With the conclusion of Randy Arozarena’s extended coming-out party, his American League East opponents will now ask how, if at all, can they prevent him from doing it again. As I laid out in my piece last week, a couple mechanical adjustments have unlocked his unusual athleticism, as he has become increasingly able to do damage to anything he’s able to get full extension on, typically out and over the plate.
Arozarena’s tight kinetic chain allows him to deliver his firmest swings on pitches way outside a normal hitter’s zone. Look at this single Arozarena is able to flip into short right off a Hyun Jin Ryu changeup:
This pitch starts out near the outside edge of the zone, but ends up breaking into the middle of the left-handed batter’s box.
Though Arozarena hit this off the end of the bat at a mere 77.1 mph, the ball’s flight remained true. With solid launch angle (23 degrees) and pure backspin, this bloop single cleared the infield, but fell short of the outfielders playing Arozarena deep out of respect for his power.
Normal humans, even most major leaguers, when swinging at pitches a solid foot outside the zone, tend to stick their rear-ends out towards third, bend over at the midsection, and cast their hands away from their bodies. By swinging at something they can’t reach within their normal swing, they have to overextend, resulting in topped or flared contact with a lot of sidespin on the ball.
Even DJ LeMahieu, the king of hitting to the opposite field, is unable to do much with pitches beyond the outer third of the strike zone.
Just before contact, LeMahieu extends his arms past his comfort zone and his front hip leaks open. He loses the connection between his upper and lower half, clipping the top of the ball for a weak grounder up the middle. By overextending, he ends up pulling a pitch that he would have been better off driving to right. However, he can’t, because unable to continue his clean hip and shoulder turn as he loses control of a barrel that’s so far away from his body on a pitch that far outside. On LeMahieu’s follow-through, his wrists roll over, as he decelerates his swing with his upper body, unable to do so with his core and legs (as he ideally would).
Mike Trout, noted superhuman, has to bend at the waist to reach this down and outside slider, scooping it into left field for a misplayed single that turns into a triple.
Even Trout, blessed with some of the best hand-eye the game’s ever seen, has to bend his body into a right angle in order to match his barrel to this pitch. Jerking your head down towards the ball through your swing is no way to create consistent solid contact even though Trout gets away with it due to his one-of-a-kind innate abilities. Since Trout’s reach angles his body to create contact out in front, he pulls the ball to left with approximately the same exit velocity of Arozarena’s single (82.6 mph).
Even Trout, the all-time master of controlling the strike zone by demolishing strikes and laying off balls, occasionally finds himself chasing a pitch outside his wheelhouse. In this case, he can’t generate clean contact on a pitch he’s physically incapable of staying through without veering away from his normal A-swing.
Of course, all successful big-league hitters have their fair share of hits and misses on the outer half of the plate, but Arozarena’s ability to drive pitches way beyond the outside of the strike zone sets him apart from almost any hitter I’ve ever seen.
Though his single off of Ryu was the most extreme example of his approach, it displays the peak of Arozarena’s ability to deliver his very best swing on any pitch he’s able to extend his hands to.
This chart displays the pitch and location of each of Arozarena’s playoff homers. As one of the toughest outs in the entire postseason, he made pitchers pay for mistake after mistake in the middle and outer parts of the zone.
The chart of all of Arozarena’s playoffs hits, displays his capability of controlling the majority of the strike zone, but especially pitches over the middle and outside parts of the zone. In the playoffs, with pitchers increasingly fearing Randy’s hot bat, they’d try to pitch around him, attempting to nibble at the zone for low and outside strikes. Their fear of coming in on him allowed him to feast off a steady diet of pitches he’d be able to achieve full extension on, as his aforementioned seemingly limitless reach allowed.
Arozarena’s too strong at full extension to be beat by pitches that bring his barrel away from his body. Not only does he destroy outside strikes, but he’s good enough to successfully hit balls too, as evidenced by his knock against Ryu. Further, he walks a fair amount and doesn’t chase often, as his 25.1% O-Swing percentage was better than league average. When Arozarena is able to find success on pitches in the left-handed batter’s box, a pitcher simply has to tip his cap. However, pitching around him allows him the comfortability of waiting for a reachable pitch, and otherwise laying off.
The glaring absence in the zone among Arozarena’s preponderance of base hits are those which came from pitches located on the plate’s inner-third. Of all of his playoff hits, only one came from a pitch on the inner third according to Statcast, a 3-1 Zack Grienke hanger that Arozarena put on the moon for his second homer of the ALCS.
Against inside strikes, Arozarena batted just .125, posting a wOBA of .243. Generally speaking, pitchers didn’t dare pitch inside to Arozarena, doing so just 13.5% of the time. When they did, it was usually with off-speed pitches, as Arozarena proved a deadly fastball hitter throughout the playoffs. Scared into foolishness, teams only threw nine fastballs over the inner-third of the plate to Arozarena. However, when they did, he swung just once, failing to catch up to Robbie Ray’s extremely meh 93 mph heater with two strikes.
As stars blossom in the majors, opposing teams eventually figure out their tendencies, tending to take advantage of hitters returning for their sophomore campaigns. Yasiel Puig, has never been able to recreate the success of his first season as a Dodger since opponents figured out he struggled to differentiate between speeds, beating Puig with hard stuff in, and soft stuff away. Though Arozarena’s set up for greater success than Puig, having already shown the ability to drive pitches of any speed on the outside, teams will start to show him high, inside heat more often, attempting to exploit his weakness until he proves he can adjust.
Part of Arozarena’s ability to reach pitches so far away from the plate has to do with the fact that he stands so close to the plate, especially in comparison to Trout and LeMahieu. If opposing pitchers start to beat him inside by preventing him from clearing his hands, Arozarena may take a step or two away from the plate to deal to clear his hands more easily. Though a step back could compromise some of Arozarena’s outer-half dominance, this is the very cat and mouse game hitters and pitchers must win in order to excel on baseball’s most competitive stage. With his lightning-quick hands and rock-solid mechanics, Arozarena will continue mashing mistakes regardless of where he stands, but if he wants to be one of the best hitters in the game, he’ll need to grow more comfortable handling pitches in every part of the zone, shoring up the singular hole in his swing.