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You’d think after nine years with the White Sox — and five solid years as a manager’s best friend — we’d have a pretty firm idea of what Leury García is and does.
From his reinvention in 2017 through his even-shorter-than-the-reduced season of 2020, García hit .275/.310/.392. That’s a line that has its limits as an everyday player, based on what he showed over his 140 games in center field in 2019. It’s a much more positive experience when it’s scattered over seven positions, all played passably.
García started this season by looking lost at the plate, so much so that he showed bunt every time there was the faintest argument to do so. But over the last few months, he’s hoisted his production back up to where it usually is in some regards, and where it’s never been in others.
He’s up to .262/.337/.359. The slugging is lower than it was in any of the previous four seasons, which is why his OPS+ is in its familiar neighborhood (94, versus 89 from 2017-2020).
The other stats are something else, especially since the start of June.
The bursts of muscle might be fewer and further between, but the rest of his game is showing a kind of control he’s never possessed at the plate. What’s weird is that none of his plate-discipline numbers are jumping off the charts, even if his chase rate is better than usual. He’s got a middle-of-the-road walk rate (55th percentile) despite a chase rate that’s bottom-fifth (17 percent), and the usual swing-and-miss tendencies, too (44th percentile).
But he does look like a different sort of hitter, and what I’d suggest is that a lot of his improvement is in the gray area. For instance, American League hitters are batting .163/.197/.260 after falling behind 0-2. Garciá is batting .224/.263/.250 when his back is against the wall. He’s not quite Nick Madrigal, but he’s the closest thing after Luis Robert, who is batting .275/.302/.490 in such situations.
Likewise García has drawn 21 walks against relief pitchers this year, third behind Yoán Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. He seems to come up with productive plate appearances where you don’t think they should exist.
That means that García doesn’t do as much as you’d hope in other situations. Sure enough, he’s already grounded into a career-high total of double plays, which has contributed to his lowest Win Probability Added score on the team (although Andrew Vaughn’s clutch rating is in the cellar by a significant margin).
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Something else I’ve noticed, if only because I noticed it last year: García is playing his best ball during a period where Tim Anderson is injured. He held down shortstop during Anderson’s absence early in 2020, and he’s doing it now, hitting safely in seen straight games and batting .444/.485/.593 in the eight games since Anderson went on the IL. He’s raised his OPS more than 40 points over this stretch.
That’s been a pattern over the five seasons where García has been this kind of supersub. He hits a lot better when he plays on the left side of the infield:
Now I know what you’re thinking: The outfield has the more robust samples, the result of depth-chart gaps that García has been required to fill with everyday play regardless of matchups, so you’d expect those numbers to lag behind the spot starts at shortstop and third, where assignments are often based on whether he stands a chance of contributing that day. Second base has also featured the same pressures thanks to Madrigal’s major injuries.
But based on his stellar replacement work at shortstop the last two years and his larger body of work there, here’s another possibility: What if García is the baseball player equivalent of a tribute band, where the quality of the product is largely based on the catalog of the player he’s emulating? When he has to step in for Anderson or Moncada, he’s basically an All-Star. When he’s rotating in with the gang of misfits in the outfield and second base, the performances aren’t nearly as inspired.
The paragraph about the less discriminate sample sizes is probably still more valid, but he’s opening my mind to other possibilities, especially since this recent play at shortstop is powering him past 2 WAR for the first time in his career.
It’s just something to think about as we wait for Anderson to return from his case of Vague Leg …
Anderson’s future is slightly murkier. What began as a series of days off to rest tired and sore legs became a 10-day IL stint to make sure every issue was eliminated. But Anderson was eligible to return Wednesday when he instead took his first batting practice. He argues that this isn’t organizational subterfuge, but that he’s hard-pressed to put a label on what he’s feeling. His injury listing is a left hamstring strain, the same issue that sidelined him after the first series of the season, but he shies away from saying it’s the same thing.
“Kind of same, kind of different, a little in between,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what it is, to be honest. It’s really just soreness. I know you’re tired of hearing that but that’s just what it is, really. I feel like it’s going away. Hopefully I can get back in there pretty soon.”
… unless you think it’s something that really isn’t worth thinking about, and that’s fine, too. The other theory I have is that his concussion in the Field of Dreams Game elevated him to a higher plane of awareness (.419/.460/.535 since coming off that injured list!), but that’s not something to emulate. If we’re all just biding time until the injured list empties out, it’s a little too late to experiment with skull-rattling for fun and profit.
(Photo by Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports)