It’s hard to imagine the first half of the 2017 season going much better for the Milwaukee Brewers. The team finds itself five-and-a-half games up on the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. Players are having breakout seasons up and down the roster. Perhaps the most positive sign for the present and future of the team is the development of young shortstop Orlando Arcia.
According to BWARP, the twenty-two-year-old has been worth 2.39 wins above replacement, good for seventh-best among shortstops in all of baseball. Arcia ranks above big names such as Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, and Francisco Lindor. He has been the second-most valuable player on a Milwaukee Brewer team that has the sixth-best record in baseball.
Arcia has been the 15th best hitting shortstop in baseball thus far in 2017 according to Baseball Prospectus’ Total Average (TAv) at .258, one spot ahead of Lindor. Arcia ranked 35th out of 37 shortstops with over 200 plate appearances in 2016 in the same metric. He has quickly become one of the better hitting shortstops in the league and he is nowhere near hitting his prime.
Arcia is putting the ball in play more in 2017. His strikeout rate (18 percent) and his walk rate (5.4 percent) have both fallen from his 2016 levels of 21.8 percent and 6.9 percent respectively. His contact orientated approach has resulted in a .326 batting average on balls in play, up from .267 in 2016.
On the surface, Arcia’s .326 BABIP seems luck-driven. But that number is much more in line with his minor-league numbers than his .267 BABIP in 2016. He posted BABIP of .326, .343, and .312 in 2014 (A), 2015 (AA), and 2016 (AAA) respectively. Arcia’s above average speed and affinity for groundballs makes his BABIP in 2016 seem like even more of an anomaly.
Arcia is swinging the bat more often and missing less in 2016. His swing rate is up over two percentage points while his contact rate has gone up just under four percentage points. His swinging strike rate has cratered from 29.47 percent in 2016 to 25.59 percent in 2017.
Despite Arcia’s increased batting average and slugging percentage, he is not hitting the ball as hard as he did in 2016. His average exit velocity has dropped from 86.4 MPH to 85.4 MPH. His average exit velocity on flyballs/line drives and groundballs are both below 2016 levels. He has hit the ball over 95 MPH on just 26.9 percent of his balls in play after posting a 29.9 percent mark last year. Either he is going to fall back to 2016-levels offensively or possibly as he gets more hot summer games in, his exit velocity will rise and he can improve even further on his first half numbers.
Although Arcia has been solid on the offensive side of the field, he is getting most of his value from his defense. He is showing us why he was one of the most highly touted defensive prospects in baseball in his minor league days.
Defensively, he has been the 16th most valuable player in the league according to Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). He ranks second among all shortstops behind Elvis Andrus. His 8.6 FRAA is already twice more than the 3.8 mark he posted last year. He has been the anchor for the Brewers infield, which ranks 3rd in baseball in defensive efficiency on groundballs behind the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. The team also ranks 2nd in double play percentage, with Arcia being the only constant variable in the Brewers middle infield this year. No matter how you spin it, he has been one of the very best, if not the best, fielding shortstop in baseball this year at just twenty-two-years-old.
Arcia has also been one of the most valuable base runners in the league. The youngster ranks 26th in baseball at 2.6 base running runs according to Baseball Prospectus. He is an outstanding base runner without being a speedster, as his 27.3 MPH average sprint speed is just 0.3 MPH above league average according to Statcast’s sprint speed metric. He ranks 2nd in all of baseball in ground ball advancement runs behind Jake Lamb. Arcia ranks decently across the board in all base running metrics. He is a testament to how a player can be valuable on the bases without stealing bases or elite speed, but with smarts and awareness.
Orlando Arcia is becoming the complete package the Milwaukee Brewers were hoping for. If he can continue this path of development, sooner rather than later we’ll be considering him among the likes of the best overall shortstops in baseball.
Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USAToday Sports Images