It hasn’t quite been two weeks since Jose Garcia was called up to join the Cincinnati Reds at the big league level after spending the earlier part of the year at Prasco Park as a part of their alternate site roster. Since he made his debut on August 27th, Garcia has played in nine games. Defensively he’s looked as good as expected. He’s shown off his arm strength, some range both at shortstop and in the shift while playing on the other side of the bag in shallow right field.
At the plate, though, it’s been a struggle for the young shortstop. Through 32 plate appearances Jose Garcia is hitting just .161/.188/.161. He’s drawn just one walk and he’s struck out 11 times.
When he was called up, manager David Bell noted it was the right time to call him up, but also that there were going to be some growing pains.
“(He’s) Really mature beyond his years, he’s still a very young player,” said manager David Bell on the day of the call up. “Yeah – it was the right time to add him to the team, to bring him here and for a young player to join at this time, it only makes sense if they’re going to play a lot and get a lot of starts and a lot of playing time. That doesn’t mean he’s going to play every inning of every game, but we really went into this committing to giving him an opportunity to play. And we believe just by being the best version of Jose Garcia, he’s going to contribute to helping our team win without trying to be too much. It was the right time. It’s exciting to add a player to the middle of the field. He has range, he has athleticism. He’s shown what he can do offensively. There’s definitely growing pains there, but we wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think that by having him in the lineup, we determined that was our best lineup to win right now. So that’s how the decision was made.”
The growing pains have been there at the plate early on. And that leads us to the headline of this article. Jose Garcia is both swinging too much, and he’s not swinging enough. How is that even possible? Well, here’s a sentence that I wrote on the day he was called up:
He can have an aggressive approach at times, though, and that could lead to more advanced pitchers being able to get him to expand the zone a bit.
That’s one of the things we’ve seen so far. Fangraphs has Jose Garcia with an outside of the strikezone swing rate of 38.7%. The Major League average rate is 30.3%. Garcia’s only got 32 plate appearances, so we are definitely dealing with a small sample size here and those numbers can change quickly with such a small number of pitches seen – but early on he’s expanded the zone a lot more than your typical Major League hitter. Among the 414 players with at least 30 plate appearances, Garcia’s chase rate of 38.7% ranks 364th. This is where Garcia needs to swing less. No one is actually good at hitting non-strikes overall. There may be a very specific spot out of the strikezone that they can handle, but overall it’s an area where no one is particularly good at doing any sort of damage.
Being too aggressive outside of the zone is a problem. Being aggressive inside of the strikezone usually isn’t. But for Jose Garcia the problem is that he’s been taking a lot of pitches inside of the strikezone. According to Fangraphs, Garcia’s zone swing rate is 61.5%. The league average rate is 67.3%. That difference may not seem that large, but of the 414 players with at least 30 plate appearances this season, that rates out 338th, and it’s last on the Reds among active players – and only now traded Josh VanMeter’s 59.7% rate was lower. It’s here, in the strikezone, where he needs to swing more.
Of course, hitting theory is a lot easier than hitting. There’s usually a reason that hitters chase pitches out of the strikezone – they didn’t decipher that it was out of the strikezone soon enough to not swing. That same thing, identifying the pitch quickly enough, could be the reason that they don’t swing at certain pitches in the strikezone, too.
With Jose Garcia, pitchers are throwing him a ton of strikes in the zone. Fangraphs has his zone% at 46.4%, which is easily the highest among all Cincinnati Reds this season and 25th highest in all of baseball – again, of the 414 hitters with at least 30 plate appearances. But as noted above, Garcia isn’t swinging too frequently on those pitches. Just as troubling, though, is that when he does – he’s not making contact. His zone contact is just 75%. While three out of four swings making contact may sound good, it’s not. It rates 378th in baseball, where the average is 85%. His contact rate on balls swung at in the strikezone is far and away the worst among the Reds hitters.
Jose Garcia is just 22-years-old. While some guys step into the Major Leagues and just hit right out of the gate, that’s not the typical case. That’s almost never the case when it’s a guy who has never played Double-A or Triple-A baseball – which is the case for Garcia. When the 2021 Major League season begin, he’ll still be 22-years-old. There’s a lot of time for him to make adjustments, to learn, to figure things out.
For now, it’s a tough question of what he should do. Do you preach aggressiveness in order to try and get more swings on pitches in the zone where he should be able to do more damage? If so, does that lead to expanding the zone even more than he already has been, leading to more swings and misses, or more soft contact? Being more aggressive when pitches are pounding the strikezone against you could help, but if they notice you are swinging more do they adjust to fewer strikezone pitches and cause you to adjust your approach once again this season?
The answer isn’t easy. As noted above – hitting theory is easy. It’s the hitting execution that is insanely difficult. Garcia needs to swing more at pitches in the strikezone, and he needs to make more contact on them when he does. He could also benefit from swinging at pitches out of the zone a little less frequently, too. How to make that happen may not simply be a matter of “want” or even approach (for the most part). It could be improving pitch identification, which takes time as it generally involves seeing more and more pitches.
Whichever reason it happens to be, Garcia needs to work on takings the steps to get there. He’s been down this road before. In his first season in the minors he had some big struggles offensively. He improved each month of the season, and while you can’t identify it as much in the numbers, if you were able to watch him throughout the 2018 season you could see him closing in on his “swing zone” and improving his eye at the plate.
In 2019 there were some adjustments to be made, too. He missed most of April, returning on the 25th. From that first game, through the end of June, he had 15 walks and 55 strikeouts in 238 plate appearances. Over the next two months of the season he had 10 walks and 28 strikeouts in 214 plate appearances. The walks were low on both sides of the split (6.3% and 4.7%). But his strikeout rate went from 23.1% down to 13.1%. Garcia has shown an ability to figure it out, to adjust, to improve. Expecting it to happen overnight probably isn’t fair to him, or anyone. It could take some time, and realistically there’s not much remaining in the 2020 season. The struggles have been large early on, but there’s plenty of reason to believe he can make the adjustment.