The 2019 season has provided baseball with plenty of entertaining rookie hitters that have provided value for their respective teams. Pete Alonso, Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryan Reynolds, Bo Bichette, Keston Hiura, and Yordan Alvarez are some of the first that come to mind. Those six named players make up the six rookie hitters in wRC+ this season. Sitting right behind them, in seventh place with a 131 wRC+, is a name that most baseball fans wouldn’t recognize. Luis Arraez of the Minnesota Twins, a 22-year-old utility-player that received 337 plate appearances this season, has exceeded all expectations and is flying relatively under-the-radar.
Arraez is slashing .346/.412/.446 in just over a half-season worth of plate appearances. Shown in his batting line, he doesn’t hit for much power, but gets on-base consistently by putting the ball in play, hitting a high rate of line drives, and taking his fair-share of walks. Focusing on the line drive-rate, his rate stands top in baseball.
Top 10 LD% in 2019
|Luis Arraez||Twins||30.9 %|
|Whit Merrifield||Royals||28.4 %|
|Freddie Freeman||Braves||27.8 %|
|Cavan Biggio||Blue Jays||27.7 %|
|Aaron Judge||Yankees||27.6 %|
|Niko Goodrum||Tigers||27.6 %|
|Yadier Molina||Cardinals||27.4 %|
|Tony Wolters||Rockies||27.3 %|
|Neil Walker||Marlins||27.2 %|
|Chris Taylor||Dodgers||27.1 %|
Arraez gets by with little power because of the his ability to find ideal launch angles and because of his plus-plate skills. He’s only struck out in 8.3 percent of his plate appearances this season, while walking in 10.4 percent of them. He’s averaging only three swinging-strikes per 100 pitches seen. Meanwhile, his ISO barely cracks the .100 mark, standing at .101, he’s only hit three home runs in the majors this season, and he’s never hit more than three in a minor league season, only hitting six for his career before he reached the majors.
Without the power, it’s important that Arraez excels in the two aforementioned areas for him to succeed in this current state of baseball, which he has done so far this season. The sustainability of this run of his is another topic, but so far, he’s gone against conventional wisdom through being stellar in other areas, mixed in with some fortune.
While his current wOBA stands at .373, his xwOBA sit at a more mediocre .337. He’s definetly received his fair share of luck. His 2.6 percent barrel-rate ranks in the bottom eight percent of baseball and his 21.8 percent hard-hit rate ranks in the bottom three percent. He puts the ball in play at a higher rate than 99 percent of hitters though and he has shown to be consistent in finding the right launch angle to put the ball in play at. Looking at which hitters find the “ideal” launch angle of eight to 32 degrees the most relative to their amount of plate appearances, his rate of 35.3 percent trails only Yadier Molina, all out of 171 qualified hitters. This would be the best explanation for how he’s managed to put up such a high batting average.
Top 10 Ideal Launch Angle Rates
|Rk.||Player||Results||% of Pitches|
|Rk.||Player||Results||% of Pitches|
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Arraez is his strategy at the plate. His plate skills are model. He doesn’t swing often (41.1 percent swing rate ranks in the bottom 11 percent of the league). He doesn’t go reaching for pitches very often (outside-zone-swing-rate ranks in the bottom 11 percent of the league). Yet, he makes contact at an outstanding rate (his 92.8 percent contact-rate ranks first among all qualified hitters).
In the few instances he does swing outside the zone, he makes contact at an outstanding 89.2 percent rate, far ahead of second place Nick Markakis at 84.2 percent. The separation between him and Markakis is greater than the separation between Markakis and 11th place Daniel Murphy. Dating back to 2010, among 2.709 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in a season, his outside the zone contact-rate ranks fourth, trailing only 2011 and 2013 Marco Scutaro and 2011 Juan Pierre.
Once again, it is fair to question the sustainability of Arraez’s terrific season. When/if the BABIP-fuel runs out, his value on a major league roster will be tough to see. He’s put up negative value with his glove this season (worth negative five runs) and he’s only stolen two bases in four attempts at the big league level this season. He was also never much of a base runner in his minor league career (33 stolen bases in six seasons).
But with injuries to Byron Buxton, Marwin Gonzalez, and some platoon situations, it looks as if Arraez will have to play a major role for the Twins the rest of the way. Rest-of-season Depth Chart projections have him with 33 plate appearances the rest of the season, trailing only five other hitters on the Twins (Polanco, Cruz, Rosario, Sano, Kepler). It would be reasonable to assume that his prominence in playing time could possibly carry over to the postseason. If Arraez mange to keep hitting through excelling at his plus-skills and some the luck he’s received all season, he’ll have value for the Twins the rest of the way.