After Gabriel Arias got the starting nod in right field on May 7 — his first action of the season in the outfield — Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona made clear in his postgame press conference that he was making an intentional effort to get Arias more playing time.
We need to get Arias some at-bats. He’s too important to our future, and he hasn’t swung the bat great, but we’ve got to find a way to get him some at-bats. So, we’ll work him into that mix in right field too, along with when he plays the infield, just to kind of get him more at-bats.
That quote drew a fair amount of ire from those skeptical of Arias’s bat, and you can’t exactly fault them considering his offensive production (or lack thereof) at the time.
Up to that point, he had struggled at the plate this season, slashing .171/.261/.268 with 50 wRC+ through 46 plate appearances. Arias didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A, either. In his stint with Columbus last year, he posted a .240/.310/.406 and 89 wRC+.
But since Francona publicly pushed in his chips on Arias, that bet has paid off.
Through 68 plate appearances since May 7, Arias has been the second-most productive player on the Guardians roster (130 wRC+). He is one of only three Guardians to hit three or more home runs during that stretch. His slash line (.254/.353/.475) isn’t going to earn him any All-Star Game votes, but only Josh Naylor has a better slugging percentage. Arias’s 13.2% walk percentage since May 7 is also the best on the team, edging out Josh Bell (12.2%).
He has been all over the field, seeing time in right field and at first base, third base, and shortstop. That versatility more than likely factors into his value in the eyes of the organization.
The catch is in Arias’s splits. He is having much more success this season against right-handed pitching (.293/.388/.534, 156 wRC+) than against left-handed pitching (.119/.213/.190, 15 wRC+).
Interestingly, Francona has not shied away from pitting Arias against southpaws. Cleveland has faced eight left-handed starting pitchers since May 7, and Arias has been in the starting lineup for all but one of them. Predictably, he has not fared well, going 3-for-25 in those seven games.
So a platoon could be in Arias’s future. In fact, a potential platoon at shortstop is staring the Guardians in the face, with how well Amed Rosario hits against left-handed pitching. But for whatever reason, Francona can’t bring himself to reduce Rosario’s role as an everyday player.
But the headline here is that the organization has made a clear commitment to getting Arias more at-bats and that commitment has only begun to bear fruit.