First Half Batting Report | The Process Report

First Half Batting Report

With the close of the first half we finally have a good time to take an honest retrospective look at how the Rays have fared. I will be heavily leaning upon my research into park-adjusted expected production on balls in play that also folds in strikeouts and walks (plus hit by pitch). Due to the massive amounts of data league-wide this analysis will focus solely upon the American League East, as it is of utmost interest to any and all Rays fans. As such, baseline xwOBA* will be based upon the weighted average of this particular subset of the total population of players. To see the pitcher version of this report click here. Lot’s to cover so let’s dig in:

Much like in the previous piece looking at pitchers you can see how each team stacks up in the things that we care about. The Rays have the second highest expected results on balls in play trailing only the Orioles. Unfortunately, their prodigious number of strikeouts has limited the number of balls in play so the Rays have fewer opportunities to inflict punishment on a ball. They walk well enough, but the strikeouts have really throttled the offense. Encouragingly, the team has shed strikeout prone batters like Derek Norris, and Rickie Weeks Jr. and so on who were dragging the early season figures down. It’s getting better, but the really encouraging thing is that the actual wOBA* accrued is even higher than their strong xwOBA*, and highest in the division by a good clip.

Bringing the walks and strikeouts in with twOBA* sinks the Rays to the bottom where they narrowly trail the Boston Red Sox. The spreads aren’t tremendous here, and is a testament to how good this division is. We see this when looking at xwRAA which pairs twOBA* with volume to give an overall idea of runs created compared to average. The difference between top and bottom is 26 runs, but even the Yankees are a bit of an outlier. You’ll see below why that is the case. Lastly, we can see the Rays dramatic difference between actual and expected wOBA when we plug the awOBA* version of twOBA* to create awRAA. While the Rays should have been expected to have the worst offense of these two teams they’re actually pacing more like the second best team. Perhaps this will be an area that regresses going forward.

Looking at the top half of the batters in the division you can immediately see why the Yankees stand out as such an outlier. Aaron Judge is a freak that is earning the ridiculous numbers he has posted over the first half. The Rays best batter also places very highly within the division as Logan Morrison trails only the freak and Justin Smoak. It’s pretty interesting to see both Morrison and Smoak break out in the same year after being well into their post-hype careers.

The very worst hitters, on the other hand, don’t have anyone as far from the norm as Judge, but there are plenty of players that are actively hurting their team at the plate. The Rays representative is Kevin Kiermaier, but he’s far from alone amongst several other players known more for their glove than their ability at the plate.

The remainder of this analysis will focus solely on the Rays. The above is a good reference sheet for how each player arrives at the final figures. I always like to compare actual to expected wOBA* to get a good feel for which players appear to be far above or below where they should be.

As in the last piece I will be showing trend lines for various things that I have calculated. Look to the bottom left of each chart to see the sample size used for these rolling average. I will work down from the team list above, and try to comment on as many players as possible. Some require little explanation.

Morrison has seen both his exit velocity and launch angle steadily rise over the early part of the season before stabilizing at a very good place.

Even early on he was still productive, and even his lulls have shown an above average batter. The walks help a ton, as he’s striking out enough that when the flyballs don’t fall in or out he’s prone to the low stretch.

I think these are a fun reference more than anything, and will be shown without commentary. Each actual outcome has been mapped over the league average wOBA* heatmap. This should give a good idea for cheap homers, but also hard hit balls that found gloves.

Steven Souza Jr. has shown everything the team could have hoped for when they made a sizeable investment in the lad. He has been the second most productive player on the club through this lens and you can see why. He scalds the ball other than an early season dip possibly related to getting hit on the hand. Outside of that you see hard velocities. The angle isn’t quite high enough to consistently show big flies, but at that velocity he’ll see a bunch fall in for hits.

Coincidentally enough, Souza’s worst stretch of the year came at the same time he saw his exit velocity sapped. His early actual performance far exceeded expectations, which led me to be hesitant to buy-in early, but he has been in line and much better over the second quarter of the season. Similar to Morrison it is nice to see that his nadir still leaves him approximating a league average batter. While the strikeouts are odious they come with very real production.

For six glorious weeks Rays fans and management got to watch the prototypical Rays unicorn. Left-handed bat? Check. Ability to play above average in a corner and credible in center? Check. Mash the shit out of baseballs even if it means a bunch of strikeouts? Check!! I’ll miss Colby and hope he comes back at some point, but even if not we’ll always have this stretch.

The mostly very good exit velocities and dinger sweet spot launch angles correlate with some very strong production. The trough in the middle was considerable, but the bookends more than make up for it.

The Buffalo has only been playing for a short time, but you can see something to be encouraged by. Long known as a guy that will pull the hell out of a ground ball, something that would be a terrible outcome with his sloth-like speed, he is elevating the ball much more. Hitting the ball up is a great thing for a slow guy that comes with very real power. The exit velocities have crept up after some initial re-acclimation, and if they continue to do so it will bode well for the Rays best hitting catcher of all time.

Getting above average production from your catcher is another one of the Rays unicorns they have only dreamt of previously. Wilson has shown that at nearly every step. This isn’t simply theoretical, either, as his actual production tracks very tightly.

Finally we get to the stalwart. Old reliable showed strong exit velocities during the middle of the first half, but rather pedestrian outside of that stretch. Unfortunately, some of his hotter stretches saw his lowest launch angles leading to base hits, but not necessarily the power that Evan needs to provide to the club.

Evan has shown stretches of being a solid contributor, but his bad spells have been common, sustained, and absolutely of no help to the club. That’s why he’s closer to an average hitter than you’ve been likely to see from the best player in franchise history.

The former number one overall pick Tim Beckham came out of the gates like a man possessed. His exit velocities rivaled the league elites, and he was doing it with elevated angles leading to hard flyballs and liners. I recently wrote about him wearing down over the course of his first attempt at playing everyday shortstop. Something that hasn’t been talked about enough. He wasn’t supposed to be the guy, and maybe he isn’t ready, but he sure has been a bright spot for much of the season.

The early production is plainly evident. He has mostly been around an average bat for much of the season, though a recent over-performance has him looking even rosier. A league average bat paired with an average glove at short is a wonderful player. My hope is that he’ll start at short with Hechavarria around half the time, while getting all the lefties at second.

Big Swingin’ Dickerson has been incredible for the Rays all season, though he hit the ball the hardest for only a brief stretch in the middle of the first half. You see mostly ideal angles off the bat in that homer happy sweet spot around twenty to thirty degrees. While the actual production has been incredible, these relatively paltry velocities portend something more sinister to come.

Corey is such a rare player for being able to have success on balls most guys don’t do much with. This leads to plenty of hits falling in, that for the average player, might be easily gloved. Teams are forced to play him straight up as he is an all fields hitter. Generally that comes with power, but that has been mostly lacking since his very strong peak. It’s all good when the hits are falling in even if they only result in a single, but I’m a sucker for the pop.

A core injury that eventually put him on the shelf seems to have played a role in Brad Miller’s less than stellar start. He has hit the ball hard enough all year, but coming off a thirty homer season leaves the masses thirsty. Hitting with such low angles isn’t going to slake that thirst. I don’t know if he’s a better or worse hitter at lower angles, but those hoping to see him replicate or even build off of last year should feel severely disappointed.

Even with the lower angle and all the gosh darn strikeouts he has still looked something like a league average hitter for much of the season. All the walks early made up for lesser contact, but that has traded off as he has mostly underperformed even his modest worse than league average expectations.

Featherston was here and he’ll probably go sooner than later. You can see what the team likes in him. He hits the ball hard and at high enough angles to see the ball leave the yard. On a lesser team he might be a breakout candidate, but the Rays just do not have the opportunity for him here.

Mostly due to his strikeout and walk numbers being far less than ideal. Hitting the ball hard is good, but guys like Richie Shaffer hit the ball hard, too. That doesn’t make them a big leaguer.

Shane Peterson is a lot like Taylor Featherston, but with the actual chance to showcase his talents. These super small samples are highly prone to volatility, but you can see that he generally puts the ball in the air, and often hard.

With that increased spotlight he has mostly made good on the team’s confidence. You can see a steadily improving player of late even if the actual results aren’t quite matching up. Peterson is a fine platoon outfielder who plays well enough defense that you shouldn’t shy from using him. It will be interesting to see if the team keeps him or Mallex Smith when Kiermaier comes back.

The new version of Jose Molina actually brings some nice things to see at the dish. While he might not have Molina’s all-time great glove, he is quite good back there, especially at controlling the running game. The bat shows high angles, which require enough power to be worthwhile, and mostly do from the middle of the first half and on. It looks like he was starting to wear down a little towards the end of the half. Even a backup catcher must love getting a breather at the All Star break.

Surprisingly, his recent trend of slower and lower is leading to better expected production, but it’s awful hard not to like what he was doing earlier when he was able to lower his angle just enough while still mashing the ball. This looks like a guy that isn’t going to be a starter, but looks like the ideal backup. Jerry Dipoto fired yet?

As we continue through the guys that have been progressively worse, though in small enough samples to not actively hurt the team we get to, perhaps, the easiest guy to improve upon for the team going forward. All season the Rays have hungered for a right-handed hitting guy that just needs to hit. They have room at designated hitter or even occasionally first base, but they just haven’t gotten anything out of this critical role. Plouffe shows high arc to his balls in play, and a recent surge in exit velocity that should pair nicely, but it’s been a long climb getting to that point.

Early overperformance left him looking relatively shiny, but even at his best he looked more like an average or worse hitter. I don’t think Trevor Plouffe is the answer to the hole in this role.

Watching Michael Martinez play made me nearly as irrationally angry as Alexei Ramirez last season.

Same.

When Adeiny Hechavarria came off the disabled list I didn’t expect much from the bat. The glove has astounded me, however, and initially he showed some things to be encouraged about. He hit the ball reasonably hard, and at low angles that should increase his chances of falling for hits. Since that initial splash he has fallen, literally, off the map.

His production speaks to the chart above with a very strong, yet unsustainable start. More likely, he is somewhere in between going forward. His glove gives them the option to start him everyday, but I think with the real downside of the bat the team should be prioritizing his playing time against all lefties and some of the more flyball-prone starters.

Derek Norris was tasked with the lion’s share of the catching duty early on, and was someone that I advocated for during his whirlwind winter. The things that I liked were high launch angles from the catcher position, which he provided. He also hit the ball consistently pretty hard while with the Rays.

Unfortunately, he also struck out quite often, and when we fold that stuff in you can see that he was a productive hitter for the most part. He had an exceptional peak, but it was neither in line with what came nor with that which was to come. Declining production after seeing so much time was probably to be expected, but having the same xwRC+ as Jesus Sucre while being a much worse glove meant Norris got rolled out of the way. I’m sure the team would have liked to have put him on the disabled list as an effort to carry these two in addition to Wilson Ramos, but it takes two to tango.

Watching frogs in a pond can be a wonderful waste of time. They go minutes without being seen underwater before re-surfacing and repeating the dance. So it goes with Peter Bourjos. He pops his head up every now and then with either the bat or the glove before being heard from again for a while. It helps that he’s relatively consistent so that the team can throw him out there to get about what they expect. Low angles and below average velocities are the norm, but he doesn’t do anything that hurts the team, and just enough to keep them interested. He is the ideal bench player on a good team.

It helps that anecdotal memory is stronger than what we should have expected from him. At his best he is around a league average bat, but when the tide rolls back out he’s often left high and dry. Again, for the role, he’s really useful, but he’s another guy that you wouldn’t want to see pressed into everyday duty.

I’ve harped on the team’s inability to staff the right-handed, all bat profile that looked like Rickie Weeks Jr. was doing a capable job of filling early on. Then his exit velocities fell off so that all those low liners ended up dying on the dirt rather than cutting through for a hit.

Factor in the massive strikeout issue and you can see why early strong performance gave way to a long term stint on the disabled list. Getting hit by a pitch earlier in the year seemed to noticeably have an effect. Hope has to remain that he can come back when rosters expand in September to provide a flash or two of what he can still do.

Due to Mallex having so many bunts it tends to mess with both his trajectory and exit. As such, I wouldn’t put a ton of stock into this aspect of the analysis.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t look at his results and expectations. He as universally overachieved, though the fastest players, more often than not, are able to sustain this sort of thing due to infielders playing more shallow, and by being able to beat out anything that isn’t handled flawlessly. Still, the hot start for Mallex showed a guy that is capable of being something like a league average hitter. The interim showed that less so, but everyday play is going to be difficult for him with his inability to do anything against lefties. Once he can return to more of a platoon role I think he’s going to look like the solid contributor that he is.

I’ve mentioned Tim Beckham wilting under the pressure of everyday play, and I think that the same can be said for Daniel Robertson as another guy that isn’t quite there yet. The glove was beautiful to watch, and he is a smart player that seems like the kind that always overachieves, but there can be no doubt that he was hitting the ball lower and lower as the season wore on. Perhaps this is a product of an increasingly worse neck issue, but the encouraging thing should be that even with the lower angles he was gradually hitting the ball harder.

Robertson’s ability to spray the ball around might be a cause for his near constant overperformance, but even then he was mostly a below average bat in reality. I think he’s going to eventually be a solid everyday player, but as a just turned 23 year old it’s a little early to expect him to be fully polished.

Similar to Hechavarria, Kevin Kiermaier’s glove is so good that it is nigh impossible to take him off the field. Thing is, Kiermaier also brings something of a decent bat, usually. The exit velocities left a good bit to be desired, but they were trekking continuously upward prior to his hip fracture. The exit velocities are more in the groundball and line drive range, which is fine when he’s not just rolling over to second base as he is wont to do.

Part of the reason that Kiermaier shows as the worst batter on the team, and one of the worst in the division, is that he has such volume as a true everyday guy. As bad as his expectations look you can still see a nearly league average bat at his best. The troughs are considerable, but a cost of doing business with a player like this. The encouraging thing is that, like his other fleet-footed peers, he is outperforming those low expectations across the board. The guy that he was looking like prior to the injury would be one of the best players in the league if he were able to keep up that level of actual performance all year. There is an above average hitter in there somewhere that would leave him as one of the best players in the game. I just hope we get to see it again after such a devastating injury to the engine that drives him.

The Rays mostly over-performed expectations in the first half, but there may be some underlying logic to how that is sustainable. They won’t have the services of Colby Rasmus in the second half, but may be able to welcome some new additions from either the farm or outside of the organization. They will need it. The Rays bats will need to maintain the discrepancy shown so far in order to keep pace in this ridiculous division. That may or may not be feasible, but adding some more ingredients can’t help but make this a better soup. For that reason it leaves this author highly discouraged that the team didn’t do what it took to get J.D. Martinez to fill the most glaring hole on the team.

 



One Comment

  1. rb3 wrote:

    Great, thorough, and very generous sharing here (and on the pitching front).

    I found back in the ’70s that it was a very bad idea to get between the Freak and the Smoak.

    Ramos as catcher: any thoughts yet/forthcoming in the weeks ahead? I don’t live in FL, so I don’t get to see the Rays regularly, but his framing looked a bit ham-handed at times during the Rangers series. And he doesn’t seem to get down to block the stuff in the dirt, which can be a bit scary in a close game. But those are just anecdotal impressions. Maybe he’s not 100% quite yet.

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