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One Big Question: Can Christian Arroyo consistently get on base?

If he’s going to play an everyday role, he’ll need to.

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Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Four Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously the lockout may change the timing on the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Christian Arroyo.

The Question: Can Christian Arroyo get on base more consistently?

Speaking of “big questions,” whenever the lockout ends one of the most interesting storylines around the Red Sox will be whether or not they go out and grab a starting-quality infielder to play second base. They are in something of a weird place in the position (the same place they’ve been basically since Dustin Pedroia stopped playing everyday), where they can probably get by with what they have plus some bench help, but it also shouldn’t be that hard to find an upgrade. In the early part of the offseason and in the lockout, it has seemed as though there’s much more smoke around the team adding to the outfield than the infield, though that’s certainly not a sign of anything definitive.

If Boston ultimately decides to stand pat at the keystone position, that is in essence giving a vote of confidence to Christian Arroyo to be something resembling an everyday player. As of now, it’s an open question as to whether or not he can handle that role. Personally, I’m very confident that he is at least a good bench player for a contending roster, but I’m open to the possibility he can be more than that. Last year helps make that argument, as Arroyo finished 2021 hitting .262/.324/.445 for a 106 wRC+, albeit over just 181 plate appearances.

And therein lies part of the problem with projecting Arroyo for a full-time role. He’s never really done it. Some of that is that his teams haven’t given him that role as he’s never put up consistent runs justifying that change. He’s also had more than his fair share of injury issues over his career, including four separate trips to the injured list last year alone. Injury history has to be taken into account from the team’s side for these discussions, but for our purposes I don’t feel nearly qualified enough to talk about whether or not Arroyo can hold up physically in an everyday role.

So instead, I want to focus on the true talent of the player and determine if Arroyo can get by with his performance in an everyday role. Though he is nominally a middle infielder at this point, he is not your stereotypical middle infielder trying to hang on for an outsized role. Rather than being speed and contact oriented, Arroyo keeps his head about water at the plate largely because he hits the ball well. We’re not talking about Rafael Devers quality of contact, granted, but since coming to the Red Sox Arroyo has hit the ball hard at a higher rate than league-average.

But while his quality of contact has been trending in the right direction since coming to Boston, I’m more curious if he’ll be able to get on base at the kind of clip you want from a starting second baseman. Arroyo has solid pop that leads to decent power and the ability to turn batted balls into hits, but neither of those traits are elite. Projections have him carrying a batting average on balls in play a bit above .300, which is a nice start in building a solid OBP but not the last step by a long shot.

Last year, in fairness, Arroyo finished the season with the aforementioned .324 OBP, which in today’s era is not all that bad, especially if you put up above-average power numbers in concert. However, that’s a little deceiving. Arroyo saw his walk rate fall for a third straight year, this time dipping all the way down to 4.4 percent. He was instead able to keep his OBP afloat thanks to being hit by a pitch a whopping seven times. Despite the relative lack of playing time, that came in tied for the third highest HBP total on the Red Sox.

Some players legitimately do get hit by pitches a lot and that can be a legitimate boost to OBP, but Arroyo had been hit by just two pitches in his career prior to last season, so I’m not ready to count on that moving forward. Instead, I’d like to see him get on base a bit more the old fashioned way by taking ball four. Arroyo has become a very aggressive hitter with the Red Sox, regularly chasing pitches out of the zone at a rate higher than league-average. Last season, for example, his chase rate (per Baseball Savant) was 38 percent compared to a league-average rate of 28 percent. And while he makes contact on those pitches at something around a league-average rate, that’s not quite enough to make up for the bad swings and helping out the pitcher.

The good news is that there is reason for optimism that Arroyo can turn it around, including the fact that we are still dealing with small sample sizes. For his career he’s walked 6.4 percent of the time, and while we’d still like that to be higher it’s more workable than a sub-five percent rate like 2021. And he clearly has an understanding of the strike zone, at least looking horizontally across the plate. If you look below at his swing plot from Brooks Baseball over his career, you’ll see the biggest issues out of the zone are above and below the middle portion of the plate. If you’re going to chase often, you could do worse than this.

If the Red Sox wanted to, they could find an upgrade at second base either on the free agent market (Trevor Story, for one) or the trade market. But given the realities of how major-league teams are operated, they can only upgrade so many spots before tapping out their self-imposed budget. It’s reasonable to concentrate those resources elsewhere (i.e. the outfield and bullpen) and let Arroyo try and run with the second base job. He hits the ball well and plays solid defense, but if he’s really going to take this job and run with it he’s going to need to find that happy balance of attacking pitches and barreling them along with taking bad pitches and not doing the pitchers’ job for them.