Valuing 2015 Hitter Performance
Somewhat recently I published the findings of my deep dive into rating pitchers using walks, strikeouts, and ball in play data. The first two parts are something you’re pretty familiar with, but the ball in play stuff should be new for just about everybody. I continued this research by looking at all hitters that received at least 300 plate appearances in 2015. You can review the methodology at the link above as everything is the same with one exception. The weights for the “Overall” percentile rank are now 30% for CTL (BB+HBP/PA), 20% for K (K/PA), and 40% for BIP (Ball in Play). The last 10% goes towards plate appearances to give some favor to guys that do this dang thing every dang day. One other small change is that I’m including the xBIP for batters. This measure applies the league average run values for each trajectory and direction the the batters number of instances of each. You can think of this as where a league average batter would rank with that specific batter’s batted ball profile.
TL;DR is that these are the percentile ranks of regressed run values for each trajectory and direction that a batter can hit a ball.
The first fifty batters shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. If these guys have a weakness they more than make up for it in other areas. Somewhat surprisingly, Anthony Rizzo came out on top with his CTL rating boosted by all those HBP that he earns by standing on top of the plate. He’s able to walk (and get hit) without having a dreadful strikeout rate, and he hits the ball hard, as well. Bryce Harper’s strikeouts are a minor annoyance, but he makes up for it by being so very good at walking and hitting. The strikeout may be a weakness for some of these guys, but it’s hard to complain because they’re all so productive. You will also see some guys like Ian Kinsler or Mookie Betts or Nolan Arenado who avoid the strikeout, but mostly because they don’t walk much either. You really need to be able to hit to make that profile work, and each of those guys did.
Moving on to the next group we start to see very good hitters that were hurt by their plate appearance totals or have some other downside to their game. Those that don’t have a weakness also start to lack strengths at this level. Take face of the franchise Evan Longoria, for instance. He played a ton, and while he wasn’t especially weak in any area he also failed to clear the 60th percentile for each of this outcomes. Walking and striking out around league average is fine if you can thump, but it becomes more ordinary when your BIP also hovers around the league average. The other side of the coin is someone like Steven Souza who has a miserable strikeout rate, but brings borderline elite walk and ball in play profiles.
We’re starting to see more red as we move into the 100 – 150 group. These guys start to show bigger weaknesses, but still do enough well to be around the middle of the pack. New Rays shortstop Brad Miller shows up here. You can see that he rates favorably when it comes to walks, but that does come at the expense of a below average strikeout rate. His ball in play results leave a bit to be desired, but his profile is probably pretty sound as his xBIP is quite a bit higher. I would infer that either a) he suffered some poor luck or b) he doesn’t strike the ball with the authority that even a league average batter does. Stay tuned on that one.
As we move away from the middle and towards the bottom we don’t see many guys with solid BIP results. Many of these guys do a good job of avoiding getting rung up, but it comes at the expense of their walk totals. I see a ton of up the middle guys (C, 2B, SS, CF) here and it should be noted that there are no positional adjustments at play throughout these rankings. Guys that are slightly below average hitters, but good defenders at important positions can still be very good players.
The rest of these guys are not what you would consider good hitters, for the most part, but you do see guys like Adam Jones and Robinson Cano land in this area. The lack of walks really hurts these guys when they’re not hitting the ball hard or in favorable directions. One area these guys get eaten alive is on grounders. When they don’t square a ball up they become very easy outs.
That’s an entirely too brief look at this stuff, but we need to move on. Please let me know if there is anyone you would like me to take a deeper look at, especially using this next tool that I’ve created. In the meantime, let’s take a look at how the 2016 Rays look from the perspective of their batted ball profile.
The right-hand side of the table shows the league averages for each category. The %x column shows an index of that player’s percent of balls at that trajectory and/or direction. For instance, the league average batter had around 5% of their balls in play end up as infield fly balls. We see that Souza was around 70% higher than that amount and none of his fell in for a hit, which would be an uncommon occurrence since the league as a whole only had a .023/.029 BA/SLG on contact. Moving down we can see that he’s a big time pull hitter with good results when he does so. For the year he put up a .337/.572 BACON/SLGCON and he does this by hitting the ball really freaking hard. Compare his total line to what the average batter would look like with his spray pattern and you see that he grossly outperformed the expectation. Perhaps this is an area where we should expect regression, especially if he trades power in order to make more contact or to be less selective, but changing nothing he’s about as good as it gets for a pull hitter.
Kiermaier’s totals are much closer to expectation with both being tamped down by being such a ground-ball heavy hitter. This is probably a good thing as his fly balls show little authority and hitting the ball on a line or on the ground allows him to use his greatest asset, his legs. It would be nice to see him cut down on the pop ups. Keeping everything else the same, but turning those automatic outs into, literally, anything else can only help his numbers improve.
Brandon Guyer was a little bit of a surprise in the overall rankings as he combined a good ability to steal first with relatively few strikeouts. A flyball hitter he outstrips the league when getting elevation, but his grounders are mostly of the pull variety, which major league defenders eat for breakfast. Like the two before him, Guyer also hits a ton of flyballs on the infield. As someone that was pretty close to his expected overall line I would expect him to be pretty similar going forward, but he has the chance to raise his game another notch if he can avoid the pop up.
Holy cow another one! Pearce is one of the many imports of this offseason and he makes me think the Rays have a type. He’s another guy with a propensity for the pop up, but in his case it’s just a cost of doing business as the flyball is his game. He’ll pull a ton of stuff on the ground and on a line, but shows decent ability to spray to the outfield. That’s good and bad. Pull fly balls are really good, but when they go to the other fields they’re mostly pretty easy outs. I think Pearce is in line for some BABIP regression this year, and that will proportionally raise his SLGCON.
LoMo is a little closer to the norm on his pop ups, but you can see why he has always been bested by the luck dragons. As a fly ball hitter you’re going to expect a lower than normal batting average and when you add in a ton of pulled grounders you should expect more of the same. Luckily he does have a little spray to his game on the infield and if he hits a liner it’s probably to the pull side. That’s good, but hitting 19% fewer liners than his peers means he’s always going to be a low BABIP guy. I think he performs better this year, probably closer to his TotalBIP*, but I wouldn’t count on any miracles. Being platooned properly could be a help.
The Rays traded for Brad Miller because he gives them some diversity. The left-handed bat is nice, but so far we have seen a bunch of guys that really like to pull the ball. That’s not Miller’s game. He likes to spray oppo and up the middle with all of his trajectories. He skews to the grounder, but his outfield flyball rates are pretty close to the average. Hitting more liners would be great, but so would a taco and beer vending machine in my office. It’s not likely to happen. He basically hit his expected line so I would be comfortable expecting more of the same going forward. He’s going to keep defenses honest and poke it through holes when they aren’t.
Folks like to talk about Longo having a down year, but from a batted ball standpoint he did some things that are easy to like. He was very flyball-heavy, and while the pull-side stuff is really nice to see you can see where the other flies got him. The pulled liners are very nice to see and overall each of his totals for each trajectory outpaces the league. If he can get back to pulling those flyballs instead of spraying them all over then I think you’ll see a return of his power. If he’s hitting them all over because he can’t get out in front of a good fastball then that’s a different story. He was a bit fortunate last year when comparing his TotalBIP lines, but with his established ball-striking ability I wouldn’t expect a ton of regression. If he can figure out how to turn all those oppo fly balls into oppo liners or pull fly balls then you’re talking about a guy we all fondly remember.
James Loney is coming off a year he would love to forget about. Or maybe that’s just me. The nice thing is that his approach was as good as ever. He hit a ton of liners with a lot of them going opposite field and up the middle. You’re not going to generate as much power as to the pull-side, but these do go for hits very often, and they did for him last year. His problem was the abject failure that was his fly ball profile. Perhaps that was related to his injury issues, but even if not it’s not hard to see him showing very strong, positive regression in what he does with his fly balls this year. He ran like Molina last year so I have no idea if he turns the extra expected hits into extra base hits, but I would expect more of them to fall in. If they don’t then I don’t see how the team can keep running him out there.
Everyone is expecting Logan Forsythe to fall off a cliff this year, but I’m not sure that will be the case. We saw earlier that he combines very good walk rates with better than average strikeout rates. He also has some success when he pulls his liners, which is the direction he is most apt to take his screamers. He avoids the ground balls, but showed some success when he did hit them. If he’s going to regress anywhere it’s most likely coming from worse results on his pulled grounders. He outperformed the league pretty handily there, and while his flyballs aren’t pulled as often as they’re sprayed he showed very favorable numbers when he was able to yoke the ball. I’d expect something between his TotalBIP lines, which would make him something like a league average batter on balls in play. That’s fine if he can continue to put forth similar walk and strikeout rates.
Rivera hits a ton of flies, and not really of the good variety. He’ll probably be a little better this year, if only because it’s nearly impossible to be worse, but I don’t have any idea where that improvement comes from. He was one of the worst hitters in the league last year and that was with pretty good results on his liners. Hitting more of those would be a good start.
Big Swingin’ Dickerson didn’t reach 300 PA, but when I pleaded with the Rays to go get this guy I decided to pull his numbers anyway. I remarked in that piece that I absolutely adore his ability to hit line drives. Especially noteworthy are his ability to spray liners opposite field and up the middle. He does a good job avoiding the grounder and has a fly ball rate that is close to league average. The interesting thing is that so many of those fly balls are to the pull-side where he exhibits incredible power averaging nearly a double for every ball in play! He can’t bring the park with him, but if he doesn’t change anything else it’s a wonderful profile that pairs all fields spray ability with very real power.