This is Cat Garcia’s final post as part of her FanGraphs residency. She is a freelance baseball writer whose work has appeared at The Athletic, MLB.com, the Chicago Sun-Times, La Vida Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus, among others. She is a Chicago native and previously worked at Wrigley Field before becoming a full-time freelancer. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBaseballGirl.
It’s been a long journey for Jaime García. Over the course of a 10-year career, he has battled back from three major surgeries. The Cardinals sent him to the Braves in the 2017 offseason, and he was traded twice more before the season was done. He signed with the Blue Jays this past February but was designated for assignment at the end of August after putting up a 5.93 ERA and a 5.23 FIP in 74 innings of work. A day later, García signed a minor-league deal with a Chicago Cubs team in the thick of a pennant race.
The question was, what would García’s role be in Chicago? He had lost his job as a starter in Toronto and was sporting a less-than-ideal ERA. But García came with one asset that stood out to the Cubs — a strong slider that looked brilliant out of the bullpen.
“I feel like… being in the bullpen has allowed me to feel pitches a lot better and finish pitches better,” García told me when I spoke to him. “I think that’s had an impact on my slider. You only have to pitch an inning, and even if you’re not feeling 100% or you’re fatigued, you just keep going out there and kind of feel things better, and it’s only for an inning or two.”
Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey was quick to point out the uniqueness of García’s slider.
“The ability to get it under a right-handed hitter not just a left-handed hitter,” Hickey said. “A lot of times, those left-handed relief pitchers that have the breaking ball use it primarily versus the left-handed hitters. But he’s certainly able to get up under the right-handed hitter very well.”
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This is Cat Garcia’s second post as part of her September residency. She is a freelance baseball writer whose work has appeared at The Athletic, MLB.com, the Chicago Sun-Times, La Vida Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus, among others. She is a Chicago native and previously worked at Wrigley Field before becoming a full-time freelancer. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBaseballGirl.
The Cincinnati Reds have been surprisingly interesting in 2018. Not interesting in the way your typical contending ball club might be, but interesting in some curious ways. They started off the season with an MLB-worst record of 3-15. They fired their manager, Bryan Price, after four seasons with the club. And in an unexpected move, they acquired struggling former-ace Matt Harvey from the Mets in early May.
In the middle of all of that, there has been a significant — and likely longer-lasting — bright spot. As FanGraphs’ own Jeff Sullivan recently wrote, third baseman Eugenio Suarez has continued to build upon his impressive 2017 breakout season. Suarez’s 133 wRC+ is currently tied for ninth-best in the National League. He’s already hit a career-high 32 home runs this season, and he currently has the 12th-highest ISO in the NL, just two points behind Travis Shaw.
And while his .322 BABIP is his highest since 2015, it isn’t so far off his career norms, and there is reason to believe his healthy batting line isn’t just the result of good batted-ball luck. As Sullivan pointed out in his piece, Suarez is making much harder contact than he has previously. His .373 wOBA is a career-best, while his xwOBA suggests it could even be a bit better.
Suarez told David Laurila earlier in the season that he hadn’t made any adjustments to his swing. But it seems there has been a new development on that front, one that has contributed to Suarez’s success.
This is Cat Garcia’s first post as part of her September residency. She is a freelance baseball writer whose work has appeared at The Athletic, MLB.com, the Chicago Sun-Times, La Vida Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus, among others. She is a Chicago native and previously worked at Wrigley Field before becoming a full-time freelancer. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBaseballGirl.
You have to feel for Xander Bogaerts. During a season in which he’s hitting .291/.362/.524 — good for a career-best 134 wRC+ and 4.8 WAR — he’s just the third-best position player on a Red Sox team stacked with young, homegrown talent. Throw in Chris Sale, arguably the American League’s best pitcher, and it is easy to understand how Bogaerts has managed to get a bit lost in the shuffle.
Before this season, Bogaerts put up a career line of .283/.339/.409, with a .326 wOBA, a 101 wRC+, and 16.8 total WAR. In 2018, Bogaerts has taken a step forward. I spoke to Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers about what he thinks has made the difference for Bogaerts this season.
“I think it’s just the consistency with his lower half,” Hyers said. “Last year, I think he felt he got a little too narrow, he was reaching for balls on the outer half and just didn’t have that stability. This year, he came in, he talked to me in the offseason and he said, ‘This is what I want to do, and I want to improve this because I hit too many ground balls last year. [I want to] have better posture,’ and from spring training on, he’s done that.”
Hyers is right. Take a look at Bogaerts’ batting stance from 2017.
Here is his stance in July of 2018.
Bogaerts is more closed off in the latter of those, which allows him to get into his legs more and maintain athleticism in his swing. According to Hyers, the adjustment has helped Bogaerts lay off pitches outside the zone and allowed him to be more selective.
Notice where Bogaerts’ legs are in this at-bat from 2017:
Now, look at his stance from this at-bat in 2018. His legs are much closer together and kept underneath him, as Hyers pointed out:
“I agreed that he needed to stay more upright,” Hyers said of what he felt Bogaerts needed to work on in the offseason. “I think when his legs got underneath him he stayed more upright, he had good posture so he could utilize the frame that he has… I think when you have that stability, it helps you see the ball better, and it’s kind of those simple-but-consistent cues he has that have helped him.”
And that wasn’t his only adjustment. “Last year, he got in the habit of chasing sliders away,” Hyers said. One scout who has seen Bogaerts mentioned that staying in an athletic position allows hitters to maintain balance, which is key versus offspeed pitches. That’s something Hyers said the two worked diligently on over the offseason. And the changes appear to have paid dividends: after years of posting swinging-strike rates of roughly 15% against the slider, Bogaerts has recorded a career-low mark of 12.1% in 2018.
“I think my motivation is the team that we have and trying to be as good as all the other guys on the team,” Bogaerts told NBC Sports in August. “You don’t want to stay back. I mean, we’ve got a couple guys, MVP [possibilities] on our team hopefully. That’s in the conversation, and I mean, you don’t want to be too far behind them.”
By WAR, Bogaerts is currently the third-best American League shortstop, behind only Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons. Bogaerts is still only 25 years old and has the rest of a young career to continue his improvements. For now, though, he’s demonstrating progress, and the adjustments he made in the offseason appear to be working. If the trend continues, Bogaerts just might force us to pay him the attention we’ve so happily bestowed on his better-known teammates.