If it feels like I have dedicated a lot of words in this space to Oswaldo Arcia’s approach at the plate, it is because he remains a work-in-progress and the Minnesota Twins realize this. Arcia has impressed in stretches (like hitting seven home runs in August) but then regresses into a mess as pitchers tie him in knots.
With the focus shifting toward 2015, the Twins are doing all they can to mold Arcia into a complete hitter.
Early in the season, Fox Sports North’s Roy Smalley pointed out that the Twins were attempting to get Arcia to adjust his hands during the swing to avoid being eaten up by fastballs up in the zone. That is still a project as Arcia has gone 3-for-45 on fastballs in the upper third or higher this year while missing on 48% of his cuts (compared to the 21% league average). More recently, prior to Wednesday’s game Fox Sports North has shown Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky attempting to break Arcia from the habit of dropping his shoulder and remaining closed in order to handle being pitched away more. Once again, Arcia is hitting a paltry .182 on the outer-half (one of the lowest in the league) while pulling a significant amount of those pitches.
These areas of his game need to improve.
The Twins are also trying to get him to understand how pitchers are attacking him. According to a tweet from the Star Tribune’s La Velle E Neal, manager Ron Gardenhire said the team is having Arcia watch more video to absorb what teams are doing with him. Heat maps from ESPN/TruMedia reveal the simple formula: Fastballs up in the zone, breaking stuff/offspeed down and away.
It is relatively easy to understand why opposing teams apply this treatment. Because he has such strength combined with a pull happy tendency, Arcia has detonated pitches middle-in:
Another factor that is involved in his streaky hitting is his pitch selection. In terms of breaking and offspeed pitches, Arcia has chased 44% of those pitches out of the zone compared to the 33% MLB average.
The coaching staff obviously has the best insight on how to move forward with Arcia but it is possible that resurrecting a method from his past might help his future.
Watching him now, it may be easy to credit Arcia’s aggressive leg kick as a big source for his power generation. True, it does help cultivate power, but Arcia has been as strong as they come with or without that stage in his swing. The model that Arcia uses today had its inception in 2013 while with the Rochester Red Wings. Prior to that, he displayed the muted toe tap stride while in Double-A.
Compare that to the current model:
This is not an intent to discuss the merits of the toe tap versus the leg kick, but you can notice the difference in the just the head movement when he strides. In 2012, his head stays on the plane whereas with the current version, the head has noticeable movement and changes planes. Beyond that, because of the timing mechanism in the leg lift, there is less time to for pitch recognition before committing to swing, which may explain why he is so susceptible to slower and breaking stuff out of the zone.
To be sure, there is little difference in Arcia’s power numbers and strikeout/walk rates from 2012 to now. He had plenty of pop and struck out in a very high proportion of his at-bats in both Double-A and in the majors. Admittedly, major league pitchers are much better at locating their secondary pitches than their Double-A counterparts but Arcia’s previous swing seems to give him more balance (which could translate to handling being pitched away better) and greater opportunity for pitch recognition.
When Kennys Vargas came up to the Twins this year, he initially had a big leg kick that was quickly trashed for the muted toe tap. Despite the change, this has not seemed to have stymied Vargas’ power in the least while allowing him to better combat the assortment of secondary offerings of major league pitching. This might be a good opportunity to see if Arcia would be interested in trying the same.
The 23-year-old Venezuelan is plenty talented and gifted in the power department. With the team firmly out of any postseason contention, now is the time to make adjustments and improve for next year. There is no need to pull every pitch into the IDS, mostly because every pitch should not be pulled. As the season winds down, the goal is to reduce the amount of pitches chased out of the zone and drive some of those pitches away back up the middle and the other way.