There were lots of reasons for the Braves to acquire Orlando Arcia — infield depth, clearing space on the 40-man roster, his own improvements to his hitting potential as he showed in 2020, etc. In the end, though, he didn’t get much of an opportunity in the majors, and mostly squandered the chances he received.
Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2010, Arcia’s top prospect status never really translated to the majors. A series of poor batting lines and inconsistent shortstop defense meant that he was below replacement in three of his first four seasons, with 1.4 fWAR in 2017 being his only moderately successful season. Arcia made a variety of improvements, pretty much across the board, for his short-season batting line in 2020. But, after a 1-for-11 start, the Brewers sent him to the Braves in exchange for Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka on April 6.
Expectations and Projections
Arcia’s 2020 was very encouraging, not just because he posted 0.7 fWAR in 189 PAs (by a far a career-best rate), but because he had an above-average xwOBA of .336, which didn’t fully translate to his 2020 line because he underhit it by quite a bit (.317 wOBA). Moreover, the types of changes that Arcia made probably put him directly on Atlanta’s radar — he toned down his contact in the zone to focus on rocketing the ball, while simultaneously cutting his chase rate, a difficult combination of changes to make, but one that paid massive dividends compared to his super-weak batting efforts earlier in his career.
Despite his 2021, though, it was hard to see Arcia as much more than a backup infielder, though. After all, his 2021 was fewer than 200 PAs, and he had a long track record of offensive futility, despite entering just his age-26 season. ZiPS saw him as a 1 WAR guy, but given that he had combined for -0.1 fWAR over his past three seasons entering 2021, no one would blame you for figuring 1 WAR was a relatively high-end outcome.
Arcia spent most of his 2021 at Gwinnett, where he raked to the tune of a 129 wRC+, with a .282/.351/.516 line across 322 PAs. His performance was interesting for a few reasons — one was that he posted that .500+ slugging percentage while having a combined K% and BB% of under 22 percent; for comparison, among major leaguers with .500+ slugging and at least 300 PAs in 2021, none had a combined K%+BB% of below 23 percent, and the mean/median for those 50-odd players was around 32-33 percent. The point is, he swung a lot, but also racked up the bases in the process — you don’t see that very much, not to this extent.
The other thing about that gaudy Triple-A line was how frontloaded it was. Arcia put up a 234 wRC+ over his first 65 Gwinnett PAs, and then a much more normal 112 over his next 164 tries, after which he was promoted. He was up and down a few times afterwards, and finished with just an 85 wRC+ in his final 93 Triple-A PAs. The point: most of that superlative performance happened early on, as he had seven homers in his first 12 Gwinnett games, and only 10 in the remaining 62 contests.
At the major league level, Arcia saw some time during three different stints with the Braves. He was promoted on July 4 and got a bunch of starts in left field, but put up just a 62 wRC+ in 55 PAs (13 starts) before being optioned. He only got a few starts the rest of the way, with his only two infield starts coming on the final two days of the season, after the Braves clinched. While Arcia mostly played shortstop for the Stripers, the Braves needed him in the outfield before reinforcements arrived, and then didn’t really need him thereafter.
What went right? What went wrong?
What went right for Arcia was pretty much his blazing start at Gwinnett, which included a three-homer game. Mostly what went wrong was that he was unable to carry over his 2020 gains into his teeny 2021 sample, though it’s hard to say whether that was just the artifact of him only having a few PAs at the major league level or not. Most of the chase rate gains from 2020 evaporated, and he ended up hitting a bunch of balls on the ground, potentially because he was swinging at junk more frequently.
Visually, watching Arcia was amusing, because he often went up to the plate taking gigantic hacks in most situations — hardly blameworthy! And yet, his rate of swinging at pitches down the middle, i.e., the exact pitches you really want to obliterate with those hacks, was the lowest of his career, and the first time his swing rate on meatballs was below the league’s average. It’s hard to draw many conclusions from around 80 PAs, but that kind of self-contradictory approach probably didn’t endear Arcia to the Braves.
Road to the Title
Given his underwhelming performance, it is not surprising that Arcia cost the Braves WPA, both in the regular season and the postseason. He made pinch-hit appearances in three NLDS games, two NLCS games, and a World Series game, and cost the Braves .260 WPA and 3.88% cWPA in the process. Still, it wasn’t all bad. His shining moment was probably September 26, when he had a go-ahead pinch-hit double that stood up as the winning hit when the game ended:
In fitting fashion for his disappointing 2021 season, his biggest hit of the year was essentially unintentional in how it happened — an “excuse me” swing on a grooved pitch that somehow stayed fair the other way and let Joc Pederson score from first with one out.
Outlook for 2022
Given his 2021, it’s not clear exactly what Arcia’s deal is going to be heading into 2022. His Gwinnett line and the improvements he flashed in 2020 suggest he might have some real offensive upside, but they didn’t manifest over his most recent set of PAs. He’s still fairly young, so substantial age-related decline isn’t much of a concern. Steamer projects 0.5 fWAR and a league-average wOBA in a bench role, basically pegging him as a quality backup or fringy starter. However, his career has looked pretty replacement level-y so far, and that doesn’t change if you only look at the past few seasons or something.
While Arcia is arbitration-eligible, it’s not clear whether that profile makes him worth a tender that could endow him with around $2 million or so. It won’t be a huge deal if they tender him, but he’s out of options at this point, so from a flexibility perspective, having a backup infielder that can be shuttled around may be more in the Braves’ interest. If the Braves do non-tender him, he’ll latch on somewhere — there’s too much in his profile offering some promise for him to not at least get a chance to vie for a backup job in Spring Training.