2015 Positional Ball-In-Play Retrospective – 1B/DH

Football is behind us, and large trucks are on their way to Florida and Arizona, bearing loads of baseball-related cargo. To tide us over until spring-training games kick in next month, let’s take a position-by-position look back at the ball-in-play (BIP) profiles of 2015 semi-regulars and regulars to see if we can find any clues as to their projected performance moving forward. Today, we’ll take a look at first basemen and designated hitters.

First, some ground rules. To come up with an overall player population roughly equal to one player per team per position, the minimum number of batted balls with Statcast readings was set at 164. Players were listed at the position at which they played the most games. There is more than one player per team at some positions and less at others, like catcher and DH. Players are listed in descending OPS+ order. Without further ado, let’s kick it off with AL first basemen.

BIP Overview – AL First Basemen
Name Avg MPH FB/LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% CON K% BB% OPS+ Pull% Cent% Opp%
Cabrera 93.8 96.9 91.7 1.1% 31.6% 25.2% 42.1% 163 16.0% 15.1% 170 35.8% 30.7% 33.5%
Davis 92.2 97.1 86.4 1.7% 41.8% 24.7% 31.8% 213 31.0% 12.5% 146 56.0% 26.5% 17.6%
Teixeira 89.9 93.9 86.1 3.8% 38.5% 18.9% 38.8% 134 18.4% 12.8% 146 55.5% 28.9% 15.7%
Colabello 91.1 94.8 88.0 2.5% 24.4% 25.2% 47.9% 193 26.7% 6.1% 142 34.5% 39.1% 26.5%
Abreu 92.0 94.1 90.5 3.4% 28.7% 20.7% 47.3% 146 21.0% 5.8% 135 37.6% 35.9% 26.6%
Hosmer 90.6 94.4 88.6 2.5% 21.9% 23.4% 52.2% 119 16.2% 9.1% 122 36.8% 34.6% 28.7%
Pujols 92.0 93.5 90.8 4.1% 38.1% 15.9% 41.8% 90 10.9% 7.6% 118 45.8% 34.9% 19.3%
Moreland 92.1 96.6 87.9 3.8% 30.8% 19.8% 45.6% 134 21.7% 6.2% 116 44.8% 32.7% 22.5%
Cron 88.8 93.5 84.9 6.7% 30.4% 18.4% 44.5% 110 20.3% 4.2% 106 33.8% 38.8% 27.4%
Gonzalez 89.2 93.7 85.5 4.9% 28.1% 22.7% 44.3% 114 20.0% 4.3% 106 49.1% 34.3% 16.6%
Santana 90.8 93.5 90.1 7.0% 30.1% 18.3% 44.5% 88 18.3% 16.2% 103 53.4% 28.6% 18.0%
Canha 90.4 93.4 88.6 5.7% 34.5% 17.8% 42.0% 104 19.8% 6.8% 102 42.8% 34.5% 22.7%
Carter 92.6 97.3 84.4 4.5% 47.3% 18.4% 29.8% 131 32.8% 12.4% 100 39.6% 36.3% 24.1%
Mauer 89.5 93.8 87.1 0.8% 19.4% 24.1% 55.7% 90 16.8% 10.1% 96 30.5% 37.5% 32.1%
Napoli 89.8 94.6 84.6 4.8% 37.3% 15.5% 42.4% 108 25.2% 12.2% 96 39.3% 35.9% 24.8%
Morrison 91.1 92.6 90.8 4.0% 35.0% 16.3% 44.7% 75 15.9% 9.2% 92 41.7% 34.3% 24.0%
Loney 85.9 87.0 86.2 2.1% 30.9% 24.2% 42.7% 73 8.8% 5.9% 90 38.2% 33.6% 28.2%
AVG 90.7 94.2 87.8 3.7% 32.3% 20.6% 43.4% 123 20.0% 9.2% 117 42.1% 33.9% 24.0%

Most of the column headers are self explanatory, including average BIP speed (overall and by BIP type), BIP type frequency, K and BB rates, and BIP by field sector (pull, central, opposite). Each players’ OPS and Unadjusted Contact Score (CON) is also listed. For those of you who have not read my articles on the topic, Contact Score is derived by removing Ks and BBs from hitters’ batting lines, assigning run values to all other events, and comparing them to a league average of 100.

Cells are also color coded. If a hitter’s value is two standard deviations or more higher than average (the average of all players in the league, not just at the player’s position), the field is shaded red. If it’s one to two STD higher than average, it’s shaded orange. If it’s one-half to one STD higher than average, it’s shaded dark yellow. If it’s one-half to one STD less than average, it’s shaded blue. If it’s over one STD less than average, it’s shaded black. Ran out of colors at that point. On the rare occasions that a value is over two STD lower than average, we’ll mention it if necessary in the text. On to some random player comments.

First, behold the wonder that is Miguel Cabrera. He hits the ball exceedingly hard, never pops up, is the only player at his position to strike out materially less than average while walking way more than average — and he does it all while hitting the ball to the opposite field at an extreme rate. The very high liner rate is no fluke, either: while these rates fluctuate a great deal from year to year for most hitters, not so for this guy. He has so far to fall in so many discrete areas that, barring injury, his decline should be long and drawn out, and is nowhere near at hand.

Chris Davis‘ profile is quite a bit scarier. The K rate is extreme, but he hits the ball so hard (love that 213 contact score) that it can be overcome, at least for now. There are other red flags, however. Players who hit more fly balls than grounders tend to decline the following season. In addition, his pull rate is so extreme that he is an automatic out on ground balls. Expect continued upward and downward spikes in his career arc, and when the contact wanes even a bit, his collapse could be sudden.

Mark Teixeira is in the harvesting phase of his career. He plays his home games in a ballpark perfectly conducive to his extreme pulling ways, from both sides of the plate. His BIP authority has already dipped into the average range, but in Yankee Stadium, that’s plenty enough to hook the ball into the seats. Virtually all of his offensive value is home run-based.

Collapse alert! Chris Colabello is headed for a fall in 2016. His poor K-BB profile, very high liner rate, and extremely low fly-ball rate (such rates do correlate well from year to year) all suggest a near-term decline. Chris Colabello is not a 193 contact-score guy moving forward.

Want a safe, established first base pick with solid room for additional growth? You could do a lot worse than Eric Hosmer. At 25, he was tied for the youngest in his league at his position last year, and is still getting stronger. His pop up and K rates are low, and he has yet to tap into what should eventually be substantial pull power. The only negative is his low fly-ball rate, which has been an issue throughout his career. If he can even approach average in that category, watch out.

Why isn’t Albert Pujols his vintage self anymore? His authority profile is still solid, though not elite, and his K rate has fallen through the floor. Well, he posted an Unadjusted Contact Score of just 90 in 2015, and it wasn’t just bad luck. He has become an extreme puller, an automatic overshift guy who hits in the .100’s on grounders.

The other player on this list who was 25 last season, C.J. Cron, has a much different prognosis moving forward. He never walks (never has, even in college), pops up way too often, and tellingly, hits the ball very weakly on the ground. That’s an indicator of a tendency to hit weak, roll-over ground balls, which don’t translate into hits very often.

Carlos Santana is aging rapidly. He has been on the express train to the wrong side of the defensive spectrum, has become more and more pull-oriented from both sides of the plate, and has an extreme pop up tendency. His solid K and (especially) BB rates keep him offensively viable, but the bar keeps getting raised as he gravitates toward becoming a full-time DH.

Chris Carter takes his act to Milwaukee this year. His K rate gives him zero margin for error, and his fly ball rate is off the charts high and has nowhere to go but down. Miller Park is extremely fly ball-friendly and will mask his deficiencies somewhat, but don’t expect much of a shelf life moving forward.

What has happened to Joe Mauer? Well, in 2013, his average exit velocity was over a full STD higher than average, and as recently as 2011, his K rate was over a full STD lower than average. As injuries have taken their toll, he’s swung and missed more as he’s focused on authority, without an uptick in power. He’s another rare bird who maintains high liner rates, so his high, but relatively empty batting averages should stick around.

Safeco Field was often blamed for Logan Morrison’s lack of production last season, but let’s take a step back. He’s the only AL 1B with average FLY/LD authority in the average range; everyone else’s is higher. His hard authority is on the ground, but often to the pull side, translating into little production. The Rays hope that a bounce back in his low liner rate, coupled with his strong K rate for a first baseman will tip his OPS+ over 100.

Obviously, you want damage from your first sacker, the average AL regular had a 117 OPS+ and 123 Uandjusted Contact Score last season. The offensive bar is high. Now, let’s look at the NL first basemen.

BIP Overview – NL First Basemen
Name Avg MPH FB/LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% CON K% BB% OPS+ Pull% Cent% Opp%
Votto 90.1 94.2 85.4 0.5% 32.3% 25.0% 42.2% 181 19.4% 20.6% 174 37.1% 36.9% 26.0%
Goldschmidt 93.5 97.3 88.3 1.9% 33.1% 23.4% 41.6% 201 21.7% 17.0% 170 29.6% 40.2% 30.3%
Rizzo 88.5 93.1 83.6 4.5% 39.1% 21.8% 34.6% 125 15.0% 11.1% 145 43.2% 34.8% 21.9%
Freeman 90.8 94.2 85.2 2.2% 33.4% 27.8% 36.6% 134 20.4% 11.6% 134 41.9% 33.4% 24.7%
Duda 93.1 94.3 91.1 3.8% 46.8% 22.0% 27.4% 143 24.9% 11.9% 132 39.0% 33.9% 27.1%
Gonzalez 89.0 93.7 83.8 2.6% 34.1% 26.0% 37.3% 120 16.6% 9.6% 129 40.3% 33.4% 26.3%
Belt 90.0 93.1 84.1 0.3% 37.6% 28.7% 33.3% 162 26.4% 10.1% 129 38.4% 35.8% 25.8%
Lind 90.1 93.6 87.6 2.5% 32.6% 18.8% 46.2% 119 17.5% 11.5% 122 35.6% 38.3% 26.2%
Bour 92.8 95.3 92.2 3.6% 31.0% 17.2% 48.2% 134 22.6% 7.6% 118 44.0% 36.3% 19.7%
Alvarez 92.6 99.0 87.9 1.9% 25.0% 20.4% 52.8% 139 26.7% 9.8% 113 44.2% 36.5% 19.4%
Alonso 87.4 90.2 85.1 2.9% 24.9% 23.0% 49.2% 87 11.9% 10.4% 111 35.9% 38.5% 25.6%
Robinson 91.3 93.8 88.5 1.6% 32.9% 24.8% 40.7% 101 14.8% 10.5% 110 39.2% 37.6% 23.3%
Zimmerman 92.9 95.3 90.8 1.4% 33.6% 16.6% 48.4% 110 20.3% 8.5% 105 31.1% 40.1% 28.9%
Paulsen 88.5 91.6 86.1 2.1% 30.7% 22.1% 45.1% 147 26.0% 6.5% 98 36.7% 38.4% 24.9%
Howard 92.2 96.0 85.6 0.3% 36.4% 27.7% 35.5% 123 27.4% 5.4% 94 47.6% 33.4% 19.0%
Reynolds 88.5 91.7 85.7 4.2% 35.3% 19.0% 41.4% 118 28.0% 10.2% 93 39.9% 35.7% 24.3%
AVG 90.7 94.2 87.0 2.3% 33.7% 22.8% 41.3% 134 21.2% 10.8% 124 39.0% 36.5% 24.6%

Joey Votto might not be Miguel Cabrera, but he’s close. The sheer authority isn’t in Miguel’s league, but everything else is, from the miniscule pop up rate to the consistently high liner and walk rates. He’s also a couple years younger than his still somewhat superior Tiger counterpart.

As a pure hitter, Paul Goldschmidt has likely surpassed Votto. He destroys the baseball, utilizing the opposite field a la Cabrera, and is another blue-chipper that sustains a high liner rate while maintaining a low pop up rate. His only small negative, a K rate that is above league average, though perfectly acceptable for his position.

Anthony Rizzo played at age 25 last season, so I don’t want to nitpick too much, but….his BIP authority wasn’t all that impressive, he had the highest pop up rate of an any NL 1B, and hit more fly balls than grounders, a combo which tends to lead to a next-year downturn. This kept his contact score down to a relatively ordinary 125. All of that said, his strong K rate saves the day, giving him a ton of margin for error. His floor is high as a result, but he has some adjustments to make to reach his considerable ceiling.

Freddie Freeman tends to get lost in the shuffle in this group. He’s another one who just churns out line drives; that 27.8% rate is actually basically flat from 2014. There are no holes in his offensive game, and at 25 in 2015, he’s still a puppy. He lacks the discipline of Votto and Goldschmidt, and the ball-striking brutality of the latter, but he’s at the forefront of the next group.

Lucas Duda, though not as extreme, is the NL version of Chris Davis. Way more fly balls than grounders equals near-term risk. You can’t tell by the color, but his grounder rate is actually over two full STD lower than average. On the positive side, he’s toned down his extreme pull ways, and hasn’t let his K rate spiral away from him.

Brandon Belt is an odd mix. High liner and low pop up rate equals low risk. Spiking K rate and more fly balls than grounders equals high risk. Which way might he pivot? While he should be at or near his prime, his 2015 Unadjusted Contact Score of 162 appears a bit rich; expect some retreat in 2016.

Pedro Alvarez is still sitting out there on the free agent market. His offensive pros and cons are on full display here. No one hits fly balls/line drives harder than him; no one. Last year, however, he suddenly stopped hitting fly balls. His K-BB profile will never be great, but his K rate has actually improved over the years. He’s a puller, and won’t hit for average, but his fly ball rate should positively regress and make him a clear asset with the bat.

Having seen Yonder Alonso as an amateur many, many times, I never envisioned him turning into the high-contact spray hitter he’s become. He has become James Loney, without the defense. If we wasn’t a base clogger, he’d be a marginal offensive asset as a complementary, non-profile OBP guy. He’s a tough out, but it takes three singles to score the new Oakland Athletic.

If he’s healthy, I’m pretty bullish on Ryan Zimmerman. Very good authority, low popup rate, an unusually low 2015 liner rate that should positively regress. One thing he needs to address; he’s a straightaway hitter who no longer has the juice to hit it out regularly to the big part of the yard. A focus on targeted pulling for distance would go a long way. Mike Schmidt made such a change at about this point in his career; it obviously worked out for him.

What happened to Ryan Howard? He hits the ball almost as hard as ever, never pops up, and has always maintained a high liner rate. It’s all about the collapse in his walk rate and his extreme pull tendency on the ground. He’s an automatic overshift in the infield, and struggles to bat .100 on ground balls. When you get down to it, it can be a very fine line between greatness and steep decline.

NL first sackers were even more productive than their AL peers, with an average OPS+ of 124 and Unadjusted Contact Score of 134. How about that average liner rate of 22.8%? Insane. Lastly, a brief look at a short list of AL DHs.

BIP Overview – AL Designated Hitters
Name Avg MPH FB/LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% CON K% BB% OPS+ Pull% Cent% Opp%
Encarnacion 91.1 95.1 87.2 8.0% 36.5% 19.3% 36.1% 133 15.7% 12.3% 153 50.2% 30.0% 19.8%
Ortiz 93.2 95.5 91.2 2.7% 38.3% 22.4% 36.7% 129 15.5% 12.5% 141 44.3% 34.4% 21.3%
Rodriguez 91.9 95.1 89.1 2.9% 35.8% 18.2% 43.1% 134 23.4% 13.5% 130 45.7% 36.9% 17.4%
Morales 92.8 95.6 89.5 1.1% 33.6% 20.4% 44.9% 123 16.1% 9.1% 128 40.0% 36.6% 23.4%
Fielder 91.0 92.6 90.6 1.9% 33.6% 18.3% 46.2% 113 12.7% 9.2% 126 32.5% 39.6% 27.9%
Gattis 89.9 94.9 87.0 4.9% 32.5% 17.0% 45.6% 107 19.7% 5.0% 101 39.8% 36.3% 23.9%
Butler 89.8 94.1 86.4 3.0% 28.5% 17.7% 50.8% 87 16.8% 8.7% 96 38.1% 32.7% 29.3%
Paredes 90.8 94.8 86.5 2.0% 25.8% 23.4% 48.8% 140 28.9% 4.9% 96 46.9% 30.7% 22.4%
Martinez 88.1 90.7 86.6 2.8% 35.9% 21.0% 40.3% 67 10.7% 6.4% 85 41.3% 36.0% 22.8%
LaRoche 90.2 92.9 88.4 2.4% 37.1% 17.6% 42.9% 87 27.5% 10.1% 78 40.3% 40.6% 19.1%
AVG 90.9 94.1 88.3 3.1% 33.8% 19.5% 43.5% 112 18.7% 9.2% 113 41.9% 35.4% 22.7%

The Jays should be very cautious about investing years in Edwin Encarnacion. His authority relative to the league is waning, his pop-up rate is off the charts, and he’s about the most pull-oriented hitter going. His exceptional K rate gives him some slack, but there are some concerning indicators here.

David Ortiz‘ profile is actually quite similar to Encarnacion’s, with more authority, many fewer pop ups and a slightly less intense pull tendency. He’s seven years older and retiring, however; Encarnacion will not age as well.

Let’s get off of Alex Rodriguez‘ back and give him some plaudits for a change. Try taking off nearly two years and coming back so strong at age 39. His authority and walk rate were actually much improved, and Yankee Stadium actually doesn’t do him many favors. He’s not done yet.

While we’re tossing out kudos, let’s send some Prince Fielder’s way. He remembered he was a hit-before-power guy, and enjoyed a comeback season. Low K and pop-up rates, not much pulling, leading to a fine .305/.378/.463 line despite ordinary ball-striking relative to his 1B/DH peers. If his power is permanently sapped, he still has a shelf life.

Sell your Jimmy Paredes stock, if you have any. He had the highest Unadjusted Contact Score among DHs at 140, and it was clearly luck-based. His K-BB foundation is poor, his liner rate unusually high and ripe for regression, and his fly-ball rate too low to sustain power moving forward. He’s also a dead-pull guy likely to be overshifted in the infield moving forward.

Victor Martinez‘ 2015 decline was injury-based, and by extension, contact authority-based. His strikeout rate remained low, and his liner rate was down, but not by that much. His average exit velocity slipped into the average range after being over a full STD above average in 2013-14. That drops fly balls and liners out of the extra-base hit range into the “donut hole”/can of corn range. Watch him in April; if it isn’t back then, it isn’t coming back.

Regular DHs combined for an average 113 OPS+ and 112 Unadjusted Contact Score. This was much lower than their 1B counterparts, despite very similar authority profiles. Age, lack of the athleticism to regularly play the field (and quite a few less liners) will do that.





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Whitemikeca
6 years ago

For EE, I bet if you looked at his first half vs second half batted ball authority you would see a huge increase in the second half. He played the whole season with a back injury but he started to swing without pain in the second half. The then re injured himself again before the postseason. I don’t think he losing ground on the field when healthy. The issue is he is getting hurt more often as he ages (as is expected).