Nolan Arenado’s Droop Provides to Cardinals’ Woes

Nolan Arenado
Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports activities

Nolan Arenado may have received the Nationwide League Most Helpful Participant award final yr, although he misplaced out to teammate Paul Goldschmidt, who gave chase to the Triple Crown and completed with the extra eye-catching conventional stats (however barely decrease fWAR and bWAR). However whereas Goldschmidt has been equally productive this yr amid the Cardinals’ dreadful begin — certainly, his three homers on Sunday helped finish the group’s eight-game shedding streak — the identical can’t be mentioned for Arenado, who’s off to an uncharacteristically dangerous begin.

Between compiling their worst file by means of 35 video games in half a century and making the puzzling determination to maneuver marquee free agent Willson Contreras off of catcher, the Cardinals are such a multitude that I discussed Arenado solely in passing on Monday. He’s nowhere close to the group’s greatest drawback, but on the similar time, the 32-year-old third baseman is hitting simply .232/.282/.326 for a 69 wRC+ to this point. His 82-point drop from final yr’s 151 wRC+ is the majors’ second-largest amongst gamers with a minimum of 400 plate appearances final yr and 100 this yr:

Largest wRC+ Drop-Offs from 2022 to ’23

Title Staff AVG OBP SLG wRC+ AVG 23 OBP 23 SLG 23 wRC+ 23 Dif
José Abreu 2Tm .304 .378 .446 137 .225 .272 .268 50 -87
Nolan Arenado STL .293 .358 .533 151 .232 .282 .326 69 -82
Aaron Judge NYY .311 .425 .686 207 .261 .352 .511 134 -73
George Springer TOR .267 .342 .472 132 .210 .273 .304 63 -69
Starling Marte NYM .292 .347 .468 136 .213 .292 .278 68 -68
Andrés Giménez CLE .297 .371 .466 140 .220 .294 .325 73 -67
Josh Naylor CLE .256 .319 .452 117 .198 .252 .315 52 -65
Carlos Correa MIN .291 .366 .467 140 .193 .271 .378 79 -61
Manny Machado SDP .298 .366 .531 152 .252 .303 .389 93 -59
Julio Rodríguez SEA .284 .345 .509 146 .210 .278 .399 91 -55
Jose Miranda MIN .268 .325 .426 117 .219 .275 .313 65 -52
Amed Rosario CLE .283 .312 .403 103 .217 .262 .300 53 -50
Elvis Andrus 2Tm .249 .303 .404 105 .208 .291 .264 57 -48
Jurickson Profar 2Tm .243 .331 .391 110 .210 .304 .328 62 -48
Andrew Benintendi 3Tm .304 .373 .399 122 .270 .324 .325 77 -45

Minimal 400 plate appearances in 2022 and 100 plate appearances in ’23.

Arenado, whose 207-point drop in slugging can be the majors’ largest at these cutoffs, isn’t the one MVP-caliber participant struggling. Choose, the reigning AL MVP, hasn’t come near replicating final yr’s astronomical numbers, although he’s nonetheless an above-average hitter. Machado, who completed between Goldschmidt and Arenado within the NL MVP voting (and edged each in WAR), is scuffling almost as badly as his fellow third baseman. A number of latest All-Stars in addition to these gamers (Benintendi, Giménez, Marte, Rodríguez, and Springer) are represented above as properly. That’s baseball, Suzyn.

To take a look at Arenado’s stats is to play “What’s Fallacious with This Image?” as a result of an entire lot of his numbers are out of whack relative to final yr and his longer observe file. The overarching theme that emerges upon nearer inspection is that he’s shedding the battle to manage the strike zone, and his contact is the poorer for it. Swing charges begin stabilize to at 50 PA, so it’s noteworthy that he’s providing at 51.9% of all pitches, his highest fee since his 2013 rookie season, and up from 48.4% final yr. Likewise in terms of his 40.2% chase fee, up from 36.1% final yr. His 11.4% swinging-strike fee is his highest ever, up almost three factors from final yr’s 8.6%, and two factors above his norm.

All of that matches into the sample of a participant who’s urgent. That wouldn’t be stunning beneath the circumstances, which on this case embrace a reigning division champion that even amid a two-game profitable streak — the second of which Arenado sat out on Monday evening — owns the NL’s worst file at 12–24.

Pitch-wise, Arenado’s whiff charges are notably elevated towards four-seam fastballs (20.7%, up from final yr’s 13.3%), changeups (34.6%, up from 23.2%), sliders (33.8%, up from 25.6%), and curves (26.3%, up rom 20.6%), which collectively account for about 72% of the pitches he’s seen. General, his 20.8% strikeout fee is the best of his profession, six share factors above his profession fee and almost double final yr’s 11.6% fee. In the meantime, his 6.7% stroll fee is his lowest mark since 2015, and down 1.7 factors from final yr.

So, he’s making contact much less, and when he does, it’s not nice. Arenado is hitting the ball on the bottom greater than ever, and his common exit velocity, barrel fee and hard-hit charges are the bottom of his profession:

Nolan Arenado Batted Ball Stats

Season BBE GB/FB GB% FB% EV Barrel% HardHit%
2019 503 0.80 36.0% 44.7% 89.4 6.8% 37.6%
2020 166 0.79 37.3% 47.0% 87.8 5.4% 33.7%
2021 504 0.63 31.3% 49.8% 89.0 6.7% 37.1%
2022 489 0.59 29.7% 49.9% 88.7 8.2% 38.9%
2023 108 1.24 43.5% 35.2% 86.9 3.7% 33.3%

I’ve solely gone again so far as 2019, however the knowledge covers some peaks and valleys, beginning with that 41-homer season, then a tough and sad 2020 that was marred by his taking part in although an AC joint harm. His 2021 was a partial rebound, with 34 homers however only a .312 on-base share and 113 wRC+, down 18 factors from his 2017–19 run. Then got here final yr’s stellar marketing campaign, through which he hit .293/.358/.533 and set profession bests with a 150 wRC+ and seven.3 WAR.

The one different time in addition to this season through which Arenado has ever had a groundball fee above 40% was in his 2013 rookie season; taking part in half his video games in Coors Subject, he shortly realized the benefit to getting the ball off the bottom and into the skinny air. He’s had just one different season with a groundball-flyball ratio above 1.0, and that was in 2018 (1.03, with a 39.9% groundball fee).

By the years, Arenado’s Statcast numbers have usually been fairly middling. Except for final yr’s barrel fee, which positioned within the 53rd percentile, he hasn’t had an exit velo, barrel fee, or hard-hit fee within the fiftieth percentile or above since 2019. Even in the most effective of instances, he makes a whole lot of dangerous contact — balls that Statcast classifies as weak, topped, or beneath however which can be considerably elusive of their actual parameters. Through the Baseball Savant Pitch Highlighter hyperlink (beneath Visuals from the principle Baseball Savant menu — I share this as a result of I can’t discover it with out breadcrumbs), you may get a really feel for them through these fancy interactive radial graphs, the place rollovers illustrate every kind of contact and the way the hitter has carried out inside that class. For instance, listed here are screenshots for his topped balls — these with low exit velocity and largely destructive launch angles — for 2022 and ’23:

In case you squint on the stat strains close to the underside, you possibly can see that he’s hitting extra of these as a share of his batted balls, and that his batting common on them has fallen by almost half. Certainly, balls within the weak, topped, and beneath buckets hardly ever go for hits. Final yr, these accounted for 60.4% of Arenado’s batted ball occasions, on which he hit .103 and slugged .155; for 2015–22, they make up 60.8% of his batted balls, with a .136 AVG and .194 SLG. This yr, they make up 64.8%, his highest fee save for his dismal 2020 (71.1%), and on these, he’s hitting and slugging simply .087; he’s truly a bit unfortunate on these, given his .124 xBA and .155 xSLG. That’s contributing to him falling in need of his total anticipated numbers for the primary time within the Statcast period:

Nolan Arenado Statcast Anticipated Stats

Season BBE AVG xBA Dif SLG xSLG Dif wOBA xwOBA Dif
2019 503 .315 .270 +.045 .583 .480 +.103 .392 .343 +.049
2020 166 .253 .235 +.018 .434 .392 +.042 .308 .288 +.020
2021 504 .255 .248 +.007 .494 .420 +.074 .336 .311 +.025
2022 489 .293 .266 +.027 .533 .445 +.088 .381 .339 +.042
2023 108 .232 .244 -.012 .326 .354 -.028 .268 .285 -.017

I’ve solely proven the the previous 4 seasons plus this one right here, however the pattern goes again to 2015. I don’t know if that’s a Coors Subject factor or if Arenado has lived a charmed life, however each single yr, he outdid his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA, a pattern that continued to St. Louis. 5 instances in eight seasons, his slugging share was a minimum of 81 factors larger than anticipated. This yr, for the primary time, he’s lagging behind his anticipated stats, and so his 91-point year-to-year drop in xSLG turns into the aforementioned 207-point drop in precise slugging share.

Even with that in thoughts, Arenado is struggling as badly as he ever has when it comes to energy. Right here’s his rolling xSLG over 75 PA:

Arenado has taken among the blame for the group’s sluggish begin and vaguely acknowledged points together with his swing. Via the St. Louis Publish-Dispatch’s Lynn Worthy:

Arenado’s timing has been out of whack on the plate, and he has been making an attempt to type by means of points together with his swing and described himself as “just a little disconnected” mechanically.

“It’s unlucky,” Arenado mentioned. “I feel if we have been profitable, I in all probability wouldn’t be frightened about it a lot. However the truth that we’re shedding, it feels rather a lot worse as a result of I’m not taking part in my half. That comes with the territory, I suppose. I anticipate to repair it. I’m working laborious on it, and hopefully right this moment is an effective day.”

On the timing word, the slugger’s efficiency towards four-seam fastballs notably stands out and in addition factors again to the SLG-xSLG hole:

Nolan Arenado vs 4-Seam Fastballs

All 4-Seam % PA AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA Whiff%
2019 37.2% 213 .309 .247 .574 .459 .388 .327 16.3%
2020 38.4% 81 .303 .259 .553 .449 .370 .315 9.7%
2021 32.1% 201 .223 .229 .457 .429 .304 .303 14.0%
2022 28.7% 170 .311 .243 .583 .431 .412 .333 13.3%
2023 26.9% 39 .176 .224 .382 .400 .277 .304 20.7%
2019 13.9% 93 .269 .230 .355 .405 .362 .313 13.8%
2020 14.00% 26 .320 .306 .346 .536 .396 .369 16.7%
2021 10.9% 72 .297 .279 .347 .430 .377 .337 16.5%
2022 10.7% 69 .350 .255 .420 .401 .404 .335 19.6%
2023 9.1% 11 .182 .213 .182 .426 .299 .268 14.7%

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Arenado’s slugging share towards all four-seamers has fallen off by 201 factors relative to final yr, but his xSLG towards them is down solely 31 factors. His basic performances towards the pitch have assorted, typically out of step with the remainder of his strains (word the sturdy 2020 in an in any other case weak yr, adopted by a drop-off in what was in any other case a a lot stronger marketing campaign). A peek at his performances towards heaters 95 mph or larger reveals extra constant work from 2019 to ’22, with a drop this season that will simply owe to pattern dimension. He’s truly whiffing much less towards these pitches, and his xSLG on them is definitely larger, all of which brings to thoughts Ben Clemens’ Abreu-flavored investigation into year-to-year correlations (or the shortage of them) once we get this granular. Brief model: whiff charges on four-seamers of 95 mph or extra correlate fairly properly from yr to yr, however run values — which summarize the standard of contact in addition to the swings-and-misses — don’t.

All of which is to say that I don’t suppose that is the start of the top for Arenado. He’s in a nasty droop that will owe one thing to the self-induced strain of not producing as his group hits the skids, however that’s to not recommend he received’t get out of it. I’ll exit on a limb and recommend that fixing his swing remains to be in all probability simpler to do than remaking a lackluster rotation that’s scapegoating the brand new catcher.