What can’t Luis Arraez do on a baseball field? The man can play first base, second base, third base and even some corner outfield as needed by his team, and wherever they insert him in the lineup, he just flat-out hits.
Entering Wednesday, Arraez was still the qualified MLB leader in batting average (.362) and on-base percentage (.442). In recognition of his efforts, he clocked in at fourth place among first basemen in the initial balloting for the All-Star Game, behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays), Ty France (Mariners) and Anthony Rizzo (Yankees).
Arraez’s teammates firmly feel he belongs in the Midsummer Classic, so we surveyed some of the pitchers who have seen him in action the most: his own teammates.
How on earth do you pitch to Arraez?
If you throw him a pitch in the strike zone, chances are it’s going to end up somewhere in the outfield grass, as evidenced by his massive advantage in the batting-average leaderboards (Arraez is on top, at .362, with Paul Goldschmidt in a distant second, at .339).
If you throw him something near the strike zone, he’s not going to swing and miss, as shown by his 8.3 percent whiff rate, by far the lowest among qualified hitters in the Majors. If you throw him something outside the zone, he’ll just take it (and shake his head as the pitch goes by). His 22.7 percent swing rate on pitches outside the zone ranks 10th-lowest among qualified AL hitters.
If you pitch around him, he’ll just take his walk. His .442 on-base percentage leads the Majors, and his 1.4 walk-to-strikeout ratio ranks third in baseball, trailing only José Ramírez and Steven Kwan.
With all that in mind, there was a clear consensus among the Twins pitchers I surveyed in the clubhouse when I asked them how they’d pitch to Arraez: Just throw up their hands and hope for the best.
Chris Archer: "I would just throw the ball right down the middle and let him either get out or get on and go to the next batter, because he's going to work a tough at-bat every time, so you're just going to waste six to eight pitches. So you're better off just letting him do what he's going to do early.”
Griffin Jax: "Throw a fastball down the middle, let him hit it to left, let him get on base. Just let him get a single and move on to the next guy.”
Dylan Bundy: "Three fastballs right down the middle. … Outer half, pump him with some heaters and let him get his base hit, go to first and move on."
Tyler Duffey: "Throw him a fastball down the middle and get it over with. You try and get him out, he's just going to take close pitches. He may occasionally swing and miss, but odds are he's just going to be a pest. Just throw him something that he's going to hit on the ground and hope that somebody's there."
Emilio Pagán: "He's going to hit it, right? So, there's no point in trying to get him to swing and miss. … I don't really know if there's a good way to go about getting him out consistently right now.
Those that have been around the Twins for some time know how Arraez’s game has continued to evolve to allow him to turn on some of those pitches more often and drive them for homers, as he did twice last homestand -- once for a grand slam off Shane Baz, and once for a leadoff blast off Gerrit Cole.
Jax: "Now, he's showing power damage, too. So you can't just bank on a soft single somewhere. He might put one over the fence. He can't be fun to face."
Bundy: "Keep it on the outer half, because he can pull a homer. Even left-center, he's hitting some balls pretty far."
Duffey: "This year, he's flashing some signs of turning on stuff, and if he's going to keep adding that layer to his game, that's a pretty tough guy to lead off a game with."
I also asked … is there anyone else in the modern game, which has become so power-oriented with less of an emphasis on contact, that requires that kind of game planning or attitude as a pitcher?
Duffey: "There's some. Nicky Lopez has his times when he's a pretty tough one to get to swing and miss. [Nick] Madrigal, I think, is one. Consistently, [Arraez] doing what he's done, he's done it since he got called up. It's just kind of been the same thing since he got here. It's something you can't teach."
Bundy: "David Fletcher. [Steven] Kwan. Guys that have good eyes. Pesky. Just good hitters. There's not many guys like that left in the league anymore. I've always said that if you put nine Luises in the lineup, the best pitchers in the game are going to have trouble getting out of the second, third inning."