The Atlanta Braves just clinched the National League East for the fifth straight year, and one of the reasons is because of their depth. Orlando Arcia stepped up in a big way when Ozzie Albies went down due to injury and preceded to have arguably the best offensive season of his career.
With a slash line of .244/.316/.416 and a wRC+ of 104 (four percent better than league average) in 2022, Arcia’s line does not set world on fire, but his season was much better than his career .243/.295/.369 slash line which equates to a wRC+ of 74. Factor in that 2022 had the second lowest league average OPS since 1992, and it points to Arcia’s 2022 progression in offensive production even more impressive than just the surface numbers (hence the massive jump in wRC+).
What has Orlando Arcia done differently that has led to his improvement?
Based on his expected stats (xSTATS), Arcia has obviously made some adjustments that has resulted in solid improvements:
- His .329 xwOBA is the second highest of his career other than the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and is .029 points higher than league average xwOBA.
- Arcia’s .382 xwOBA on contact (xwOBACON) is the highest of his career and is above the MLB average of .368.
- xSLG has been a big improvement for Arcia as well. His .421 xSLG is the second highest of his career and well above his career average of .346. For reference, the league average slugging percentage is .395.
There are a few areas that really stick out for Arcia and why his xSTATS have taken an uptick.
Arcia is hitting the ball much harder than his norm. His 42.5 percent hard hit rate is the highest of career and well above his career average of 31.8 percent. His average exit velocity (EV) of 90.7 MPH in 2022 is also the highest of his career, being a full 3.3 MPH higher than his career average. Outside of 2022, this is the only other season in which Arcia’s average exit velocity has been above league average.
His exit velocity increase appears to be due to him being able to hit the fastball and breaking pitches harder than the rest of his career. His 91.5 MPH EV against fastballs is the highest of his career and his 88.8 MPH EV against breaking pitches is the second highest of his career.
His hard hit percentage has increased to a career high against fastballs and the second highest of his career in both breaking pitches and off speed pitches. It can almost go without saying, but combining hitting the ball harder and hitting it harder more often, will generally result in better outcomes. In fact Arcia’s .390 xwOBA against fastballs this season is the highest of his career by a large margin. His next best season against them was a xwOBA of .341 in 2020. The same can be said for his xwOBA against off speed as well. His .388 xwOBA against off speed is a massive .094 points higher than his next best season of .294 in 2020.
Arcia’s xwOBA has been particularly impressive against fastballs when looking at the league average over that past handful of years. Arcia’s .390 is well above the league average of .339 in 2022 (which is the lowest since 2015), and is higher than any season dating back to 2015.
Along with hitting the ball harder and more often, he is putting the ball in the air more often as well. Arcia’s 28.1 percent fly ball rate is 9.9 percent higher than his career average. This fly ball rate most likely has been influenced by Arcia having a much more ideal launch angle. His average launch angle of 11.7 degrees is much higher than his career average of 7, and much more in line with the league average of 12.1. Hitting the ball in the air more often by itself does not always equal success. However, factoring in that Arcia is hitting the ball harder on a more regular basis, this increase of hard hit/fly ball combo has most likely played a significant role in Arcia’s offensive progression in 2022.
Next, his walks are way up. His walk rate for the 2022 regular season was 9.0 percent. This is much higher than his career 6.9 percent and also higher than the MLB average of 8.2 percent in 2022.
Arcia has also been more selective in his swinging. He has not been swinging at fastballs or off speed pitches as often. In fact, his 44.5 percent against fastballs and 40.3 percent against off speed are both the lowest of his career.
Not only is Arcia being more selective, he is also not swinging against fastballs and off speed pitches outside of the strike zone nearly as often either. His 24.1 percent chase rate against fastballs and 21.6 percent against off speed are both the best of his career. The chase rate against off speed in particular has plummeted.
All these pieces tell a story. Arcia has changed his approach to what appears to be the Atlanta Braves way. Be more selective on pitches, including pitches in the zone, wait on the one you want, and swing hard with a good launch angle that will put it in the outfield or over the fence. This approach is not always successful, but it has paid dividends with not only Arcia having arguable his best offensive year, but also the Braves being successful as well. The Braves lead the league in xwOBA, and scored the thirteenth most runs in a season since 1900. What makes it even more impressive is that 2022 is a year where the league average OPS is the second lowest it has been since 1992.
Orlando Arcia is having a career year against righties
All the above numbers have been for Arcia against both lefties and righties combined, but the main area that Arcia has improved is against righties in particular.
To be fair, since Arcia was forced to not platoon this year, and since there are more right handed pitchers in the league, he would have had to see improvements against righties for his overall numbers to jump. But, since his numbers against righties improved tremendously, it could be fun to look at.
Arcia is hitting against righties much better than he has in the past. Prior to 2022, Arcia had never had a wRC+ over 105 in a season against righties, and that was the shortened 2020 year. His career wRC+ against righties is a well below league average average 73.
This year, his wRC+ against righties is 119 (19 percent above league average). This career high wRC+ is also while having his most plate appearances against righties since 2019. His .317 xwOBA against righties in 2022 is the second highest of his career, behind the .345 he had in 2020. Outside of those two seasons, he never had an xwOBA against righties higher than a .288.
Upon digging into what he has changed against righties, there are some areas that stand out among the others.
First, barrel percentage has been a huge boon for Arcia. His 7.5 percent barrel rate is almost double his career average of 4.0.
We already touched on how Arcia has not been swinging and missing against pitches outside of the strike zone as often, and these overall improvements are largely due to him not doing this against righties. Of course, with Arcia not being a full time player since 2019, his percentages on pitches in and of themselves do not tell the whole story due to a small sample size, but his chase rate against off speed vs righties has taken a nose dive in the right direction (no pun intended). In 2022, his chase rate against off speed is 11.8 percent. Before 2022, he never had a chase rate below 35.9 percent. Arcia’s fastball chase rate has not plummeted nearly as far as off speed, but his 23.4 percent chase rate against them is the second lowest of his career.
We have touched on how Arcia has been more selective based on pitch type, and laid off pitches outside of the strike zone in general, but he also has done a better job of laying off of pitches low and outside against righties specifically. In the highlighted areas of the heat map below, which are 6 inches off the plate, Arcia has swung at pitches in both areas combined 23.5 percent of the time. No other season in his career has Arcia swung at pitches in these areas less than 26.667 percent of the time. For reference, the MLB average for swings at pitches for these areas of the heat map was 28.67 percent in 2022.
Arcia has played a significant role in filling the void that Ozzie Albies left while being on the IL, and there are obvious adjustments that he has made to where his 2022 regular season has arguably been his best offensive output to date:
- Hard hit rate and exit velocity are both well above his career average
- Arcia’s walk rate is the highest of his career
- Arcia has been swinging at fastballs and off speed outside of the strike zone less often
- Against righties, Arcia has the highest wRC+ of his career
- Arcia’s barrel rate against righties has been a career high, specifically against fastballs and off speed
- Arcia’s chase rate against off speed vs righties has plummeted
- Of all of his seasons, 2022 has seen Arcia lay off of low and outside pitches vs righties at his lowest rate to date
There are many variables in play, but in a nutshell it appears that Orlando Arcia has evolved into a hitter that mashes fastballs and off speed pitches, while being able to be patient enough to see pitches he likes. He has also been able to finally utilize this technique against righties, which he has not had much success with until 2022.