Orlando Arcia was one of the bigger surprises for the Atlanta Braves in 2022. When Ozzie Albies went down to injury on June 13, there was worry about how the Braves would address second base. The Atlanta Braves were a very good team on paper, but infield depth was not exactly a strength. At least, that was what it looked like at first.
Once his name was called to take over, Orlando Arcia took the reins at second base until a leg injury suffered while running to second on a doubele led to Vaughn Grissom’s major league debut. After he recovered, Arcia manned the keystone to finish out the last ten games of the season as Grissom cooled off quite a bit down the stretch.
On April 6, 2021, the Atlanta Braves traded Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka to the Brewers for Orlando Arcia. This trade was rare in terms of timing as we do not typically see trades in early April, especially for former top-10-in-baseball prospects.
Arcia’s star had started to fade, though, as he was not living up to his top prospect ranking for the Brewers, and Luis Urias had overtaken him on the depth chart. During his time with the Brewers, Arcia was struggling at the plate. In 2,188 plate appearances, he hit .244/.293/.364, good for just a 70 wRC+ (thirty percent worse than league average).
The Braves, on the other hand, were solid enough in the bullpen to where Weigel and Sobotka were not really in their plans. This prompted them to take a chance on Arcia by trading from depth so that they could shore up their bench.
Arcia obviously was not going to come in and take over for Dansby Swanson, but it was apparent that the Braves wanted to test his athleticism and played him in left field for 102 innings in 2021. Ultimately, the Arcia experiment did not pay off in 2021 offensively with a 49 wRC+ but that sure did change in 2022.
What were the expectations?
According to ZiPS projections, Arcia was projected to hit .246/.303/.394 with an OPS+ of 81 (19.0 percent below average). This was interesting as ZiPS projected that he would have a better year than 2021 where his OPS+ was a measly 65. Arcia’s defense has always been a strange part of his game — he’s had both good and bad seasons at short, and really struggled in his tiny sample in the outfield in 2021. As such, it was hard to figure that Arcia was going to be notably above replacement level.
While the Braves were probably hoping Arcia could channel more of his 2020 (.338 xwOBA) into his Atlanta tenure, 2021 didn’t do anything to suggest that was in the cards. So, expectations were likely very low. It’s hard to say that either Arcia or the team expected much more than... almost nothing. In November 2021, Arcia signed a two-year extension worth just $3 million, with a club option that would add another $2 million to his earnings if picked up. Those are rock bottom prices for rock bottom expectations, basically.
Without even looking at a stat sheet we probably already know he surpassed these projections by a decent margin as far as rate stats go.
As stated earlier, Arcia’s output was a pleasant surprise. He surpassed the ZiPS projections which already projected him to take a step forward relative to his dreadful 2021.
From an offensive standpoint, Arcia did quite well and improved a fair bit over much of his career. From a rate stat perspective, it was easily his best. He hit .244/.316/.416, for a 104 wRC+. The only other season in which his numbers were comparable was 2020, where he hit .260/.317/.416 (albeit, in 45 fewer plate appearances). This led to an OPS that was .001 higher than 2022, but like we have pointed out in previous articles, offense was down across the league in 2022. In terms of wRC+ in 2020, he had a 97. So, from a pure offensive outputs standpoint, Arcia had his best year this past season.
We did see a defensive drop-off in Arcia this past year. In terms of Outs Above Average (OAA) he was in the bottom nineteen percent of MLB in 2022. This is a little misleading, though — Arcia was still above-average in the infield, but absolutely horrendous, abominably, eye-bleedingly bad in just 47 innings in left field, which tanked his defense and his overall value. He finished with +1 OAA in about 400 innings at second, +0 OAA in just a smidgen of innings at short and third, and -3 OAA in 47 innings in left.
Needless to say, small sample and all, Arcia probably shouldn’t be anywhere near as disastrous in left field as he’s shown to date, but it’s been ruinous for him thus far, and that experiment might be over.
For the season as a whole, Arcia put up 0.7 fWAR in 234 PAs, which is a slightly-below average rate due to said horrendous left field defense. He had a 124 wRC+ in part-time action while Albies was healthy, a 94 wRC+ while starting full time prior to his own injury in August, and a 109 wRC+ after his return through the end of the season.
What went right? What went wrong?
Orlando Arcia’s offensive breakout was covered in great granularity earlier in an article here at Battery Power. But, in short, it can be described a few areas:
- Arcia’s hard hit rate and exit velocity were both well above his career average in 2022
- His walk rate is the highest of his career
- Arcia swung at fastballs and off speed outside of the strike zone less often
- Against righties, Arcia had the highest wRC+ of his career
- Arcia’s barrel rate against righties was a career high, specifically against fastballs and off speed
- Arcia’s chase rate against off speed vs righties plummeted in 2022
- Of all of his seasons, 2022 saw Arcia laid off of low and outside pitches vs righties at his lowest rate to date
Orlando Arcia made necessary adjustments to start hitting to what appears to be the new “Atlanta Braves way.” He has become a hitter that can be patient enough to sit back and wait for a pitch he likes. As cliché as that sounds, it is true.
Because he is being more patient and swinging at fastballs and off-speed outside of the zone less often, it has allowed him to zone in and hit the ball much harder. His 24.1 percent chase rate against fastballs and his 21.6 percent chase rate against off-speed are both career lows. He also is making better contact. His 42.5 percent hard hit rate in 2022 was much higher than his 31.8 percent career average.
This also allowed not only for Arcia to hit the ball hard more often, but his average speed at which the ball was coming off the bat was higher too. These often go hand in hand, but not always. His 91.5 MPH average exit velocity against fastballs and 88.8 against breaking pitches were both the highest of his career.
Arcia also walked at a higher clip, which also brings added value. His 9.0 percent walk rate was 2.1 percent higher than his career average, and 0.8 percent higher than league average. There are many variables in play with walk percentages, but a large part of that is that Arcia was not as much of a free swinger.
We already touched on his plummeting chase rate, but Arcia had a career low swing percentage against both fastballs and off-speed pitches in 2022, allowing him to have better control of the count.
The biggest boon in Arcia’s 2022 season is that he finally was able to hit well against right-handed pitching . Although Arcia did not hit lefties that well, he did end up with a wRC+ of 119 against righties in 2022. There are a lot more right-handed pitchers in MLB, so hitting righties well is essential to be a successful everyday player. For reference, 72.63 percent of pitches across MLB were thrown by righties.
Prior to 2022, Arcia had never had a wRC+ above 105 against righties, and had a career wRC+ of 73. Needless to say, Arcia new found success against righties played a big role in him being able to play a big role in Atlanta’s regular season success.
Arcia also improved in baserunning. If we look at ultimate base running (UBR), which factors in all base running outside of stolen bases in terms of runs added, he had +0.8 runs above average. This is his first season since 2019 in which he brought positive value.
As far as what went wrong, we touched on Arcia’s defense already. But, one area of concern is his arm strength. In 2022 we saw a big drop off, as it dropped to the bottom 36 percent of the league. We have seen his arm strength as high as the 74th percentile before. To be fair, a potion change could have played a role since typically a shortstop will throw the ball harder than a second baseman, but it is something to keep an eye on.
He also has slowed down as a runner. Almost every single year Arcia has gotten slower in terms of where he ranks among MLB. This year his average sprint speed ranked him 402nd. That makes his positive baserunning surprising.
Arcia also struggled at hitting into double plays. If we look at ground into double plays runs above average (wGDP), Arcia had a -0.7. This was almost enough to negate the 0.8 value he added via UBR. This also makes his positive baserunning surprising.
Arcia’s two biggest moments of the year were both walk-offs. On May 11, he had a great game, going 3-for-4 with a walkoff two-run homer.
Probably nothing encapsulates his approach better than that sequence — he got a 2-0 fastball down the middle and absolutely whaled on it. (Arcia started at DH in the game!)
About a month later, now the full-time starter at second, Arcia found a way to deliver another walkoff. He was 0-for-3 with a double play coming into the ninth in this game, and once again, got a 2-0 pitch in a walkoff situation.
This time, he didn’t quite obliterate it, but still hit it over 100 mph without beating it into the ground too badly. The result could’ve been a grounder, but it got through the infield and delivered a win.
That said, he did finish the season with negative WPA. The worst moment was probably the out that snapped the Braves’ 14-game winning streak in Chicago:
For whatever reason, Arcia tried to go with an outside pitch and hit it weakly to the right side, ending the game and the winning streak.
One final note about his 2022: Arcia was one of the few Braves to do anything in the NLDS, putting up a 182 wRC+ in the process. He was one of only three Braves batters with positive WPA and cWPA in the series, and had the third-best batting line among Braves in the series. It was pretty much all xwOBA overperformance (.435 wOBA, .321 xwOBA which was exactly in line with his season), but it was still fun to see.
2023 will be interesting for Arcia, because it’s not clear what role he’s going to end up in at this point. There are question marks at the time of this writing of who will man shortstop for Atlanta in 2023. Although Grissom does not necessarily profile as a big-league shortstop, there are reports that Ron Washington is working him this offseason as a contingency plan. If Grissom can’t handle the position, and the Braves don’t sign a shortstop, does that default to Orlando Arcia, starting shortstop? It would not be ideal, but it is possible.
What about if Ozzie Albies is not fully ready to start the season? There are so many question marks at this point that it is impossible to predict how Arcia will be utilized in 2023. One thing is for sure though. If he performs like he did in 2022, the Braves will have an excellent bench piece.
At this point, projections will likely see Arcia as a 1 WAR guy in half-time, which is better than his 2022, and really, his career to date. That might be somewhat optimistic, as Arcia’s offensive approach could regress and leave him as a more generic, no-bat utility infielder — we’ll have to see if he can actually carry over his offensive improvements for more than a calendar year.