Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisMLBTampa Bay Rays

Randy Arozarena isn’t a Dude, Yet.

I am a dedicated listener to the Ballpark Dimensions podcast from MLB dot com. It’s fun, informative, and quick enough for easy intake. During the breaks, an ad about the MLB Pipeline podcast often comes up. In it, you can hear Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo discuss the difference between a “dude”, “guy”, and “prospect”.

”Which is better: a dude or a guy?”

“I think dude outranks guy in terms of prospect-y goodness.”

And at the end of the ad, Harold Reynolds comes in with his take: “Guys, Randy Arozarena is the number one dude. I mean, c’mon!”

Consider the typical Tampa Bay Rays team: a low payroll squad that consistently churns out elite pitching, while sprinkling in just enough bats to be relevant. The Rays aren’t known for their hitting. Since 2016, the best hitting season was from Austin Meadows in 2019 with a 143 wRC+. Don’t get me wrong – Austin Meadows is great. He would most definitely have more hype if he played in a larger market, but he doesn’t. And even then, Austin Meadows is not – what I would consider – a dude.

I think that Randy Arozarena is gonna be a dude. I mean, everything about this catch just screams dude.

He isn’t completely there yet, though. His performance last October was the stuff of legends. The 239 wRC+ speaks for itself, and every home run he hit made for more audible reactions. So far in 2021, his numbers have been stellar: .267/.362/.383 for a 122 wRC+. In addition to hitting, he is getting it done on the bases (0.8 baserunning runs, 4 steals) and in the field (5 defensive runs saved). Unfortunately, there are some red flags under the surface. His .268 xwOBA is in the bottom 8% of the league, alongside Lewis Brinson, Pedro Severino, and Victor Caratini. The culprit for the extremely underwhelming expected numbers is ground balls. His average launch angle of one degree is 239th out of 246 qualified hitters, and his 63% ground ball rate screams 2018, Eric Hosmer. Finally, Randy has problems with whiffs, where he currently possesses the 8th highest whiff/swing rate among 274 hitters. This is bad.

The underlying metrics aren’t great, right? Well, maybe there is another level of underlying we can look at. The ozone layer of baseball sabermetrics, if you will. These are the metrics that don’t exactly speak for themselves. For this experiment, let’s look at the dynamic hard-hit rate. DHH% is a hard-hit metric that adjusts for launch angle. For example, hitting a 110 mph pop-up is a lot more, shall we say, telling, than a 110 mph line drive. It is much harder to do the former than it is the latter.

The metric, created by Connor Kurcan, is meant to be predictive by seeing which players are better at producing strong exit velocities at weak launch angles. Read more about the metric here. Back to Randy. His DHH% of 28.4% ranks in the 94th percentile, a true testament to his raw power. But because of the launch angle, he is using that exit velocity to produce balls more like this.

108 mph off the bat, but straight into the ground.

Consider this: Among 229 hitters, the difference between Randy’s DHH% and Barrel% ranks 5th behind Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Vlad Jr., and Aaron Judge. Is this a sign of good things to come? Meh, not necessarily. After some calculations, I found that players of this same ilk – massive differences between the two metrics a month in – increase their barrel rate by 1.3% over the course of the season. Over half of the sample saw some increase in their barrel rate.

I don’t claim to be a math major, folks. This is a very rough estimate of future performance. I am looking at one metric trying to predict another. I don’t think 1.3% is big enough to draw any real conclusions. However, in theory, one should expect Arozarena’s ground ball rate to regress. His max ground ball rate in all of his previous seasons was a 56.3% mark with the Cardinals in 2019. Other than that, he has consistently been around the 50-54% mark. And the strikeouts? Well, those look due for some regression as well. His strikeout rate was pretty much in the high teens for his entire MiLB career, until he struck out 29% of the time with the Rays last season. Plus, his chase rate is in the 90th percentile. What gives?

The problem is his Z-Contact rate, which has plummeted from 72% to 65%. That ranks in the 3rd percentile, alongside Miguel Sano and sudden minor leaguer Keston Huira. That Z-Contact number doesn’t even tell the whole story, as the run value on pitches thrown in the heart of the zone against Randy has registered -6 runs (4th percentile). So why is he struggling on these pitches? The answer: breaking balls.

Against righty pitchers, Arozarena sees 41% breaking pitches. That is up from 28% last year. In turn, his fastball% went down from 58% to 49%. Arozarena has likely never seen this many breaking balls before. He was never a front-page-scouting-report type guy. Since the postseason, he has a target on his back that reads, “don’t throw me fastballs.” On 15 breaking pitches in the heart of the zone, Randy has whiffed 7 times. Just to hammer the point home, his .187 xwOBA on breaking balls is in the 12th percentile. Once again, this is bad.

What was once a “I’m gonna challenge this guy with a fastball” type pitch…

is now a “Ya damn right I read the scouting report” type pitch.

It’s safe to say that the book is out on Randy. If you look at his career to date, he is bound for some positive regression. Unfortunately for Randy stans, that is a blanket statement. It doesn’t look deep enough to see what’s really causing the problems. Is he gonna have a .400 BABIP from here on out? No. Is he gonna slug .380? Doubt it? Is his groundball rate gonna stay above 60%? Who knows. This is the push and pulls that projection systems have to weigh. How they do it? I have no idea.