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Can Greg Garcia continue to get on base?

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Greg Garcia has excelled at reaching first base and hopefully it’s sustainable as his playing time increases.

New York Mets v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Since last Sunday night in the Bronx, infielder Greg Garcia has gotten the start in six of the Cardinals’ eight games, has played three different positions, and batted at five different spots in the order. Heading into yesterday’s “they better not blow this” 6-4 win to finish off Milwaukee, he’s hit a meager .286/.286/.429 since last Sunday in 21 plate appearances (including two pinch-hit appearances), which isn’t all that great but it’s a line you can live with from a supposed-to-be bench player. And Garcia has always been able to find his way to first base so the on-base numbers probably shouldn’t concern anyone.

I'm not an expert on prospects, the draft, or projections, but I feel comfortable guessing that whatever was expected of Garcia - a guy who was picked in the 2010 draft after 228 other people - has already been exceeded. In fact, expectations may have been eclipsed the moment he made his first plate appearance for the Cardinals in 2014. That's not to say this is some Albert Pujols-like story, who waited even longer on his draft day to hear his name called. It's obviously not. But when he does play, Garcia has continued to prove his worth in small incremental amounts.

"When he does play" is the key phrase. Garcia is typically a bench player except when there’s a flare-up of special circumstances - the current version being a largely ineffective Jhonny Peralta relegated to the 10-day disabled list with a respiratory infection. That’s a fine, appropriate role for a player like Garcia who lacks the pop in his bat to necessarily qualify for 600 plate appearances a season. But factor in Peralta’s current absence and the merry-go-round that usually comprises a Mike Matheny-run infield, Garcia, who can play a respectable second base, third base, and short, could justifiably get around 400 trips to the plate this season, if not more.

Heading into Sunday, Garcia has gotten just under 300 plate appearances (291 total) since the beginning of the 2016 season and has filled in quite admirably, when needed. Take a look:

Offensive Stats.csv

Greg Garcia 14.4% 19.9% 0.095 0.35 0.276 0.392 0.37 111

I imagine the on-base numbers jump out at you the most. They should. Since 2016, 326 players in MLB have at least 250 plate appearances (that’s the thing with bench-players like Garcia, you have to tailor the stats around them so there’s some admitted cherry-picking here) and Garcia’s .392 mark ranks tenth. The nine names in front of him are as follows: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, DJ LeMahieu, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz, Robbie Grossman, and Jose Altuve. That’s funny company - eight perennial All-Stars; and Grossman, who has reached base in every game he’s started for the Twins this season, and who has the second lowest slugging numbers of the ten yet still 76 points higher than Garcia.

Garcia’s batting average has certainly been fine but he’s mostly excelled at drawing walks as his 14.4% walk rate stands at 11th out of the 326. And that’s a bit odd for a player who’s slugging is in the bottom 20 percent of this sample and whose ISO is in the bottom ten percent. What it comes down to is that Garcia doesn’t swing the bat at many pitches (his 39 percent Swing% is the 17th lowest of the 326), and he almost never swings at balls off the plate.

A lot of you have probably noticed this without having to dig too deep into Garcia’s plate discipline stats at FanGraphs, but here’s what his profile looks like since 2016:

Plate Discipline.csv

2016-2017 O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2016-2017 O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Greg Garcia 19.9% 63.1% 39.0% 61.5% 93.6% 84.5% 44.2% 54.6% 6.0%

Only six players (Carlos Ruiz, Matt Joyce, Grossman, John Jaso, Carlos Santana, Francisco Cervelli) have a lower swing rate on pitches outside of the zone than Garcia’s 19.9 percent. In fact, that’s the same swing rate on pitches outside of the zone as Barry Bonds had in 2003 when he was near the height of his powers. So since last season Garcia has had the near batting eye of Barry Bonds only with the slugging of Luis Alicea.

And that’s the strange thing. Garcia doesn’t swing at offerings off the plate, we know he’s not a power threat, and yet the percentage of pitches he’s seen in the strike zone (Zone%) since last season is right in the middle of the pack. Pitchers should probably be challenging him more.

Or maybe they are starting to. Garcia hasn’t drawn a walk since April 15, and 53.1 percent of the pitches he’s seen since last Sunday have been in the zone, a sizable jump from 44.2. And again, with so few career plate appearances to really study, this post could be pretty pointless by September. Either way, with how 2017 is shaking out so far personnel-wise, we should know a lot more about Garcia by the end of the season. We’ll check back in then.

Credit to FanGraphs Leaderboards for the stats in this post.