Prior to the start of the 2017 season, there was no obvious spot for Leury Garcia on the Chicago White Sox. He has provided defensive flexibility and speed in short stints with the major league club since 2013, but his bat has been too poor to compensate for. With no minor-league options left, Garcia headed into a make-or-break spring training with some uncertainty about the direction of his career, but he hit his way onto the White Sox’ roster and hasn’t looked back yet, posting a .298/.345/.459 slash line (113 wRC+) over 200 PA. Couple that line with fantastic ratings in the field (mostly centerfield), and Garcia could finally be proving to be a quality major league player.
Currently, Leury Garcia is sitting at 1.6/2.0 fWAR/rWAR, and although his great defensive ratings in a such a small sample size prop up his WAR a bit, Garcia’s biggest improvement has come at the plate. He still is basically allergic to walks, but his previously worrying K% (career: 25.6%) has been slashed to just 17% this year. While he cites “swinging at strikes” as reason for his success, I would argue there is a lot more going on. Let’s start from the beginning: the batting stance.
Taking a look back to 2016, we see Garcia very relaxed prior to the pitch being delivered.
Now in 2017, Garcia begins in what your little league coach may have called an “athletic stance.”
Here, the crouch is deeper, the hands are prepared to load – the body is more engaged from the get-go. Now, let’s take a look at a full cut from 2016 and 2017.
Off the bat, we notice a bigger leg kick and quieter hands and shoulders.
In 2016, Garcia’s leg kick was modest and almost incidental, whereas in 2017, Garcia has gone with a very deliberate high leg kick. In theory, this allows for a more or at least more efficient weight transfer, which lends some extra “oomf” to a player’s swing. To date, Garcia has hit 6 of his 8 career homers this year while easily posting the highest ISO (.160) of his career. Oh, and this gif was taken from a 2-homer game he had back in May.
While the hands are a physically smaller component of a swing, they easily can become a great hinderance. Garcia shows shades of Ben Revere with his 2016 swing, dropping his hands from his shoulders to his chest before actually loading his hands. Then, while loading his hands, his shoulders begin to turn in, introducing unnecessary rotation and lengthening what may otherwise be a compact swing.
In 2017, Garcia has corrected these superfluous motions. There is still a small hitch in his load, but it is smaller and more fluid than before. More importantly, his shoulders are much quieter, and all this together, gives Garcia a more direct path to the ball. With a quicker path to the ball and less moving parts to his swing, Garcia has lessened sources of error that sap his offensive potential and turned his focus toward “[swinging] at pitches in the strike zone.”
As mentioned earlier, Garcia has managed to cut his K% to 17.0% this year, which falls 4 percentage points below the MLB average of 21.1% for non-pitchers. And like he said he has focused on, Garcia has swung at more pitches in the strike zone this year:
Not only has he swung at more strikes, but he has also swung at fewer balls. This overhaul in plate discipline has allowed Garcia to incredibly cut his swinging-strike rate over 2 percentage points.
Now that Garcia is more selective at the plate, he has used his revamped swing to actually get some value out of his fly balls while still using his legs to make every liner and grounder a potential problem for defenders. It is tough to see Garcia’s fly balls still landing for a .387/.364/1.129 (268 wRC+) line by season’s end, but I see him picking up right where he left off after his current DL stint.
That finally brings us around to his defense. He has graded out as a great centerfielder this year, but reports don’t praise him for his defensive polish there. He has all the tools to find success in the outfield, as he came up an athletic shortstop, but he is still understandably rough at times. My defensive analysis is equally unpolished, so I’ll leave this point as food for thought. Garcia has the tools to play just about anywhere on the diamond (he’s even taken the mound before), but he hasn’t proved to be a consistently good glove. Is it likely that he has found a home in centerfield?
All things considered, Garcia has the makings of an improved player — an everyday player perhaps — but I’m dubious about his chances of ever keeping up his current ~4-5 WAR pace over a full season. I would paint Garcia as a slightly above average hitter who contributes value on the base paths with pure speed and value on defense with great range and the occasional “athletic” play. Though he likely isn’t the centerfielder of the future for the White Sox, Garcia looks like he could settle into a role as a prototypical everyday utility man.
Now, let’s watch Mikie Mahtook botch this liner.