2015 Positional Ball-in-Play Retrospective – CF

As the first wave of spring-training games begin, let’s continue to 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. We’ve already looked at all the various infield positions — and, just yesterday, left field. Only three more to go; today, it’s the center fielders’ turn.

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. Let’s start with the AL center fielders. Hmmm, I wonder who’s at the top of the list?

BIP Overview – AL CF
Name Avg MPH FB/LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% CON K% BB% OPS+ Pull% Cent% Opp%
Trout 93.17 96.67 89.25 1.0% 37.4% 24.4% 37.2% 196 23.2% 13.5% 176 38.2% 33.2% 28.7%
Cain 90.86 92.70 89.12 0.9% 30.4% 23.2% 45.5% 127 16.2% 6.1% 126 33.7% 38.1% 28.2%
Eaton 87.64 89.53 88.72 2.8% 24.5% 22.0% 50.7% 117 19.0% 8.4% 122 29.2% 36.8% 34.0%
Betts 91.16 91.89 91.72 4.5% 37.9% 19.5% 38.2% 108 12.5% 7.0% 118 40.3% 36.5% 23.1%
A.Jones 89.03 93.97 85.92 4.3% 32.0% 17.8% 45.8% 114 17.6% 4.1% 109 44.3% 34.0% 21.7%
R.Davis 87.44 90.83 85.65 6.1% 27.4% 22.4% 44.1% 109 20.5% 5.9% 104 34.9% 34.2% 30.9%
Burns 82.99 85.28 83.06 5.8% 22.3% 21.6% 50.3% 97 14.6% 4.7% 100 29.6% 36.9% 33.5%
Kiermaier 87.65 89.93 88.15 3.9% 25.4% 22.9% 47.8% 98 17.8% 4.5% 98 41.3% 36.0% 22.7%
Pillar 85.35 88.02 86.23 6.5% 30.2% 21.9% 41.4% 88 13.5% 4.5% 96 42.9% 30.2% 26.9%
Hicks 89.32 92.37 86.01 3.6% 31.8% 22.9% 41.8% 91 16.9% 8.7% 95 35.8% 34.4% 29.9%
DeShields 85.81 88.08 84.30 2.0% 31.7% 19.0% 47.4% 94 20.5% 10.8% 95 36.7% 36.7% 26.6%
A.Jackson 89.38 91.33 87.97 0.5% 24.1% 24.3% 51.1% 112 23.9% 5.5% 95 36.0% 37.9% 26.0%
Gose 87.33 89.58 87.93 1.9% 23.3% 20.8% 54.0% 112 27.1% 8.4% 91 31.0% 35.7% 33.3%
Ellsbury 86.86 88.36 87.47 3.2% 27.4% 24.1% 45.3% 80 17.2% 7.0% 84 37.8% 35.1% 27.0%
Marisnick 85.21 90.06 82.11 3.9% 34.5% 19.7% 41.9% 104 28.2% 4.8% 81 42.6% 30.3% 27.1%
Bourn 85.17 87.93 83.85 1.6% 26.4% 24.8% 47.3% 71 22.2% 9.5% 64 33.4% 39.5% 27.1%
AVERAGE 87.77 90.41 86.72 3.3% 29.2% 22.0% 45.6% 107 19.4% 7.1% 103 36.7% 35.3% 27.9%

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 player’s 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, I’ll mention it if necessary in the text.

Mike Trout kind of stands out from the pack. Almost a letter-perfect profile. Very high-end BIP authority without an exaggerated pull tendency, premium walk rate — he even tempered his strikeout rate a bit after a huge spike in 2014. He doesn’t get enough credit for squaring the ball up as much as he does; his liner rate was in the 91st percentile last season, and has never been lower than the 61st percentile in his MLB seasons. He also made a dramatic improvement in his pop-up rate in 2015, dropping from the 71st to the 6th percentile. A high fly-ball rate and a very low pop-up rate is a tough daily double to pull off. He’s more than just power and speed, and should just keep chugging along in 2016.

There’s way more than just numbers to Lorenzo Cain; he’ll play 2016 as one of the youngest 30-year-olds on the planet. He barely played baseball before being signed out of junior college by the Brewers, and is still developing all facets of his game even now. Case in point: his BIP authority was over a full standard deviation below average in 2014, and jumped all the way to over a half STD above average in 2015. Cain is still getting stronger and refining his stroke. His is the perfect recipe for a .300 hitter: high liner rate (78th percentile both of last two seasons), low pop-up rate (sixth percentile in 2015 and trending downward), well controlled — and rapidly improving — K rate. In addition, he uses the entire field to keep the defense honest. He’s a whole lot more than defense.

Adam Eaton is what he is, offensively: a slap hitter with a very high grounder rate who sprays the ball to all fields. He probably outperformed his profile in 2015, especially in light of the surprising spike in his K rate. Did you know Eaton struck out 131 times last season? Without a cut in that K rate, don’t be surprised if he is no better than a 100 OPS+ guy in 2016.

Mookie Betts is a stud in the making. To hit the ball as hard as he does at his age with such a low K rate is a pretty neat trick. He performed as well as he did in 2015 with a low liner rate, down in the 36th percentile. On the other hand, his 2015 fly-ball rate seems to be at the very high end of his likely range of outcomes; expect a step back there, tempering his power outlook. All told, he looks like a .300 hitter with future power upside, at a premium position. Works for me.

I wrote about Justin Upton earlier this week, stating that maybe it’s about time we stop expecting him to be an offensive superstar, and perhaps just appreciate him for the well above-average hitter he is. Ditto Adam Jones. Folks, he’s just not going to draw walks (he’s posted single-digit percentile ranks in three straight seasons), and this prevents him from being an elite offensive player. His overall BIP authority is in the average range because of the weak contact made on pitchers’ pitches that he instead should be taking. His fairly extreme pull tendency also invites infield overshifts, hampering his batting average on grounders. He’s also posted liner-rate percentile ranks of 34 or lower in six of the last eight seasons, so expecting a surge there wouldn’t be prudent. He’s pretty good, but will always leave you wanting more.

Don’t get used to Billy Burns posting 100 OPS+ figures. His overall and fly/line drive authority is over two full STD below average. His high pop up/low fly ball rate combo is a bad one, and a slap hitter like him really needs to walk more to be productive. He does use the field to keep the defense honest, but there’s just enough not enough positives to except more than a 90-ish OPS+ figure moving forward.

Kevin Kiermaier and Kevin Pillar, two defense-first Kevins, have subtly different offensive games that I see moving in opposite directions in the near term. Though Kiermaier does strike out more, he’s superior in every other regard. He hits the ball harder, his fly-ball rate has more room to grow, and most notably, Pillar’s pop-up rate is excessive for a non-power hitter. I think we may have already seen the best of Pillar with the bat, while there may be a bit more power development ahead for Kiermaier.

The Yankees made a very shrewd under-the-radar move when they acquired Aaron Hicks. This just in: he will immediately be a more productive offensive weapon than either Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner in his new Yankee Stadium home. That won’t be a bad outfield defense, either. There are no areas of weakness in his profile; not many people on this list about whom you can say that. He was a bit unlucky in 2015, and with quite a few cheap homers down the lines now firmly within his reach, expect him to reside on the good side of the 100 OPS+ line moving forward.

Of the kids in the bottom reaches of the list, Delino Deshields did about as well as one can expect of a Rule 5 pick, and should retain a regular job, but has limited further growth potential, while Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick are likely headed for falls. The latter two had contact scores over 100 despite weak BIP authority, and their poor K/BB profiles will kill them when lady luck turns against them.

Among the remaining vets, Ellsbury and Michael Bourn just might be cooked, Rajai Davis overperformed in 2015, while Austin Jackson needs to make a key adjustment. Ellsbury had a poor season with a liner rate in the 87th percentile; that’s hard to do. His liner rate will negatively regress, his overall performance is unlikely to improve much, if at all. Bourn’s a slap hitter with a high K rate. Enough said.

Davis’ K rate is on the upswing, he pops the ball up way too much for a slap hitter, and his liner rate is coming down in 2016. Jackson’s liner rates have been between the 89th and 96th percentiles over the last four years; he has a talent for squaring it up. His K/BB profile is bad and getting worse, and might be spinning away from him. Still, if he can selectively pull the ball for distance more frequently — he’s constantly among league leaders in hitting the ball to the big part of the field — he could still get on the good side of an 100 OPS+.

AL center fielders combined for a 103 OPS+ and 107 Contact Score. The difference between their actual and average (100 OPS+) overall performance is basically the existence of Trout. The most obvious trait of the group was their collective opposite-field approach. Now on to the National League.

BIP Overview – NL CF
Name Avg MPH FB/LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% CON K% BB% OPS+ Pull% Cent% Opp%
McCutchen 91.39 95.35 86.15 2.3% 35.9% 23.5% 38.2% 142 19.4% 14.3% 144 38.9% 37.8% 23.3%
Pollock 89.45 92.46 87.14 2.7% 26.3% 20.8% 50.3% 127 13.2% 7.9% 132 38.8% 36.9% 24.4%
Blanco 87.74 90.90 85.88 3.5% 26.9% 24.2% 45.4% 107 15.9% 10.8% 117 40.6% 38.0% 21.4%
Span 87.77 89.12 88.22 0.9% 24.8% 23.9% 50.5% 97 9.5% 9.1% 114 34.1% 34.5% 31.4%
Pederson 92.00 96.46 87.85 6.4% 36.0% 15.8% 41.8% 126 29.1% 15.7% 112 43.6% 34.7% 21.7%
Fowler 87.59 90.86 84.12 2.3% 34.1% 20.3% 43.3% 112 22.3% 12.2% 108 44.1% 30.9% 25.1%
O.Herrera 88.30 90.69 87.95 2.5% 26.8% 23.5% 47.2% 135 24.0% 5.2% 108 35.2% 32.3% 32.5%
Blackmon 86.79 90.00 85.07 2.0% 34.9% 24.8% 38.3% 114 16.4% 6.7% 102 45.0% 32.5% 22.5%
C.Gomez 88.15 91.72 86.98 4.6% 33.4% 19.3% 42.6% 106 21.2% 6.5% 97 39.6% 35.5% 24.9%
Maybin 88.68 91.58 87.59 2.5% 17.5% 22.0% 57.9% 94 18.4% 8.1% 95 38.1% 33.4% 28.5%
Ozuna 92.79 96.18 90.66 3.1% 27.7% 21.1% 48.1% 104 22.3% 6.1% 90 35.3% 35.0% 29.6%
Venable 86.14 88.13 87.29 3.2% 18.4% 18.0% 60.4% 96 24.1% 9.5% 88 33.5% 37.4% 29.2%
Lagares 91.06 92.81 90.61 3.4% 27.6% 14.2% 54.8% 87 18.7% 3.4% 80 27.9% 41.6% 30.5%
Pagan 86.52 87.65 85.87 0.7% 33.4% 23.3% 42.6% 79 16.9% 5.8% 77 31.8% 40.7% 27.5%
M.Taylor 89.29 93.97 85.09 3.0% 28.8% 22.2% 46.0% 111 30.9% 6.8% 72 47.3% 27.8% 24.9%
Hamilton 82.31 84.36 83.61 2.2% 35.6% 19.6% 42.6% 56 16.5% 6.2% 55 29.4% 41.7% 28.9%
AVERAGE 88.50 91.39 86.88 2.8% 29.3% 21.0% 46.9% 106 19.9% 8.4% 99 37.7% 35.7% 26.6%

Andrew McCutchen is basically the NL’s Mike Trout, albeit with a slightly less ridiculous ceiling. The 2015 season marked the fifth consecutive one in which he produced an overall BIP authority over one full STD better than league average. He does all of this damage despite playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park, and while hitting the ball to the big part of the yard an awful lot. His liner rate was in the 75th percentile last season, his fourth time in five years at 70 or higher. His walk rate is superb, his K rate controlled; this allows his OPS+ to be even higher than his already strong contact score. He’ll keep right on rolling.

A.J. Pollock is a solid offensive player not because of an abundance of strengths, but because of a lack of weaknesses. His chief asset is his ability to put the ball in play; in fact, the second, third and fourth players on the above list are the only three with materially better than average K rates. That said, a 127 Contact Score and 132 OPS+ are a bit rich for Pollock’s skill set, unless he enhances his BIP authority or begins to hit more fly balls. He’s likely more of a 110-115 OPS+, which is plenty good when combined with his glove.

Gregor Blanco and Denard Span are boring but effective offensive players. Blanco posts a high liner rate every year — it’s a true talent of a fairly small group of players — and surprisingly avoids posting below-average overall authority figures as well. He’s most effective in a carefully managed role, and is likely more of a 100 OPS+ type, but is a sneaky good asset whose value has been mined expertly by the Giants. Span will be his teammate in 2016. He’s another perennial liner machine whose K and pop-up rates tend to be at the very bottom of the range. He’s a candidate to hit .300, and is more likely to sustain his 110+ OPS+ status than Blanco.

Lots of big plusses, big risks to Joc Pederson. He hits the ball harder than McCutchen, but racks up Ks and pop ups by the bushel. His extreme pull tendency is another risk factor, leading to infield overshifts, effectively capping his batting average. His exceptional walk rate mitigates some of the risk, and his puny liner rate should positively regress quite a bit in 2016. Like him a lot, but he’ll need to tone down those risk areas to move into star territory.

Like Pollock, Dexter Fowler is an offensive performer because of a lack of weaknesses. His walk rate is strong, a pull tendency isn’t as big a deal for a switch-hitter who never sees a pitch break away from him, and he’s a solid ball-striker for his position. Plus, his liner rate should bounce up in 2016: it was above league average for six straight years before dropping to a 33 percentile rank in 2015. Be happy, Cubs fans, you got a bargain here.

Odubel Herrera is arguably the single 2015 position player whose performance is most likely to drop off in 2016. A 135 Contact Score, with that ordinary line? His K/BB profile is poor, and his liner rate should take a big hit. Take a step back here, though: he was a super Rule 5 pick, and has a future as solid contributor. His tools and all-fields approach are high-quality, but he’s more of a threat to post an 80-85 OPS+ than another 108 if he’s again given 500-plus plate appearances.

Charlie Blackmon is a complementary outfielder whose offensive numbers have been grossly inflated by his home park. His liner rate should plunge in 2016, and his dead-pull tendency should lead to overshifts that pressure his batting average. Blackmon answers the bell every day at a premium position, and there’s plenty to be said for that, but he’s more of a 90-95 OPS+ talent.

Carlos Gomez‘ numbers above encompass his time in Milwaukee and Houston. His profile is in line with career norms; surprisingly, his overall BIP authority has been in the average range throughout his career. A slight erosion of his once top-of-the-scale speed has tamped down his overall production, however. Triples are becoming doubles, doubles are becoming singles, and infield singles are becoming outs as time passes. Still, he’s a good bet to get back onto the right side of the 100 OPS+ mark in the near term.

I still love Marcell Ozuna. Look at that BIP authority, almost at Troutian levels. He uses the entire field, and with the fences moving in at Marlins Park, plenty of long outs are about to turn into damage for Ozuna, not to mention his outfield compatriots Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. Sure, that BB rate still needs some work, but his K rate did drop quite a bit in 2015, and opposing pitchers will need to pitch more carefully in his “new” home park moving forward.

It’s a shame that Juan Lagares probably won’t play that much in 2016. Prior to last season, his BIP authority had been below average; in 2015, it was over a full STD above average, mostly due to very well-struck ground balls. He posted the lowest liner rate in the NL last season; that’s primed to rise significantly going forward. His K-BB differential remains poor, but even that has seen modest improvement over the years. A team that needs a center fielder would be very happy to free Lagares and pencil him in for the next few seasons.

People, Billy Hamilton isn’t going to hit. Though he’s reined in his K rate a bit, it’s still too high for a slap hitter, and his BIP authority is the worst of the worst, over two full STD below average, even less authoritative than Billy Burns. Among his many problems is his fly-ball tendency; note that Burns, Eaton, Kiermaier, et al, keep the ball on the ground and use their wheels. Hamilton hits lazy cans of corn by the dozen. That needs to change for him to cease being a lineup killer, let alone become an actual offensive asset.

NL center fielders combined for a 99 OPS+ and 106 Contact Score, despite Hamilton. They walked more and utilized the opposite field less than their AL peers.

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Stephen Brownmember
8 years ago

I’ve been thinking this after each of Tony’s post: y’all have what you need to implement this systematically and allow this info to be available on the player pages. Why are y’all not doing that?

8 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Brown

I am grateful that at least Mr. Blengino is writing for the Graphs that Fan. I find his posts to be most valuable, and palatable with this Wiseacre IPA. Although, I do not know if his contributions will be similarly valued with a North Coast strong ale.