clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Maikel Garcia is a monster in waiting

He’s got the power inside

Kansas City Royals third baseman Maikel Garcia (11) celebrates on second base against the Detroit Tigers after hitting a two run double in the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Maikel Garcia (11) celebrates on second base against the Detroit Tigers after hitting a two run double in the sixth inning at Kauffman Stadium.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Even though their record is despicably bad, the Kansas City Royals have developed two exciting young talents on the left side of the infield: Bobby Witt Jr. and Maikel Garcia. Witt has obviously been a revelation and excels in many Statcast categories metrics; Witt is in the 84th percentile in average exit velocity, the 91st percentile in hard hit percentage, the 84th percentile in whiff rate, and the 89th percentile in chase rate. All four are even better than Garcia’s.

Except...I lied to you. Sorry. Those four aren’t Witt’s Statcast metrics—they’re Garcia’s. That’s right: Garcia hits the ball hard more often than Witt, hits the ball softly less often than Witt, swings and misses less often than Witt, and chases pitches out of the zone less often than Witt. The results can be impressive: check out this line drive home run that Garcia took to the opposite field at 102.1 MPH back in July, for instance. If he had tried to pull it, it would have been a ground ball out. Instead, it was an effortless power stroke to right field.

Unfortunately for Garcia, such moments have been rather few and far between. Garcia’s isolated slugging percentage has stubbornly remained below .100, a trend that is consistent with his Minor League track record. Fortunately for Garcia, there’s room to squeeze out some more power without selling out for fly balls. If he does so, he’ll be a monster.

So, why is that the case? It’s not bat speed. Garcia hits the ball hard very often. Sure, he doesn’t have the top end strength to be a regular home run king—his max exit velocity is in the 58th percentile, a good-but-not great figure. And he makes good swing decisions, as I wrote before. He doesn’t walk much, but that’s mostly because of his aggressiveness. That part of his game reminds me of Salvador Perez, if Perez didn’t chase all the time at least.

The issue with Garcia comes down to one stat in particular: barrels. We’ll turn to for their definition of the stat, which is a little complicated. It’s not just about hitting the ball hard.

The Barrel classification is assigned to batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.

But similar to how Quality Starts have generally yielded a mean ERA much lower than the baseline of 4.50, the average Barrel has produced a batting mark and a slugging percentage significantly higher than .500 and 1.500, respectively. During the 2016 regular season, balls assigned the Barreled classification had a batting average of .822 and a 2.386 slugging percentage.

To be Barreled, a batted ball requires an exit velocity of at least 98 mph. At that speed, balls struck with a launch angle between 26-30 degrees always garner Barreled classification. For every mph over 98, the range of launch angles expands.

They also include a handy graphic explaining what’s going on, which I’ve very helpfully included below as well:

The Barrel Zone (not a Super Mario reference)

If the official definition of barrel makes your eyes glaze over and you can’t quite wrap your head around the graphic, no worries. Simply put, a player is awarded a barrel anytime they hit a ball in such a way that similarly hit balls usually go for hits—often of the extra-base variety. In practice, this means hitting the ball in the air, in the sweet spot where it tends to either go over outfielders heads as a home run or falls in front of them as a line drive single.

Garcia has the raw exit velocity numbers that getting barrels is certainly achievable. That’s the hardest part—getting lots of barrels necessarily involves hitting the ball hard, and that’s not something every player can do. Rather, Garcia’s problem is his inefficiencies in how he hits the ball hard: namely, into the ground.

In other words, Garcia needs to hit fewer balls in the ground and more balls in the air, and ideally he should also be pulling more balls. Among the 153 players in MLB with at least 400 plate appearances, Garcia has the 18th highest ground ball rate paired with the ninth lowest fly ball rate. To round out this holy trinity, Garcia has the 12th lowest pull rate. It’s a bad combo, and it’s why highlights like I showed earlier have been few and far between.

This isn’t a situation like with, I dunno, Jarrod Dyson or Nicky Lopez or Chris Getz or Alcides Escobar or Tug Hulett or whatever light-hitting Royal you’re most fond of. Garcia has the athleticism to succeed. Even now, he’s produced at a 2.5 WAR rate—and that’s with an ISO in the 90s. If the Royals can coax more power out of him, they’ll have a nice trio of Witt, Garcia, and Vinnie Pasquantino to hopefully build around. But even if Garcia never develops more power, he’ll likely have a long career in the league.