Entering 2016, there was no larger piece of the Brewers’ rebuild than Orlando Arcia. Ranked in the preseason as the sixth-best prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, Arcia was the highest-rated prospect to be in the Brewers’ system since Baseball America rated Ryan Braun the #2 prospect in 2007.
With sky-high expectations, the Brewers promoted Arcia to the big-league squad after the 2016 trade deadline. His debut was shaky, with his .219/.273/.358 slash line over the remainder of the season displaying how far he still had to go in his development. However, there were still flashes of the tools that made him such a promising prospect.
2017 demonstrated signs of improvement that could hopefully be compounded. Hitting .277/.324/.407, Arcia had paired a passable bat with his high-level defense, making him an effective and valuable major-league player.
Many hoped 2018 would be another step forward for the young shortstop. It proved to be a significant step backwards. Arcia struggled throughout the entirety of the season, posting a final slash line of .236/.268/.307 (54 wRC+) that placed him as the second-worst hitter in baseball. The moderate power Arcia displayed in 2017 was sapped, as he hit only 3 home runs compared to his 15 the previous year. His plate discipline deteriorated as well – he walked just 15 times over the course of the entire season.
Fortunately, 2019 has seen Arcia bounce back to being a productive offensive player. Through 60 games, he carries a .259/.327/.420 slash line to go with 8 home runs. The last month has been even more impressive, as he posted a .290 batting average and a .377 on-base percentage in the month of May.
What has helped Arcia make this leap from 2018 misery to 2019 improvements?
One area in which Arcia greatly improved is his plate discipline. Through 60 games and 226 plate appearances, Arcia has already drawn six more walks than he did during the 2018 season (119 games, 366 plate appearances). This has helped Arcia elevate his on-base percentage, making him more valuable offensively. One statistic that helps explain this is O-Swing%, which indicates the percentage of pitches a hitter sees outside the strike-zone that he swings at. Through his first three years, Arcia consistently swung at around 38% of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone, with 2018 being his highest percentage at 38.4%. Thus far in 2019, he has dropped this percentage to 30.6%, which to me says that he is gaining a better understanding of the strike zone. He is chasing fewer pitches that are unlikely to be converted into hits.
In addition, Arcia has a better handle of the strike zone via his swing selection on strikes. A statistic that helps tell this story is Z-Swing%. Z-Swing% says what percentage of pitches within the strike zone Arcia is swinging at. For Arcia, his Z-Swing% has fallen from 67.5% in 2018 to 60.7% in 2019. In my opinion, this illustrates that Arcia has started to be more selective regarding what he believes is a pitch he can drive for a base hit. Rather than swinging at a pitch simply for being in the zone, more often he is waiting for a pitch that he can truly do something with.
Finally, Arcia is making more solid contact this season than last. According to Fangraphs, his “hard hit” percentage has risen from 25.5% to 29.5%. While 29.5% is not close to being elite by any means (it’s actually below league-average), the improvement is what matters. If Arcia can keep focusing on controlling the zone and hitting the ball hard, good things will happen.
Arcia has the flair, tools, and style to be a stalwart at shortstop for the Brewers in the years to come. However, to achieve this, he will need to continue to make and maintain improvements like those he has shown in 2019.