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Randy Aroza-Redux: What happened to the Rays’ super-slugger?

Randy Arozarena torched the major leagues through the 2020 playoffs. Why has his production slowed so significantly since the start of the 2021 season?

Kansas City Royals v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Randy Arozarena was an unstoppable force throughout the 2020 playoffs. Across 84 plate appearances, he triple-slashed .377/.429/.831 with a wOBA of .515 backed up by an xwOBA of .467. Advanced metrics aside, Arozarena was a force to be reckoned with for all opposing pitching staffs. Even as teams game-planned around him as the Rays’ primary offensive threat, improbably, he went on to set the all-time records for hits and homers in a postseason (granted he did so with the benefit of two extra Wild Card games).

Before even winning the ALCS MVP and hitting another three bombs in the six-game World Series, Arozarena torched the entire Yankee pitching staff for stats superior to his already sky-high playoff batting rates, including a 1.371 OPS, .561 wOBA, and a .508 xwOBA. Included in his reign of terrorizing the Yankees was a trio of homers, including a bomb to dead center off of Gerrit Cole.

While Arozarena’s 60-plus homer pace was unsustainable over the course of a full regular season, his domination of the best pitchers in baseball led many to believe that Arozarena’s 2020 playoff showing could be the start of something bigger. He entered the year as — and still is — the odds-on favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award having yet to clear the 130 at-bat or 45-days rostered thresholds in any prior season to this one.

However, his maintenance of pole position has had more to do with the lack of standout candidates than Arozarena’s own continued dominance. Randy’s storybook 2020 playoffs have petered out into a more pedestrian 2021, as Arozarena is now triple-slashing .265/.356./418 with just seven homers across more than twice as many at bats as he had in the previous postseason. To be clear, Arozarena hasn’t been bad; he’s still rocking an OPS 27 percent better than league average, and has all the power in the world, with an average exit velocity in MLB’s 80th percentile with a max exit velocity this season of 112.6, placing him in the 88th percentile.

Surprisingly, despite the overall decline in production, Arozarena’s been more selective this season than he was last year. He is striking out at a 27.1 percent clip, a bit worse than his 2020 postseason rate of 22.6 percent, but slightly superior to his 2020 regular season mark of 28.9 percent. Also, he’s walking more than ever right now, having drawn a free pass in 10.2 percent of his plate appearances this season compared to 7.9 and 7.2 percent in the 2020 regular and postseasons, respectively.

However, Randy’s expected metrics and batted ball data paints a picture of an even worse hitter than his already significantly depressed counting stats might suggest. So far, Arozarena’s wOBA has been better than his xwOBA by a greater margin than all but ten other hitters in the majors, suggesting that his regression from last postseason is even more significant that it might seem at first glance. Randy’s rough start to the 2021 campaign has skeptics sounding like Mars Blackmon, chalking up Arozarena’s Ruthian surge to his now legendary “power boots.”

Joking aside, the most damning metric in Arozarena’s advanced statistical profile is his plummeting ability to control his launch angle. Last regular season, Arozarena posted an average launch angle of nine degrees, which fell to eight degrees during his torrid playoff run. This season, that number is at seven degrees, close enough to his previous averages.

However, last regular season, 32.6 percent of Arozarena’s batted balls came off his bat between eight and 32 degrees, the definition of the sweet spot according to Statcast, a rate that would have been right around the middle of the pack had he received enough at bats to qualify for leaderboards. In the playoffs, 23 of Randy’s 77 batted balls were hit between eight and 32 degrees for a similar 29.9 sweet spot percentage. Arozarena’s moderately optimized launch angle distribution combined with his elite propensity for hitting the crap out of the baseball led to a preponderance of laser beams all over the field.

This season, it’s not his average launch angle that’s hurt him this year, it’s the overall distribution of his batted balls. His sweet spot percentage has dropped to just 24.3 percent, the fifth-worst mark in the majors amongst 124 qualified hitters. The fact that Arozarena hasn’t been even worse speaks in part to his elite power and speed combo that has led to a few extra bleeders and infield singles that a slower or weaker batter otherwise might not have earned.

The launch angle distribution of Arozarena’s batted ball events tells an even clearer story than his spray chart. Last postseason, Arozarena was rewarded by rarely hitting balls far outside of the optimal 10-20 degree launch angle window:

These hits (shown in red) were typically struck well enough to split a gap or clear a fence, given his 99.9 mph average exit velocity on sweet spots, and 93.8 mph average exit velocity overall.

The spread of this season’s chart is much wider, with more pop ups around 60 degrees, and largest groupings coming around three and -20 degrees:

Though he has recorded a fair number of knocks on flatly hit balls, a small percentage of the ones he’s struck straight into the ground have led to hits, and are unlikely to generate doubles and triples even if he does reach base. Further, while sweet spots typically lead to superior results than non-sweet spots, not all non-sweet spots are of equal value. The overwhelming preponderance of balls chopped straight into the ground at around -20 degrees is completely undercutting Arozarena’s overall offensive value, and especially his power production. These are, at best, infield singles, and not what the Rays are looking for from the most potent bat in their lineup.

Still, Arozarena is a great hitter when he finds the sweet spot; he’s slugging 1.314 on sweet spots including six of his seven homers this season, it’s just not happening with same frequency it did in last postseason or the regular season. Further, his non sweet-spots are farther from that range then ever before, leading to far too many totally unproductive batted balls. There may be a mechanical kink he needs to work out, an issue with his approach, or a lack of timing contributing to Randy’s sudden decline, but whatever it is, he needs to start lifting the ball again if he hopes or returning to his former glory.

For a Yankees team that’s struggling as is though, having one of their biggest rivals down a major bat is a small blessing.