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Baseball

I’ve Given Up Trying to Understand Adolis Garcia

And maybe it's better that way.
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Adolis Garcia, seen here celebrating one of his many, many big moments. David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The key to enjoying Adolis Garcia is admitting you do not understand Adolis Garcia. And I don’t. Just last week, I implored our Jamey Newberg to explain how, exactly, this is still happening—how the 29-year-old I once described as playing baseball like it’s a Slayer track remains so impactful when so much about his game suggests he shouldn’t be.

Because last fall, I thought I had El Bombi figured out. The dirty secret about his hyper-enjoyable 2021 All-Star campaign was that only a single month of it was terribly special. In May, he smacked 11 home runs (more than any other hitter that month), swiped five bags (two shy of the MLB monthly lead), and generally performed better than all but two position players in baseball. The rest of the season, he hit .227 with a .272 OBP and struck out in more than 32 percent of his at-bats. This was a Scorsese movie stretched out in 30 days, a vagabond from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the dregs of the Cardinals’ farm system rocketing to one of the best players in baseball before falling off just as dramatically. Come season’s end, he profiled as something like a fourth outfielder, an underwhelming outcome for a supposed All-Star but also one that surpassed whatever reasonable expectations the team could have had in spring training.

But when a rebuilding club doesn’t have many outfielders to begin with, supposed fourth outfielders who play a capable center field tend to find their way onto the field, which is how Garcia wound up reprising his everyday role once the 2022 season began. Fast forward three months and El Bombi remains in full effect, bashing big bombs and busting out bigger bat flips. On a team with a $500 million middle infield, an outfielder making a relative pittance is Texas’ moment maker, the Ranger whose manager aptly describes him as “just [having] a knack for being the guy.”

And yet, not much has changed. His .243 batting average is identical to last year’s full-season mark, with the .290 OBP a mere four ticks better. The walk rate is up half a percentage point, while the strikeout rate is one swoon away from surging back to the dreaded 30 percent marker. His barrel rate, hard-hit percentage, swing rate, and contact rates are all within a percentage point of his 2021 marks.

Hence my plea to Jamey to somehow, some way, help me make sense of it all. His assessment wasn’t too far from mine:

Let’s be honest: as fun as he is to watch, as much power as he injects into all phases of his game, and as important as he is to the team energy by all accounts, Garcia’s OPS+ last year was 100, which is league average. He’s at 98 this year. He’s not a star, at least in the hitting metrics.

That was prior to Garcia’s latest mini tear, in which El Bombi notched nine hits in his next 20 plate appearances to go with a pair of homers and two game-shifting moments—a three-run bomb Saturday and a 12th-inning insurance run Sunday—in the White Sox series. He yanked that OPS+ up 16 points along the way. Then, for good measure, he tacked on another highlight play Monday night, robbing Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez of a homer, before knocking in another clutch run in the seventh inning.

This changes nothing in the bigger picture. Four games are a small sample, and bit by bit, we get a little more clarity on just how dependent Garcia is on them. He is baseball’s Bitcoin, the stock perpetually bouncing and fluctuating depending on the week. It’s how he dominated the sport for a full month last year before dissolving into mediocrity. It’s why his monthly walk rate has yo-yoed from 8 percent in March/April down to 1.9 in May and back up to 9.3 in June. And it underscores the folly in trying to predict who Adolis Garcia is other than a doer of big things, no matter how sketchy the road map toward getting there happens to be.

So, you know what? I give up. I am washing my hands of parsing Garcia’s process, of forecasting his surges and wondering why he can seem feeble between them. Which is a more fun way to go about it, anyhow. After all, no coach would teach the flying squirrel slide that won yesterday’s game, nor would they encourage his eccentricities in the outfield. This being baseball, plenty of them would dissuade a boisterous Cuban from expressing so much joy during games, too.

And that means something in a league so solved that entire books get written about the deleterious effects on the game itself. Not everything in sports should be explainable, because where else would the magic come from? Garcia won’t ever become a sorcerer on par with baseball’s very best, but he is some degree of one, and his greatest trick is possessing enough outlandish tools to convince us any result is possible when he’s involved in the action. In a season and a half of regular plate appearances, he’s delivered the very best ones far more than data and conventional wisdom alike tell us to expect, too. The unpredictability demands our attention—during every at-bat, every step on the basepaths, every route in the outfield. Because plenty of times, he’ll make the obvious outcome disappear.

It’s a hell of a trick. Just don’t ask me to explain it to you.  

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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