches is 55% and offspeed is 54%.

    I'm not saying there's no hope for Larnach, but it sure seems like he has a major uphill battle to fight. It's also worth noting Larnach has generated impressive power numbers only in his 2018 college junior season. He didn't show big HR power in high school or his earlier years of college and he hasn't shown it again since that junior season. The biggest concern I have is he couldn't hit AAA pitching, either. Again, small sample size with only 62 plate appearances in 14 games, but a 10% walk rate and 30% K rate in AAA with a .176/.323/.373 isn't doing anything to make me feel like Larnach has the ability to turn the corner. He had 300 plate appearances at the MLB level to see much better control and pitching and work on his game so that AAA should have been easy mode.

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    It's not Rocket Science.  He was seeing less FB and more CU & CB so he either slowed his swing or delayed it's start so the FB he did see, he was late for and missed.  Gaining recognition of CU & CB may improve with time and coaching. 

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