Leury Garcia Has Made an Incredible Transformation
When talking about player transformations so far during the 2017 MLB regular season, the conversation mostly revolves around Eric Thames, and for good reason. However, there's another player who has quietly gone through quite a transformation, and that's Chicago White Sox outfielder, Leury Garcia.
It's not as if Garcia was a no-name prospect, though -- he rose to as high as the Texas Rangers' 11th-best prospect, and he was 17th in Chicago's system after they acquired him back in 2013. The big problem for him was that his offense suffered greatly. But so far this year, the 26-year-old has been a revelation.
An Incredible Turnaround
Garcia has gotten consistent playing time since getting called up, and has even seen some time as Chicago's leadoff hitter recently. Just looking at what he's done in 34 games played is impressive all by itself, but it's even more unbelievable when factoring in his past performance in the big leagues.
The below table compares his batting average, OPS and wRC+ throughout his MLB career.
|Year||Plate Appearances||Batting Average||OPS||wRC+|
Clearly, 2017 has been the most success he's ever experienced. From looking at the numbers that came before this year, he didn't have to do much to outperform them, but he's gone above and beyond what anyone could've expected.
That 120 wRC+ is among the top 20 with regard to outfielders, which is a far cry from the type of precedent he set with his past production. It is also important to note that he's playing every day this season, which is an opportunity he hasn't received before.
What has engineered this drastic increase in production at the plate? It can be boiled down to one thing.
The New-Look Leury
While Garcia is in the midst of a career year, a lot of credit can be given to his ability to hit the baseball. That's pretty much it, though.
The outfielder currently boasts a 2.5% walk rate, which isn't too far off his career number of 3.8%. And it's not as if his plate discipline has improved much -- his chase rate is at 32.2%, which also isn't far below his career mark of 34.3%.
However, this spike in production at the plate stems from his improved ability to make contact. The below table compares his contact rate on balls outside the strike zone (O-Contact%), his contact on balls inside the strike zone (Z-Contact%), and his swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) since 2013.
Once again, the differences between this year and years past are pretty clear. He's been making contact at a pace he never has before, and it's helping him reach new heights.
A byproduct of his is that his strikeout rate has taken a nosedive. Prior to 2017, his strikeout rate in a single year had been below 30.0% just once (26.0% in 2016). But this year? It's been a key to his success since it's fallen dramatically to just 13.0%. Even if his strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate regress, he can still find success at the plate if his overall contact rates hold up.
How Sustainable Is it?
Garcia's high-contact, low-strikeout transformation has been the hallmark for his success, but the next question will be whether he can keep this up for the long haul. When looking at his peripheral stats, there are some things that are encouraging, and others that aren't.
His hard-hit rate is currently at 26.0%, which is higher than his career mark of 21.7%. As a result, his Isolated Power (ISO) has gone up (.174 in '17, .082 for career), along with his BABIP (.319 in '17, .289 for career). Continuing to make consistent contact will be key, but the biggest red flag moving forward will be the type of contact he makes.
With a line-drive rate and fly-ball rate each hovering around 20.0%, the focus turns to his ground-ball rate, which is sitting at 58.3%, the sixth-highest mark in the league. When coupling that with a below-average hard-hit rate and a soft-hit rate (23.0%) that's one of the top-30 highest in baseball, it's also easy to think that his current production may not be sustainable.
Garcia hasn't been making the best kind of contact, but he's making a lot of it while avoiding strikeouts in the process. If he can keep that up and use speed to his advantage, he can steal a few hits along the way while becoming a legitimate contributor at the plate.
Contact has always been key for Garcia's success at the big league level. It'll be even more important moving forward after such a surprising start.