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Mitch Garver looks lost at the plate, but don’t worry about him

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In which TJ tries to play with advanced stats

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Mitch Garver hit .273/.365/.630 last season. He’s hitting .152/.259/.217 in the shortened, small sample of 2020. I can’t tell a damn reason why. There is nothing at all in his batted ball data that explains a discrepancy like that.

That simply leaves luck, coincidence, or perhaps small-sample weirdness and a short start as the explanation. If any or all of these are the answer, then there really isn’t much reason to worry.

When I say I there is nothing in the data (oh, and by the way, all of it after this point comes from Baseball Savant,) there really isn’t anything that has changed in his profile as a hitter by any drastic amount. The pitch selection guys are using against him hasn’t really changed. From 2019 to 2020 the fastball percentage is pretty well flat. He’s seen a few more offspeed offerings and a few more breaking pitches, but not in a truly significant way. So the pitches he’s seeing is a non-factor, which means we need to look at his approach.

Here is where we find answers—and the bit of conjecture that means I’m not worried. In his career, Garver has as chase rate of 17.2, and in 2019 was a bit above that at 17.4. For 2020, he’s only chasing 10.2% of pitches, which means he’s not just swinging at bad pitches. He is, overall, swinging at the same percentage of pitches as usual, around 35% in his case. The major change in the batted ball data for Garver is in his solid contact and barrel numbers. The solid contact increase from 2018 to 2019 (from 6.0 to 10.6 percent) was a key to Garver’s breakout, and this has fallen back to 7.7%. More notably, he has dropped from barrelling 15.5% of pitches to only 3.8%—in layman’s term, his timing is off.

Further supporting the fact that his timing is off, remember he isn’t chasing bad pitches, yet he’s up to a 32.3% whiff rate, from 24.0% in 2019. Also remember, he’s swinging at the same percentage of pitches. That means that the pitches he is choosing to swing at are generally better, yet he’s still missing them.

Some guys take longer than others to get going each spring, and everyone had a much shorter season. Garver, as a catcher, generally had a bit of a head start on spring training, and has a lot to focus on, on the defensive and pitching side of things. Its very, very possible that he simply hasn’t had enough time to get into “game mode,” and will be fine in the long term. His 2020 season is a total of 14 games (13 starts,) and 54 plate appearances. We’re in the equivalent of early April in a normal season, and Garver is still at least another 50 plate appearance from the point where meaningful data can really be discerned from the noise.

In other words, don’t worry—its just a slump, a slow start. A guy’s timing is just off based on small sample of early-season weirdness. 2020, with its shortened schedule might be a lost season, but in the long run, the Mitch Garver we got to know in 2019 will be back.