Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL CentralAmerican LeagueAnalysisMinnesota TwinsMLB

The Ultimate Sleeper: Mitch Garver

Image: Twitter

When you look at a 2020 slash line of .167/.247/.261 and the corresponding 41 wRC+, you likely think of a guy that will struggle to make his team’s 2021 roster. That slash line, however, belongs to Twins catcher Mitch Garver. Garver is not only is a roster lock but also has a good chance of being one of the top offensive catchers in the league in 2021.

Garver made his debut in 2017, posting a below-average 68 wRC+ in a small 68 plate appearance sample. He established himself as a solid hitter in 2018 with a 103 wRC+, and broke out in 2019 with a 155 wRC+. That 2019 breakout led to me identifying him as a new top-tier catcher prior to the 2020 season. While his 2020 season obviously didn’t go as planned, there are reasons to believe he will return to stardom in 2021.

Injuries likely played a significant role in his 2020 struggles, as he spent time on the IL with an intercostal strain. Additionally, the short ramp-up time caused by the shutdown no doubt impacted Garver, as it did with every player. It’s also reasonable to chalk his struggles up to small sample size, as he recorded just 81 PA.

Digging into the numbers, we can identify some of the issues Garver experienced in 2020. Two issues immediately jump off the page: a drastic decline in plate discipline and a shift in his batted ball profile.

Garver’s strikeout rate ballooned to 45.7% in 2020, a rate over 20% higher than his career average. This is supported by a whiff percentage of 39.6%, again abnormally above his career average of 25.2%. He saw drops in contact rate on both pitches inside the zone (71.0% contact rate) and outside the zone (25.0% contact rate). The contact issues weren’t limited to a specific type of pitches, as he saw similar jumps in whiff rate against fastballs, offspeed pitches, and breaking pitches alike. Those issues are likely tied to the shutdown and short ramp-up time, as he simply didn’t get to see as many pitches as he would in a normal preseason. Notably, his walk rate remained a respectable 8.6%, a number on par with his 2018 walk rate.

When he was making contact, he was still hitting the ball with authority. His average exit velocity was actually a career-high at 92.4 MPH, and his 50% hard-hit rate matched his stellar 2019 season. While his barrel rate regressed to 8.3%, that would still be an acceptable number for him to put up in a full season. It is also a particularly difficult stat to analyze given his small sample size of batted balls, as just one more barrel in his next plate appearance would have raised his barrel rate to 10.8%. Still, it’s a promising sign that Garver was striking the ball with authority when he made contact.

As previously mentioned, there was a change in his batted ball profile that played a role in his struggles. The biggest change was in his launch angle, a career-high 18.6 degrees. This was caused by an increase in his pop-up rate to 11.1%, which was 4% higher than 2019. His percentage of hitting under the ball was also a career-high 36.1%. This likely played a large role in his xwOBACON dropping back to a pedestrian .367, a number more in line with his career normals prior to 2019.

In the small sample, he also pulled the ball at a significantly higher rate, pulling the ball 58.3% of the time. His opposite-field rate of 16.7% was nowhere near his previous career low of 22.6%. Still, the changes in batted ball profile feel more like a small sample size anomaly than the continuation of a trend. There’s no denying that he hit the ball hard in both 2019 and 2020. If he can make the small adjustment in launch angle to return closer to his 2019 levels, it seems likely his numbers will improve significantly.

From a fantasy perspective, as a player currently being drafted as the 13th catcher off the board, there’s plenty of value to be had. The catching position is a weak one as-is, so to be able to grab a player with Garver’s upside this late is intriguing.

From a real-life perspective, a resurgence from Garver would go a long way toward helping the Twins return to being the offensive powerhouse they were in 2019. It is not too often you see a catcher hitting leadoff for a good offensive team, something Garver did 25 times in 2019. Given that capability, Garver may be a player to keep tabs on as he progresses in his career.

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48