Coming into this season, Luis Arraez wasn’t somebody the average Twins fan was pining for in the big leagues. Ranked as a double-digit prospect in the Twins’ system by nearly all online publications, Arraez blended in as another quality, but not extremely exciting prospect in the Twins’ farm system.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2013, Arraez has always been able to hit. Just turning 22 in May, Arraez posted a .331 average in the minors, and he has been making a case to never head back to the farm ranks again. In case you haven’t been following Arraez’s success with the big league club, the results have been outstanding. The left-handed batter has posted an eye-popping ..405/.467/.544 slash line (1.011 OPS) with a wRC+ of 171 and a wOBA of .430 in 90 plate appearances.
While no one saw a .400+ batting average from Arraez in the big leagues, a quick glance at his minor league numbers shows that the utility infielder/ (also now outfielder?) has always had great contact skills. Arraez hasn’t hit lower than .309 at any level of the minors, and his rise over the past year has been remarkable. Starting last year (and playing most of the season) at High-A, Arraez has made an excellent transition through the Twins farm system, showing his hitting prowess at each level. After posting a .366 wOBA at Fort Myers in 2018, Arraez was promoted to Double-A and hit for a respectable wOBA of .325.
Arraez wasted no time this year showing improvement at the Double-A level, slashing .342/.415./397 and nearly duplicating those numbers in his time at Triple-A Rochester. In the big leagues Arraez has been even better, and is showing no signs of slowing down. As you might assume, there has been some luck involved in Arraez’s incredible big league numbers. But how much of his production is legitimate and what should we expect going forward?
Arraez has posted a .429 BABIP to this point in the year, which is quite a bit higher than the league average BABIP of .297. While this may indicate some regression, a better measure to compare to is Arraez’s BABIP’s in the minor leagues, which paint a different picture. Arraez never had a BABIP lower than .315 at any level of the minors, and earlier this year posted BABIPs of .376 and .354 in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively. With a career BABIP of .358 in the minors, Arraez’s hitting style—which produces well-placed line drives without much power, lends to a higher BABIP.
Looking at Arraez’s Statcast numbers, they also show that the rookie has been lucky, but has also been good. Based on his quality of contact, Statcast projects that Arraez should have a .320 batting average with a .364 wOBA. These numbers are pretty far away from his actual marks of .405 and .433, but are still obviously above average MLB marks. Even if Arraez’s numbers dropped to his expected stats, he would still be an offensive asset for the Twins in the big leagues for years to come.
So how can we know if Arraez will start to tail off as teams gain more data and scouting? There are four areas that I believe could indicate or predict a future slump. The include extreme variance from past results, adjustment of pitch types by opponents, inability to hit pitches in a certain location, and defensive adjustments by opponents. Again, Arraez’s sample size of 95 at-bats is pretty small, but some of these measures will also be compared with his minor league stats and scouting reports.
We’ve already looked at most of Arraez’s past numbers in the minors, and they reflect good-to-elite contact skills (and a high BABIP) without much pop. That part of his profile matches up pretty closely to what he has put up in the big leagues, an encouraging sign. Looking at the strikeout and walk rate is also often a good indicator of success. Arraez’s approach in the minors was solid at the plate, walking between 6.0% and 11.9% of the time with a cumulative minor league mark of 7.7% (the MLB average is 8.5%). His strikeout rate was more impressive, whiffing between 2.7% and 10.9% of the time in the farm ranks, with total a minor league mark of 8.1% (MLB average is 22.5%). At the major league level, Arraez’s quality approach has carried over, as he possesses an 11.1 % walk rate and an 8.9% strikeout rate. These stats shows that Arraez’s first bunch of at-bats in the big leagues haven’t been terribly uncharacteristic and he has been able to maintain his high-contact approach.
Some rookies get off to a good start in their first taste of the bigs, but falter once opponents figure out a certain pitch that fools that baffles the youngster. So far Arraez has been mashing fastballs to a tune of a .504 wOBA. The results haven’t been quite as good on breaking balls (.286 wOBA) and off-speed pitches (.312 wOBA), so it seems likely that he will see more of those pitches after the All-Star break. However, almost all hitters have higher a higher wOBA against fastballs than other pitches, and Arraez still holds somewhat respectable marks on non-heaters.
Teams are also often able to find a part of the strike zone (or a zone off the plate) that gives rookie hitters trouble. As seen before, Arraez has maintained his status as an elite contact hitter in the MLB, and has done so in nearly every “zone” in the big leagues.
Arraez has been least been passable in almost all zones and has excelled on pitches in the middle third of the plate. There doesn’t appear to be many holes in his swing thus far, though his expected batting average graph shows a few more areas that pitchers may be able to exploit.
Even so, pitchers have yet to find a part of the strike zone where they can get Arraez to swing and miss. Up-and-in (outside the strike zone) has been his only real weakness thus far, though up-and-in inside the zone has produced a batting average of .750.
Arraez’s contact percentage on pitches outside of zone of 79.6% would rank 7th among qualified batters, showing that when he chases, he is often still able to make contact (akin to Willians Astudillo). Unlike Astudillo, Arraez doesn’t often chase, as his chase rate of 19.1% is significantly lower than the MLB average of 28.2%. Arraez is even better inside the strike zone, as his zone contact percentage of 95.1% would rank third among qualified MLB batters.
Finally, defensive shifts can cause some regression for batters as the opposition gains scouting reports and data. As you might imagine, this doesn’t seem like it would be an effective strategy against Arraez, as he tends to spray the baseball all over the field. So far Arraez has pulled the ball 29.2% of the time, hit it up the middle on 36.1% of his balls in play, and gone to the opposite field 24.7% of the time.
While Arraez doesn't even have triple digit at-bats in the big leagues yet, it seems that his contact skills are legitimate at the major league level. No, he isn’t Tony Gwynn or Rod Carew or a near-.400 hitter long term, but an MLB average between .300 and .330 could certainly be possible. His lack of power does mean that he probably isn’t a potential all-around star at the plate, but his ability to get on base could compliment the Twins dinger-slapping, doubles-mashing lineups. There’s even a chance he could develop some power as he just turned 22 (and has hit two dingers in 95 plate appearances this year).
Only time will tell if Arraez is actually a significant part of the Twins future, but I believe the Twins will know have a pretty good idea by the end of the season. Don’t be surprised if Arraez experiences a slump here or there, but I believe his contact skills are too good to prevent him from hitting near or above .300 at the big-league level. If the the Venezuelan native continues to produce, he could cement his status as the leading candidate for the Twins’ starting second base role next season.
Arraez has already compiled 1.0 fWAR in just 26 games for the Twins, with his offense providing great value. A list of MLB players that mark ranks ahead of this season includes Joey Votto, Lorenzo Cain, Jose Abreu, and even the Twins’ own C.J. Cron. Even though Arraez won’t keep up his top-notch numbers forever, he has brought a different kind of energy to the team and has shown the potential to be a part of the Twins core for years to come.