An Unexpected Season
My dear readers, we all know what happened in 2020 and I indeed shared what I saw. Some of you have asked me if I told you everything there is to know about Mitch Garver’s season (or lack thereof). And while I can honestly say I’ve told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it. Now that my schedule has loosened up after the holidays, I think it’s time for you to know the whole story.
It began long ago (in the before times) when Manfred juiced balls and the Twins were making a playoff run the likes of which you had never seen. It began… well it began as you might expect. In a box, there stood a catcher. Not a dirty cardboard box left in the attic; or a box belonging to Christie. This was a batter’s box. And that means offensive production, not always premium production from a catcher, and yet when it shows up tapping you on the nose you can’t help but notice.
Mitch Garver had a great season in 2019, which I covered here. I then projected another great season from him… that, well… *nervous laughter* certainly left something to be desired. It was a painful time in the north. Mitch toiled, and mightily he did. Baldelli spread his starts through the season. The spread became a struggle, the struggle turned to injury, and the injury suffocated any season that might have been left on such a short calendar… and the success of the past slipped into history. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for one and a half offseasons, Garver’s breakout passed out of all knowledge.
Are we speaking of things that were, things that are, or things that will be? The truth lies in the past, and so we must speak of it. And so I spoke with the man himself. Yes, THE Mitch, the protagonist of our tale. I first asked him about what led to his power breakout in 2019, he replied,
“In 2019. I made a conscious effort to hit the ball in the air to the pull side with the help of my buddy Jason Columbus (who works with Alex Bregman as well). I knew the only way for me to do damage and bring value to myself as a catcher was […] driving in runs so instead of trying to hit singles the other way I worked on driving the ball in the air.”
And that’s precisely what he did, He pulled the ball in the air with a 35.4% flyball rate hitting 31 HRs in 311 ABs, and with the aid of his sterling plate discipline he held a .273/.365/.630 slash line. But then 2020 came following a clunky restart amidst a pandemic that we won’t soon forget.
*2020 was in 23 games and 81 PAs.
Of all the bad things that happened in 2020, Garver’s season was certainly among them. I know because I hyped him a lot and had him rostered nearly everywhere as his breakout held up when I took him for a deep dive. I was confident that the power was real and he had the plate approach to back it up. The first thing to point out could easily be the only thing. He only had 81 PAs. That is barely a month in a “real season.” We could just call it an extremely small sample with a season-starting slump out of the gate. But there’s also the COVID-19 effect. I asked Garver about how the shutdown affected him and he told me,
“The worst part about the whole shut down was not knowing when we were going to start. There were a lot of guys that were preparing as if the season was going to start next week and I was one of those guys. So my training, my hitting, and everything was always at an elevated level. Neither MLB or the players union had any idea when the season was going to start so we were always on edge trying to be at top level throughout the shut down.”
If you recall there were a lot of half-made plans to restart and debated negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA. Spring Training even began once, was stopped, and then resumed again late with an abbreviated timeline before real games began. I also asked him if there were any casualties of this confusion and the broken/shortened timeline:
“I think you saw a lot of soft tissue injuries pop-up across the league because of the way that you prepare in the off-season. That preparation usually leads into a regular spring training followed by a 162 game season. In this case, things were a little different and the uncertainty of when the season will start, the lack of proper training equipment, the closure of gyms, the closure of batting cages all led to the injuries.”
And not only was the preparation short, we know the season was too, 60 games. That’s easily less than half a season.
Small Samples Are Not The Future
First a word about small sample sizes. In the analytics world, some general guideline when looking at statistics is understanding when they stabilize, i.e. when they are most likely telling you what’s going on and a reasonable understanding of what’s going to happen given similar opportunities. There’s been a lot of debate on what those levels are with numerous articles but they tend to hover around here:
|Iso Power||ISO||160 PAs|
|Exit Velo||EV||40 BIP|
So right off the bat, we can say that his K%, ISO, EV, and Con% in 2020 are relatively inconclusive as descriptors of what would have continued happening, let alone what we can expect in 2021. Even after a threshold is reached, it doesn’t necessarily make it truth (but that’s a story for another time). With that established, our journey into the depth of madness continues.
2020, Riddles In The Dark
In the nightmare that was the 2020 season, Garver struck out a lot. Nearly twice as much and lead the league in such metric, yikes. His average plummeted, as did his SLG and ISO despite his BABIP returning to his career average. The walks dropped a bit, but within expectations as his BB-rate in 2018 was 8.7%. So that K-rate huh? One does not simply double their K-rate without something substantially changing in their swing/approach. So why did his K-rate spike? Did something degrade in his approach? Something else? Many players had spoken about the league taking away film during game and how that impacted their adjustments. I asked Garver if he felt this impacted him,
“When MLB took away the film room from us they told us it was due to Covid protocol, but all the players knew that it was to reduce the chance of a team cheating. That said, I’m a very visual learner so when I could just watch my previous AB in the film room to digest the information, going into my next AB with a better state of mind was a huge benefit to me.”
Without film, there were limited in-game adjustments. Garver and others couldn’t review themselves in their own ABs. So naturally one would think that would find its way into plate discipline.
Pitchers threw about the same pitches to him in the zone. Despite the small sample, his swing and chase rates were also roughly the same. Overall his discipline was still very good; yet, his contact rate dropped. More importantly, is the drop in contact in the zone as he still chased less than 20% of pitches. Garver had made his money punishing zone fastballs. So was he now missing them in the zone?
So looking at his swing profile Garver chased more pitches up in the zone than before but maintained most of his faithfulness to the strike zone. Those high pitches he swung at were mostly fastballs. As you can see below, many of those he chased up in the zone, he whiffed at a much higher rate (albeit a really small sample) and pitches up and away that he usually lays off. That drop in contact proved to be the most discernable difference as most other pitches were too little to factor in. So this begs the question, why did he miss fastballs especially those in the zone that he had no trouble hitting the previous year?
Hardly Hitting Barrels
Once again, there’s only so much we tell from batted balls last year. Garver only put 36 BIP in a smattering of 23 games. However, we can see that he maintained max exit velocity above 109 and a hard-hit rate of 50% despite less frequent barreled contact. There is still strength in his swing. When he did make contact, he was hitting it hard. The results weren’t there, but the ability remained and continued where he left off. Though his balls in the air (EV+) you saw a drop in exit velocity and his flyball rate dropped for line drives.
The main take away here is that his barrels and solid contact were replaced with a large jump in flares from 19.5% to 33.3%. And what about all those Ks? What does that mean? He wasn’t squaring up the pitches like normal. I had a coach that would tell me all the time about keeping your swing compact, and your body connected. One symptom of a long swing is you find yourself hitting flares on pitches that should be going in the gap. The other is lagging on velocity.
Take a look at these GIFs.
The first one here is Garver punching a low outside pitch into the outfield from 2019.
The second here is him striking out in the same location from 2020.
Notice in 2020 on his swing there’s the separation of his arms from his body in getting to his launch point. His swing takes a longer path behind his head, and as a result is behind on the pitch. This issue is magnified up in the zone and with velocity. So what was the cause of this timing issue and why were fastballs getting the better of him. Was it an injury, the weird season? What did Garver have to say? He said,
“I missed a lot of fastballs in 2020. I think it was due to the fact that I was just late in my timing. My swing was not near what it was in 2019, it was a little bit longer and there was a separation on the backside of my swing that didn’t allow me to hit velocity. I think the injury was subconsciously not allowing me to make the moves I needed to hit fastballs.”
The injury was the final piece of the puzzle.
Shutdown By The Shutdown
This takes us back to the shutdown, delay, and spring training restart. Mitch Garver said that it affected the preparation of all the players and played a role in injuries, including his own. He only had 81 PAs in 2020 over 23 games (out of 60). Only 61 of those 81 appearances were “consecutive” and Baldelli spread those across 17 games with 10 days off mixed in. You can read that as, “Not consistent playing time to work out his timing issues.” Then on top of that was the injury.
Garver was pulled from the lineup on August 19th, after a painful swing that was later diagnosed as an intercostal strain. What’s that you might ask? I’ll let him tell you,
“The intercostal muscles are the muscles in between your ribs. They affect breathing and rotation And the speed at which you can do those two things. While injured, I had this lack of mobility and I was unable to compress my right side in a way that allowed me to create hip and shoulder separation.”
Needless to say, this is very important to putting a proper swing on a ball. And one of the major impacts he mentioned was indeed rotational speed. Which certain explains lagging on fastballs. The other takeaway, of course, was his inability to compress his load-side (back half towards the catcher) at the plate to keep his swing connected. My next question was before the critical injury that sidelined him was it bothering him before? (The GIF above with the K was the week before he was IL’d.)
“I don’t know exactly when the injury happened, but I feel like I had something nagging my body that wouldn’t allow me to make the moves I needed to make. This is another reason I think the shut down affected a lot of players because they didn’t maintain the mobility they needed to compete at a high-level.”
The World Of Fantasy
So where does that leave us or take us in fantasy? It was a difficult season for everyone, and especially for Garver. Nobody had access to all the normal preparation tools and equipment they usually do and when you throw injury into the mix, you get a spoiled sample. When you go to Garver’s statcast page many statistics won’t show his consideration among players as he didn’t meet the minimum data point for a stable sample. So I’d say it’s safe to throw out his 2020 all together as lost to the injury.
Even when including his 2020 ABs, over the last 160 games played Garver has a line of 97/36/104/.262/.342/.536; which, is really good and essentially what everyone hoped Gary Sanchez would be doing. If Baldelli gives him rest like he’s done before that would still give Garver the chance at producing a line close to 67/25/73/.265 with a more normalized 21.5% HR/FB rate. That my friends is still a top 10 catcher and possibly top 5 depending on ABs.
Looking at current ADP values (NFC 222.41, Fantrax 275.82), you can get him in early drafts at next to nothing. I will take that cursed 2020 discount all day every day, at a chance for a catcher returning top 100 value. The discipline is still there, and the power is not a mirage. There’s not a lot of guys after pick 200 with 30 HR pop, and assuming the players get a full Spring Training to prepare for the season, I think it’s safe to say Garver will be back again.
You can follow Mitch Garver on Twitch at twitch.tv/garvsauce or on Twitter @MitchGarver.
If you want more Coolwhip to top-off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.