The George Springer Who Isn’t George Springer

Let’s play a game. It’s a guessing game! We can play it because I haven’t yet ruined the surprise in the title.

Ready? Oh, wait — that’s right. Before we play, there is one stipulation. You have to know who George Springer is.

Who am I kidding, of course you know who George Springer is. He was a first round draft pick. He’s been one of the best prospects in baseball for years. He slugged 20 dingers in less than half a season as a rookie last year, and some of them looked like this:

springer1

That’s 468 feet to the part of center field that means you were a little late, if anything. Yeah, you know George Springer. Anyway, let’s play the game. Guess the player who isn’t George Springer!

One of these guys isn’t George Springer
Name Age PA AVG OBP SLG ISO K% BB% HR FB%
George Springer 24 345 .231 .336 .468 .237 33% 11% 20 39%
Not George Springer! 23 410 .231 .300 .452 .220 31% 8% 20 42%

Made your guess? Final answer?

Not George Springer is… Oswaldo Arcia!

Maybe that was your guess. Even if it wasn’t your guess, maybe it doesn’t surprise you. But it surprised me. George Springer is George Springer, and he comes with a ton of hype. Oswaldo Arcia comes with considerably less hype, and understandably so. There are reasons that Oswaldo Arcia isn’t George Springer. Arcia doesn’t nearly have Springer’s speed. He doesn’t have Springer’s defensive ability. But a legitimate comparison exists between the two at the plate, and there’s still a ton of hype for what Springer can do at the plate, which in turn makes Arcia quite a compelling subject.

The problem with the two, of course, is their contact ability. There were 263 players who batted at least 300 times last year. Looking at contact rate against pitches in the strike zone, Arcia was 261st out of 263. Springer was 263rd out of 263. That’s a problem, but it’s less of a problem when you hit those pitches the way Springer and Arcia hit those pitches. Despite those contact issues, Arcia posted a top-25 isolated slugging percentage. Despite those contact issues, Springer posted a top-20 isolated slugging percentage.

A visual, to help demonstrate the likeness between Springer and Arcia in that regard:

ZCon-ISO

You see Springer as the clear outlier, and Arcia as the next-closest thing.

Of course, you want to be where Victor Martinez is. I wrote about Martinez and his unique combination of contact and power back in September. There’s no better combination than elite contact and elite power. But Arcia and Springer are never going to have Victor’s contact ability, so given where they are, they’re making the most out of their skillset.

Another way we can look at this is by slugging percentage on contact. BaseballSavant allows us to search this, so let’s. Springer slugged .762 on contact last year, putting him sixth among batters who saw at least 1,000 pitches, and one spot ahead of Jose Abreu, which is a good place to be for a power hitter. Arcia slugged .682 on contact, which put him 18th. And while there’s a good difference between .762 and .682, Arcia was still one spot ahead of Nelson Cruz. Considering Cruz hit 40 homers last year, that’s not a bad place to be for Arcia, either.

But that brings us to Arcia’s problem, and the biggest thing that differentiates him from Springer, even at the plate. Clearly, both have the bat speed necessary to be an elite power hitter in the game today. But there’s a reason why Springer slugs nearly 100 points higher on contact than Arcia, and that’s pitch selection.

Here come a few numbers, related to plate discipline and coming from PITCHf/x.

O-Swing%

  • Springer: 24%
  • Arcia: 38%
  • League: 32%

O-Contact%

  • Springer: 35%
  • Arcia: 56%
  • League: 49%

Zone%

  • Springer: 50%
  • Arcia: 46%
  • League: 48%

This tells us quite a bit. Springer was remarkably selective at pitches outside of the zone while Arcia was something of a hacker. Even when Springer did chase, he didn’t make much contact. Arcia made a ton of contact when he chased. Intuitively, more contact is good, but not in this case. Guys like Springer and Arcia, who don’t make much contact either way, survive by maximizing their power on contact, as displayed earlier. It stands to reason, then, that the more pitches one hits outside of the strike zone, the less one is able to maximize their power on contact. It’s tough to really drive a pitch that would have been called a ball.

Simply put, the difference between Springer and Arcia at the plate is that Springer’s selectivity forces pitchers to throw him the type of pitches upon which he inflicts damage, as evidenced by the gap in the zone rates. With the way Arcia chases, pitchers don’t have to challenge him, and instead can go low-and-in and let Arcia get himself out.

To wit, swing rate heatmaps from last season:

arciaspringer

On the left, you see Springer, and an impressive understanding of the strike zone. On the right, you see Arcia, and quite a bit of red outside the lines. Instinctively, that would suggest a struggle with offspeed or breaking pitches. One has to look no further than each player’s landing page on BrooksBaseball for that notion to be confirmed.

For Springer:

Against Breaking Pitches (415 seen), he had a very good eye (1.03 d’; 73% swing rate at pitches in the zone vs. 34% swing rate at pitches out of the zone) and an aggressive approach at the plate (-0.09 c) with an exceptionally high likelihood to swing and miss (48% whiff/swing).

For Arcia:

Against Breaking Pitches (454 seen), he had a very poor eye (0.36 d’; 60% swing rate at pitches in the zone vs. 46% swing rate at pitches out of the zone) and an aggressive approach at the plate (-0.09 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (40% whiff/swing).

You can ignore those second two parts. It’s the first part, about the eye, that we care about here. Ideally, you want the gap between in-zone swings and out-of-zone swings to be as wide as possible. For Springer, that gap was 38%. For Arcia, it was just 14%.

Now, how do the Twins get Arcia to lay off the breaking ball in the dirt? There’s evidence of a swing that’s very much a work in progress. They’ve noticed something in his load. They’ve noticed something in his hips. He’s also gone from a toe-tap to a leg kick, a timing mechanism that’s often implemented in an effort to better pitch recognition.

When it all goes right, Arcia can do this:

arcia1

But too often, he’s wound up with something like this:

arcia2

Whether those swing adjustments actually pay dividends is anyone’s guess. If they do, the sky’s the limit for Arcia. Not many people can hit baseballs 470 feet like he did in that top gif. But in order to hit balls 470 feet, you’ve got to get pitches like the one he saw. And in order to get pitches like that, you’ve got to lay off the ones in the dirt. At the plate, that’s the main difference between Oswaldo Arcia and George Springer. It’s a big difference, but the fact that there’s even a comparison to begin with says a lot about what’s in Oswaldo Arcia’s bat.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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troybrunomember
7 years ago

Great article – pitch selection probably easier said than done, but the upside is there if so.

Also: u mad at JBJ, bro?