At first you just try to attack it in the easiest manner possible. If that does not work, you pick another course. And then another and another. You keep trying different things until something gives and you attack that spot until the knot becomes an unraveled mess of string with a sub-.200 batting average and a ticket back to Triple-A.
That, in short, is how teams approach players who are new to the league. Pitchers go right after hitters until the method proves fruitless. Then they start pitching away. Or they pitch up. They change speeds. Or they feed them breaking balls until they go cross-eyed. Meanwhile, the good hitters – the Joe Mauers of the world – adjust with the pitcher. They take that pitch on the outer-half to the opposite field. They lay off the high ones. They wait on the breaking ball. Those less experienced may fall right into the game plan of the other team.
Take Danny Valencia and Brian Dozier as examples. Both these players enjoyed immediate success but fell apart as teams began to exploit their tendencies to pull everything. Valencia has hit .234/.274/.365 since that exciting rookie season while Dozier is a career .226/.265/.319 hitter in almost 500 plate appearances. Chris Parmelee enjoyed his month of September back in 2011 but has been a pile of yarn in the batters’ box since, hitting just .218/.284/.351.
This brings me to the latest hot-hitting young Twin, Oswaldo Arcia.
Arcia began the month of May with an 8-game hitting streak. Within that stretch, he hit .438 with four doubles, a triple and a home run. That performance, spread across three series, undoubtedly had advanced scouts saying “uh-oh, we’ve got to deal with this.”
In a USA Today article, Bob Johnson, an advanced scout for the Braves, who just finished sweeping the Twins, explained a bit about his technique:
"I'm looking for tendencies," he explains. "If a guy sets his hands at a different position on different counts. I want to know his stance. Does he close up? Is he an open-style hitter? Does he dive into the pitch? … I first check his hands, then his feet. Then I check where his head goes on certain pitches."
Back at the hotel, he writes up reports on the game and then emails them to the team's video coordinator, who compiles the various streams of research. The team's manager and staff will ultimately share the information with the players to help them prepare for future match-ups.
The assumption may be that he is seeing fewer fastballs but the reality is he is seeing roughly the same percentage of fastballs, just fewer of those for strikes. Take a look at this animation of his swing on fastballs, from the beginning of his major league season to when his hitting streak ended, compared to his past 10 games.
Notice the cluster of fastballs near the heart of the plate in the first series and the lack of anything there in the second series.
The number of in-zone pitches Arcia has seen has shrunk significantly (his in-zone pitch percentage is 46%, well below the near 50% mark and has been at 39% the past two weeks). Arcia, so far, has not been the type of hitter who takes walks. He is a power hitter who is ready to swing (his 54% swing rate is also well above the MLB average of 46%).
During the Atlanta series, Ron Gardenhire held Arcia out of the lineup, saying that the rookie was “misfiring” at the plate. True, the above numbers indicate that he is pressing hard at the plate with little to show in the past few weeks. His ninth inning pinch hitting appearance, resulting in a foul out to end the game, was a prime example of why he is mired in this offensive quagmire. On a 1-0 pitch, Arcia was sitting dead-red on a fastball. While the Braves gave him one, it was on the outer-half, running away and the contact resulted in an easy third out for Justin Upton in foul territory.
In that situation, under those conditions, you can expect that the manager wants his player to be teeing up on a better pitch - particularly when ahead in the count.
Prior to Thursday’s game against the Tigers, Gardenhire informed the media that his starting lineup would not include Arcia for the fourth consecutive game. When pressed for an explanation, the manager said that he wanted to play the matchups and that Ryan Doumit was 4-for-10 off the Tigers’ starting pitcher, Rick Porcello. This reasoning, based on absurdly small sample size, is likely the cover for the manager and coaches wanting Arcia to slow down and recognize how pitchers are approaching him. He has fallen into a pattern of trying to force everything. Their advice could be don’t swing so much, don’t expand the zone, and let the game come to you.
Based on his tools, Arcia has a bright future. In order to realize this potential he needs to refrain from chasing everything that moves. His mechanics are solid and his strength will ensure that he will blister pitches that come into his swing path. As major league pitchers continue to pick at his weakness, he needs to adjust with them.