Recently, Orlando Arcia has looked to be fulfilling the top prospect status that he rode through the minor leagues. His scouting reports often lauded his future potential to be a .300 hitter in the MLB, making his ceiling that of a gold glove caliber shortstop with a plus hit tool and gap-to-gap power. By racking up hit after hit over recent weeks, Arcia has increased his batting average considerably. While he flirted up over .290 during this hot streak before the All-Star break, he now stands at a solid .283. The one big question: Is this streak legitimate, or luck? The cynic in me tends to lean towards the latter.
Looking at traditional statistics, it looks as though Arcia has figured it out. His average splits have risen steadily since his .247 mark at the end of April, improving to .256 and .326 in the months of May and June. He also improved his ability to hit for power, slugging .478 in June after a rather pedestrian .432 in April and an unsightly .311 in May.
Advanced statistics add the color between the lines to these numbers above. One important statistic in evaluating Arcia is Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). This measures the batting average of a hitter based solely upon the balls that he puts into the field of play. A groundout would count towards this average, while a strikeout would not. If a hitter only had the two outcomes of a base hit or a strikeout, his BABIP would be 1.000. BABIP depends on three main factors: the quality of contact, the quality of defense, and luck. With Arcia, it is easiest to focus on quality of contact, and from that we can interpret luck.
For April and May, Arcia sported a BABIP of .288 and .286, respectively. In June, that number rocketed up to .406; for those not proficient in mental math, that is an increase of .120. To experience an increase that large, a player must either be extremely lucky or have made extreme improvements. With Arcia, I believe that it unfortunately is due to luck more than ability.
The main reason why I am skeptical of Arcia’s elevated offense numbers is due to the quality of his contact. In April and May, he hit balls “hard” 27.4% and 31.7% of the time. In June, that dropped to 25.4%, and thus far in July, it is down to 23.3%. His soft contact, accordingly, increased from 24.1% in May to 28.2% in June. Simply put, Arcia may show flashes of improvement, but it is by no means definite. From this, we can attribute luck as being a significant part of his offensive surge. With a BABIP of .406, balls are falling in the right places, and it is certainly not always due to the hitter’s ability level. Unless there is a history of sustained success with a BABIP that high, it would be illogical to take it for anything more than what it is: a hot streak with a dollop of luck.
While his .283 batting average gives off the impression that Arica is an above average hitter, there is one more statistic to consider: Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). This number measures a player’s offensive contributions compared to the rest of the league, with 100 being considered “average”. Arcia, with his .283 batting average, has a wRC+ of 87. This can mainly be credited due to his 5.4% walk rate and his .418 slugging percentage, both which are well below league average. He simply is not a constant offensive threat at this point in his career.
This article is not meant to say that there is no hope for Arcia and that he is a bad baseball player. That is not the objective of this piece. The purpose of this is to temper expectations for Arcia in the second half of the season. I hope I am completely wrong. I want the Orlando Arcia hype to be true, right here and right now. The Brewers deserve a franchise shortstop, and Arcia has shown flashes of having that potential. However, Arcia still has a way to go in his development as a hitter until he gets to the point where this level of play can be expected. The future is bright, but it has not yet arrived.