As we become accustomed to a steady diet of spring-training baseball, 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 — plus left field and center. Today, let’s complete our tour of the outfield by focusing on right fielders.
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 RFs.
|Name||Avg MPH||FB/LD MPH||GB MPH||POP%||FLY%||LD%||GB%||CON||K%||BB%||OPS+||Pull%||Cent%||Opp%|
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. Right field is obviously an offensive position, so we’ll be seeing more reds and oranges than usual today.
No one hit their fly balls harder, in either league, than Nelson Cruz did last season. Cruz has subtly improved his offensive game around the edges over the years, with his pop-up rate steadily declining and his walk rate creeping upward. That said, his walk rate is still low for a power hitter, and his K rate did jump upward a bit in 2015. Last year was likely Cruz’ career year; it wouldn’t be a shock to see his OPS+ drop into the 125-130 range as his batted-ball authority ebbs a bit. Still, his counting-number power totals should remain high for the foreseeable future, as he hasn’t even needed to resort to actively pulling the ball for distance yet.
The future career path of Jose Bautista is a hot topic presently, as club and player decide whether to pursue a long-term future together. On the plus side, Bautista exactly matched Miguel Cabrera for the highest overall average exit velocity, and his K/BB profile is beyond exceptional — and getting better — for a power hitter. On the negative side, Bautista never has, and never will hit many line drives. He was dead last among qualifying AL hitters in liner rate last season, and going back to 2008, has never ranked higher than the 17th percentile in that category. His fly-ball rate, excluding pop ups, was higher than his grounder rate in 2015; such players tend to see their overall performance decline the next season. Perhaps most importantly, Bautista is among the most extreme pull hitters in the game, an easy infield overshift call who hits for a very low average on the ground. Note that despite his extreme BIP authority, his 2015 Contact Score was a somewhat ordinary 121; that’s due to all of that pulling. Bautista’s floor is very high, thanks to his K and BB rates, but his ceiling should creep downward each year as the authority gradually recedes.
J.D. Martinez is another baseball-destroyer: his average fly ball/line drive authority actually exceeds Bautista’s. On the plus side, Martinez pops up quite infrequently for a power hitter. On the negative side, well, that’s about it for the positives. His K/BB profile is poor, and trending downward. Like Bautista, his fly-ball rate has nowhere to go but down. There’s also a significant disparity between his FLY/LD and grounder authority; this tends to correlate negatively with batting average over time. Martinez needs extreme fly-ball authority to be productive; even a modest drop in that department makes him pretty ordinary in a hurry.
There’s an awful lot to like in George Springer’s profile. His pop-up rate is very low for a power hitter, and his walk rate has already climbed to a very healthy level at a young age. His K rate, while still high, is much lower than one might have imagined based upon his amateur and minor-league numbers. He’s also driving the ball for distance to the big part of the field and the opposite way, with plenty of room for growth on the pull side. He doesn’t hit the ball very hard on the ground, a minor concern amidst all of the positives. While his liner rate is likely to regress downward in 2016, his fly-ball rate should grow, fueling growth in his power numbers. Look for big things from Springer moving forward.
Shin-Soo Choo made some important mid-career adjustments in 2015. An opposite-field hitter for most of his career, Choo realized that he needed to selectively pull the ball in the air for distance last season, and jacked up his overall BIP authority in the process. In 2014, his average BIP authority was in the average range; in 2015, it was over one standard deviation higher. His FLY/LD authority, in fact, was fractionally above Bautista’s. He still never pops up, and has a solid K/BB profile, giving him a very high floor. Pulling the ball for distance more often raises his ceiling considerably as well, and gives him a chance to earn his keep over the life of his hefty contract.
Carlos Beltran is yet another hitter whose 2015 productivity surge was fueled by an uncommonly high fly-ball rate. It’s way out of line with his previous few seasons, and simply has to decline in 2016. He’s become an extreme puller from both sides of the plate in recent years, harvesting every last bit of power from his skill set. He does deserve credit for cutting into his K rate, giving him more margin for error with regard to BIP authority. He remains a useful complementary cog, but the Yanks would be wise not to expect a repeat of his 2015 campaign.
Very quietly, Josh Reddick has totally transformed himself as an offensive player in recent seasons. Once a pull-hitting extreme fly-ball guy, Reddick now is a contact hitter who uses the field. He’s probably removed the 30-homer portion of his skill set permanently, but now possesses a repertoire with more staying power. His floor is extremely high, and he’s cut his K rate in half since 2012. Obviously, he brings plenty to the club defensively, and combined with a Nick Markakis-esque 110-ish OPS+ forecast for the foreseeable future, presents himself as a reliable asset.
Talk about extremes. Chris Young is the most extreme pop-up guy in the game, with the most extreme pull tendency. He has plenty of holes, and is fairly easy to pitch to. Miss on the inner half of the plate, especially in his new Fenway Park home, and he’s liable to lift a modestly hit fly ball down the line and over the wall. Too much downside performance risk to justify the potential reward for my taste, but the Bosox certainly are one of the most appropriate teams to take a shot on Young.
Mark Trumbo is a tease. He crushes the baseball, in the air and on the ground, and can hit it out to any part of the field. Still, his K/BB profile has always undermined his performance, and until 2015, he had never been able to hit the ball in the air with any regularity. He raised his fly-ball rate in 2015, the year he just happened to be playing his home games in fly ball-killing Safeco Field. A similar fly-ball rate in 2016 could result in a career high in homers as an Oriole. Look for a solid 120-ish OPS+ — with zero complementary skills — from Trumbo in the next year or two.
AL right fielders combined for an average 111 OPS+ and 121 Contact Score. As a group, they had a very high fly-ball percentage and an extreme pull tendency. Lots of risk and potential reward in this group. Now, their NL counterparts:
|Name||Avg MPH||FB/LD MPH||GB MPH||POP%||FLY%||LD%||GB%||CON||K%||BB%||OPS+||Pull%||Cent%||Opp%|
Honestly, it’s a bit stunning to see how relatively ordinary Bryce Harper’s BIP authority was in comparison to his incredible overall 2015 numbers. Why was he so dominant? Well, even solid if not overpowering authority plays way up with such a strong K/BB foundation underlying it. The other two drivers aren’t as evergreen, however. Harper both (a) hit way more fly balls than in the past and (b) pulled the ball to a much greater extent. Make no mistake, Harper is great; he was the youngest starting RF in either league, for heaven’s sake. That said, his 2015 numbers were at the outer limits of his capability. I would expect him to enhance his BIP authority in the near term, but the fly-ball rate is likely to decrease, and continued extreme pull rates will invite overshifts and put pressure on his batting average. He’ll be the best MLB right fielder again in 2016, but I’ll take the under on a 160 OPS+ line.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Andre Ethier’s numbers will go down across the board in 2016. His liner rate wasn’t a fluke; it was in the 92nd percentile last season, and has been in the 67th or higher in seven of the last eight campaigns. That said, his BIP authority is poor for a corner outfielder, especially on the ground. He has compensated with a more intensive pull approach, which brings with it its own set of problems. His solid K/BB profile, along with the liner rate, ensures a solid batting average and a high offensive floor, but his ceiling moving forward is much lower than his actual 2015 performance.
Don’t look now, but when healthy, Ryan Braun is back to being a star-level offensive player. He hits the ball harder than any NL RF, and does so while using the entire field and almost never popping up. His liner rate was only in the 25th percentile in 2015, and should be expected to regress positively moving forward. Braun appears poised to at least earn his contract value as the Brewers rebuild, becoming either an ongoing franchise cornerstone or a valuable trade chip.
Curtis Granderson is an extreme fly-ball hitter with an extreme pull tendency. Such hitters are very risky, and prone to the type of mid-career downturn that Granderson experienced prior to 2015. Last season, his liner rate exploded into the 93rd percentile after being above average in only one of the previous seven seasons. At the same time, his pop-up rate reached a career low, his walk rate, a career high. So, did he figure it out, as a 34-year-old? I’m guessing not; that liner rate is coming down, and I’ll predict that he’ll never again have a season remotely as productive as 2015.
Everyone knows that Jason Heyward’s huge payday with the Cubs was largely based on his defensive prowess. He’s still a pup, though. Can he still grow into what was once projected as a considerable offensive upside? There are some positive signs. His K rate has come way down, from 23.3% in 2012 to 14.8% in 2015. Last season was also the first in which he exceeded the average range in BIP authority. He still has plenty to work on: his 2015 fly-ball rate, for example, was his lowest in four years, his liner rate percentile rank has never exceeded 37, and despite the lack of fly balls, his pop-up rate has never been below league average. Still, I’m betting on youth, and on the ability of elite defensive players to eventually figure out the bat.
So, how much of Carlos Gonzalez‘ success is on him, and how much is on Coors Field? His BIP authority has never been better than “yellow”; he is not an elite ball-striker. Still, he has cut into his K rate since 2013, and has begun to pull the ball more to tap into his power. His overall 2015 numbers were depressed by an uncharacteristically low liner rate, in the third percentile after drifting between the 87th and 94th from 2010 to 2013. A healthy Carlos Gonzalez can post a 125-130 OPS without Coors in the near term.
When Matt Kemp made very authoritative contact — he had “orange” BIP authority five times in six qualifying seasons from 2008 to -14 — he had enough juice to offset ordinary K/BB ratios and declining defensive ability to be a productive asset. No more. There are still some positives here; his liner rate was unusually low for him in 2015, and should increase, and he remains a rare power threat who doesn’t pop up. There’s just not enough there for him to be more than an average offensive corner outfielder, a no-no when your defense is subpar.
OK, so what have we got in Yasiel Puig? I still believe. He actually posted career best BIP authority in 2015, and his ability to do damage to the big part of the field is an asset in Dodger Stadium. A major limiting factor has been his inability to square up the baseball: in three seasons, his liner rate percentile ranks have been 31, 9 and 8, respectively. I’m still willing to chalk it up to small sample sizes. There’s no reason Puig shouldn’t post league-average liner rates in the future, moving him way up on this list.
Jorge Soler’s playing time sure took a whack with the signing of Dexter Fowler, but he’s still a case worth discussing. He’s an elite ball-striker, hitting the ball as hard as the Brauns, Bautistas and Cruzes. He doesn’t hit the ball nearly as often as them, unfortunately. His 2015 liner rate was in the stratosphere, but considering his penchant for the swing-and-miss, should be taken as an outlier. Soler remains a potential star, who will learn in a part-time role in Chicago, while the rest of the league hopes to swoop in and buy low.
Gregory Polanco has long been considered a surefire star, though I’ve never been that sanguine about his bat. Though he remains far from a slam dunk, he did make strides in 2015. His BIP authority jumped from below to above average, though he still struggles to elevate the ball for damage. Polanco’s K and BB rates are solid for his age, and he hasn’t lapsed into significant bad habits, like excessive pulling. His all-around skills allow him to provide value while his offensive game slowly builds. It worked with Roberto Clemente, right?
NL right fielders posted the same exact 111 OPS+ and 121 Contact Score figures as their older AL counterparts, but did so with more line drives, fewer fly balls and pop ups, and a much less pronounced pull tendency. In other words, with a much more solid, sustainable foundation.