Let’s start with a stunningly obvious statement: Luis Arraez can hit. There are all kinds of superlative stats that I could use to illustrate his unique skill set. My favorite examples, though, have to do with his rare ability to control the strike zone and make contact. Those would stand out in most eras of baseball history and are particularly unique in this high-strikeout era.
Arraez’s 8.8% career strikeout rate is the lowest among all qualified active players and one of just two below 10% (Andrelton Simmons is the other). Mind you that he’s done that when the league-level strikeout rate since his debut in May 2019 is about 23% and the four seasons Arraez has played have been the most strikeout-prone seasons in baseball history.
Among the same players, Arraez is number one in making contact — 91.9% of his career swings have gotten a piece of the pitch. His 94.3% contact rate against pitches in the strike zone is second only to the excellent Michael Brantley (95.6%) and Arraez is the best at getting the bat on the ball by a wide margin on pitches out of the zone (87.9% to Brantley’s 80.9%).
Perhaps more impressively, Arraez is also one of just two qualified active players (Juan Soto) who has drawn more walks than strikeouts. His career 1.10 walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB/K) is about 2.8 times greater than the 0.375 BB/K league average since 2019. Said differently, everyone else strikes out about 3 times for every walk they draw. Arraez walks slightly more often than he strikes out.
Arraez gave us an illustrative glimpse of his elite discipline and contact skills in his rookie season. In July of that season, when he had all of 108 major league plate appearances under his belt, Arraez was asked to pinch-hit mid-at bat in the 9th inning of a one-run game for an injured Jonathan Schoop. He inherited an 0-2 count against Mets flamethrowing closer (and owner of a 40% strikeout rate) Edwin Díaz. Despite coming in cold off the bench, Arraez forced Díaz to throw nine more pitches – fouling off five and taking four balls – to draw a walk. Given the circumstances, it was one of the most impressive plate appearances you will ever see.
For many close followers of the Twins, that plate appearance was when they knew Arraez was special. If nothing else, it foreshadowed my topic today – Arraez’s immense success in two-strike counts.
Career in Context
The stats I highlighted above are particularly useful with two strikes. It is well documented that the ball-strike count plays an outsized role in the success of batters and pitchers. Generally speaking, whichever party has the count advantage is more likely to find success, and the larger the count advantage, the more likely success is to follow.
For batters, that means their performance is significantly worse with two strikes than with zero or one. Since Arraez debuted, the league has hit .169/.245/.276 (.233 wOBA) with two strikes. Luis Arraez is not like most hitters. Our favorite Venezuelan hitting savant has led baseball by hitting .263/.330/.339 (.297) in those counts. On average, everyone else has struck out almost 43% of the time a plate appearance reached two strikes. Arraez has only punched out 17.4%, the lowest out of all 276 players to have taken 400+ plate appearances in that span. Put those two together and Arraez is clearly separated from the pack:
Extending the search beyond the confines of Arraez’s career reveals that he’s the owner of the highest two-strike batting average of all 866 players with at least 400 PA since 2008 (the limit of the Statcast database). His two-strike strikeout rate is the 3rd-lowest over the same time period, trailing only Juan Pierre and David Eckstein.
Ultimately, getting on base is the most basic goal for every hitter. Arraez checks in third on the list for on-base percentage in two-strike counts, trailing only Nick Johnson and Mike Trout and his 0.52 BB/K ratio in two-strike counts trails only Johnson and former Twin Luis Castillo.
Of course, we know that batting average and getting on base are not everything. Extra bases are a very desirable addition. Once again, Arraez has delivered. His two-strike prowess is not limited to empty-calorie singles and walks. His .339 slugging mark in two-strike counts is tied for 55th, which is well above average and in company with players known for power like Matt Holliday, Edwin Encarnación, Michael Cuddyer, and Vladimir Guerrero Sr.
Roll it all together and Arraez’s total production in two-strike counts, as measured by his .297 weighted on-base average, ranks tied for 13th overall with Dustin Pedroia, and is only exceeded by some of the absolute best all-around hitters of the past two decades, including Mike Trout, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and Soto.
How He Does It
When the count gets to two strikes, the data does not suggest that Arraez makes dramatic adjustments to his approach.
He does not tighten up and get extra selective. He does not get extra aggressive and force the issue with expedient contact. The data show he has roughly league-average rates of swings and chases out of the strike zone with two strikes.
Instead, he stands out because he does four things that most other players today cannot do.
First, he avoids swings and misses, no matter where the pitches are located. That’s probably not surprising given the strikeout and contact rate data I highlighted above, but you just have to see it to fully appreciate it:
As a result of so frequently putting the bat on the ball, 73.4% of his two-strike plate appearances (6th-highest since 2008) have ended with a ball in play in one form or another.
Arraez will never be confused for someone who shows up at the top of the exit velocity scale. But he avoids soft contact better than almost anyone.
By FanGraphs’ measures of contact quality, Arraez’s career 10.2% soft contact rate in two-strike counts is the 3rd-lowest since 2008. He’s also in the top 25 for the rate of medium contact. That contact is made as a line drive 26.8% of the time, which is the 9th-highest rate in these counts.
This is where Arraez’s talents are different than players like Pierre and Castillo. He has not made lots of weak two-strike contact only to be thrown out by an infielder – he’s made lots of usable two-strike contact that gives him real chances to get hits, occasionally for extra bases.
Next, a big part of why Arraez has success with that contact is that he’s almost impossible for defenses to shift against. Overall, Arraez’s batted balls are sprayed across his pull field, straightaway, and his opposite-field in roughly even measures: 29.3% pull, 36.2% straightaway, and 34.5% opposite. In two-strike situations, he goes even further toward equally using all fields: 31.3% pull, 34.3% straightaway, and 34.3% opposite. He’s one of 36 players since 2008 to use each field at least 31% in two-strike situations.
Lastly, Arraez does not have a major weakness against any of the major pitch-type groups. In two-strike situations, he primarily crushes fastballs, and he more than holds his own against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. The numbers for each group below rank solidly within the top 15% of all hitters:
A New Level in 2022
This season, he’s taken everything to new heights thanks in part to better conditioning and stronger legs. Through Monday, June 27, he’s leading the league in overall batting average and on-base percentage and he’s already exceeded his career-best fWAR (1.8, 2019) in about two-thirds the number of games and plate appearances.
Of course, that performance has extended to two-strike counts where Arraez has batted .298. That number is easily the highest among 208 players with at least 100 plate appearances this season and well above his comparable career norms mentioned above.
Arraez is the only player with a batting average over .290 with two strikes this season. His .346 on-base percentage in two-strike counts is 7th-best and his .320 wOBA is 11th. His 15.4% strikeout rate is the best and his 0.45 BB/K ratio is 14th.
Amazingly, he’s hit .361 (11 for 36) with only seven strikeouts in plate appearances that started out with no balls and two strikes – objectively the most difficult ball-strike situation a hitter can face.
At this point, none of this should be a surprise. We know Luis Arraez can hit, no matter the count.