Randy Arozarena: Future Fantasy Baseball Stud or Dud?
In case you have never heard of Randy Arozarena… who am I kidding? If you are reading this you know all about the rookie phenom by now. The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder lit up the highlights of every major sports outlet with his power, speed, and pizzazz during the playoffs. He hit 10 home runs and drove in 14 runs in only 20 playoff games. Also, his 64 total bases led the playoffs. The next closest, World Series MVP Corey Seager, had 50 total bags. Arozarena circled the base paths three-and-a-half times more than the eventual MVP. That’s quite the performance.
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Who is the Real Randy Arozarena
That begs the question, is the sample too small to trust Arozarena? After all, he currently has an average draft pick of 58.5 in NFBC leagues since December 1st. That’s quite a high number for a player that has a total of 190 major league plate appearances (including the playoffs). First, we need to examine Arozarena’s minor league numbers on record, since this is the biggest sample that is available. Next, we need to examine his secondary numbers behind curtains. Does his high strikeout rate limit his batting average? If he isn’t hitting home runs, does he provide value elsewhere? What should we expect from him after performing a nuanced analysis? Finally, all the data will be gathered, and given a final outlook. Ultimately, is Arozarena worth a high draft pick in 2021? Let’s take a look.
Minor League Career
The breakout-star started his minor league career in High-A for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. He absolutely blasted that level, hitting eight home runs and stealing 10 bases in only 295 plate appearances. Arozarena received the call up to Double-A, and once again performed admirably. Once again, he showed that he was a significant power-speed threat, hitting three home runs and stealing eight bases in only 195 plate appearances. Despite the impressive season, he ranked as the Cardinals’ 9th-best prospect heading into 2018 (according to MLB Pipeline).
He stayed in Double-A to start the 2018 season, and it was more of the same dominant profile. While his strikeout rate spiked to an all-time high 24.5%, he hit .396, with seven home runs, and stole nine bases in only 24 games. The 2020 playoffs aren’t the only time he’s shown this sort of hot streak.
A quick call up to Triple-A ensued. His power decreased, only hitting five home runs in 89 games, but his stolen bases jumped all the way up to 17 in 22 attempts. The Cardinals now 6th-ranked prospect had officially shown there was only one level he couldn’t handle, the Major Leagues. After yet again tearing up Double and Triple-A in 2019, where he combined for 15 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 92 games, Arozarena got his shot for the St. Louis Cardinals.
After receiving the callup to the Cardinals in August of 2019, Arozarena put up respectable numbers in only 23 plate appearances. He hit .300 with one home run and 2 steals. Not much to take away from that small sample. Despite the solid showing at every stop, the Cardinals decided to trade the prospect to the Tampa Bay Rays. As many baseball fans may know, if the Rays want a player, pay attention. As we all know, that wound up being verified logic.
COVID-19 hit the country in March, two months after Arozarena was dealt. This slowed down the baseball season, and therefore his MLB call-up to the big league club. The season started in late July, and by August 31, the Rays had called up Arozarena looking for a spark to their lineup. Instead, they received a blazing fire. In the remaining 23 games that Arozarena played for the Rays prior to the playoffs, he hit .281 with seven home runs and stole four bases. Yeah, that’s on top of those insane playoff numbers previously mentioned. Combining his regular season and playoff numbers, here are Arozarena’s numbers, along with his 600-plate appearance pace:
No, your eyes do not deceive you, his 600-plate appearance numbers are that of the best fantasy baseball asset in the league. With that said, there is no way he will hit 63 home runs in a season, even the best power hitters and baseball can’t get to that number any longer. He likely won’t hit .333 with a 25.3% strikeout rate either. So what are the realistic expectations for the “Mad Dog” Randy Arozarena? Let’s dive into his underlying statistics and attempt to figure it out.
Batted Ball Data
First things first, we must accept that this is an extremely small sample being examined. These numbers likely aren’t sticky, but nevertheless, a deep dive is necessary. The most noticeable statcast number from Arozarena is how hard he hits the ball. Through his first two seasons, he has maintained an average exit velocity of 90.4-mph. That’s a full 2-mph above league average, putting him firmly above the 70th-percentile in the league. It shows in his hard hit rate as well, as he has a 42.4% hard hit rate through his first 99 plate appearances. That is also above the 70th-percentile relative to his peers.
The key jump that was made between his 2019 and 2020 seasons came in his launch angle. In 2019, when Arozarena only hit one home run, he had a low 5.6-degree launch angle. Fast forward through 2020, and he was up to 9.2-degrees. Even though that number is still below league average, it led to an impressive 14.0% barrel rate in 2020. That is a full 7.5% higher than league average.
The interesting thing about him is the fact that he’s not a fly ball hitter, yet he produces such insane home run totals. His 18.6% fly ball rate in 2020 was below league average. Where he made up the difference was in his line drive rate, where he maintained an impressive 27.9% rate. That was a significant spike relative to his 2018 total, where he was all the way down at 12.5%. Of his seven home runs in 2020, five of them were on line drives. This is where it is impossible to maintain the home run rate Arozarena was at. However, if he can continue to hit for a high line drive rate, his batting average will stay high, given he doesn’t suffer bad luck.
Another impressive attribute to Arozarena is his all-fields approach. Typically, these players are your high-batting average, low-home run hitters. However, that definitely was not the case with him. He actually increased his opposite field percentage to 32.5%, up from 25.0% the season prior, and a full seven percent higher than league average. This is another potential sign that his 40+ home run outlook continues to look bleak. With that said, the batting average outlook continues to look positive.
Now we get into the meat and potatoes of what makes a hitter great, their plate discipline. When digging into Arozarena’s profile, there are some noticeable trends. First, there is a lot of swing and miss in his profile. Not fully expected from a guy who just hit .333. This is why it is highly unlikely he maintains even above a .300 average. Despite the previously mentioned all-fields approach, he simply has too much swing and miss ratios. He had a 14.9% swinging strike rate (league average was 11.2%), a 36.8% whiff rate (average was 24.5%), and his zone contact rate was 72.0% (average was 82.8%). The graphic below shows where his problem area was, and that was pitches on the inside of the plate. This shouldn’t be surprising, as this is typical with all-fields hitters. While this isn’t a sign of potential struggles, it is a notable area to improve.
The next noticeable trend is in his outside-the-zone swing percentage (O-Swing%). Despite the heavy swing-and-miss, Arozarena is above average in terms of swinging outside the zone. His 24.8% O-Swing rate and the 25.1% chase rate were well below league-average. See below against the Marlins Trevor Rogers:
That is a tough pitch to layoff on. Arozarena did it all year, and that was a large reason despite having a high swing-and-miss profile, that he didn’t have a 30%+ strikeout rate. His 28.9% strikeout rate was not good by any means, as it is five-percent above league average, but we can make it work with how well he strikes the ball. Realistically speaking, we should expect a number closer to his regular-season batting average of .281. That is still a great ratio given the power-speed he provides.
Given the small sample we have on Randy Arozarena in the MLB, his range of outcomes is vast. However attempting to make an educated guess, we can come to some conclusions. The first thing is his batting average. As previously mentioned, his all-fields approach does give him a higher batting average outlook. However, his heavy swing-and-miss approach does limit that upside. It is safe to say that he at worst should maintain an above-median batting average. Somewhere in the range of .275 to .285 on a consistent basis.
Now we get into the major outlier number, which is his home run total. Can he maintain his insane home run pace? The simple answer is no, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, no one in baseball has maintained a pace like that throughout a season since Barry Bonds. What we can expect is a consistent 25+ home run hitter, with a likelihood of getting above 30 year-to-year. Add in his 95th percentile sprint speed, and his high stolen base totals throughout the minors, and we have a potential 30-30 threat. While that isn’t the likely outcome, that is the ceiling.
What we can realistically expect is a perennial 25 home run, 20 stolen base stud. That already verifies the belief that early NFBC drafters have taken, and that is of an early-round selection. Now what can put him over the edge are his run and RBI totals. It’s no secret that the Rays have an absolutely loaded farm system, and they will quickly have two of the best prospects in baseball up. Where they hit is yet to be seen, but Arozarena has an opportunity to hit behind Wander Franco, and Vidal Brujan for years to come. If that happens, then the sky is the limit. I would fully expect Arozarena to at worst hit fifth in the future, with the likelihood of primarily being third in the lineup.
Given that outlook, the likelihood his runs and RBI totals approach the 180 to 200 range is possible. If that happens, then we have a second-round value in one of the most exciting players in all of baseball. Perhaps it doesn’t work out, as his range of outcomes is vast. But wouldn’t that be a tragedy to miss out on what could be? This fantasy analyst is buying into Randy Arozarena, and so should you.
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