2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: A Few AL Non-Qualifiers

Throughout much of the offseason in this space, we’ve been taking a look at hitter contact quality, using 2016 granular exit-speed and launch-angle data as our guide. We’re down to the last two installments, in which some non-qualifying hitters from both leagues will be reviewed.

Earlier, we looked at the primary regulars in both leagues, posts which you can track down by clicking here. that was a lot of players, 135 in the AL, 120 in the NL. There really isn’t much need to add all that many players to the sample. I did feel that players who were in that 135/120-man top tier in both leagues in terms of total plate appearances, but who weren’t primary regulars at a given position, needed to be covered. They are here. Also in the house are players requested by you, the readers, in the comment section during this series. So we’ll have 13 more AL hitters today, 12 more NL guys next time. Here goes:

BIP Profiles – Selected AL Non-Quals
Butler 90.6 90.9 96.7 86.1 1.0% 27.9% 28.9% 42.2% 130 15.3% 7.7% 105 138 33.7%
G.Sanchez 94.1 97.2 97.1 92.1 4.8% 29.4% 16.4% 49.3% 158 24.9% 10.5% 171 136 54.1%
Pearce 90.4 91.8 93.3 88.2 4.3% 33.6% 19.0% 43.1% 113 17.9% 11.3% 136 124 45.0%
Moustakas 92.1 93.6 97.0 91.6 4.4% 35.2% 18.7% 41.8% 102 11.5% 8.0% 110 122 40.7%
Healy 89.4 89.2 93.3 87.0 2.9% 35.9% 19.6% 41.6% 132 21.2% 4.2% 134 115 41.9%
Reddick 88.5 86.2 93.1 88.7 2.1% 34.8% 21.8% 41.3% 94 12.8% 8.9% 106 113 35.3%
Zunino 90.8 94.7 92.8 82.5 6.0% 46.5% 18.2% 29.3% 158 33.9% 10.9% 115 105 45.0%
Plouffe 91.0 90.5 96.9 89.2 4.6% 33.3% 19.9% 42.1% 103 17.4% 5.5% 91 103 41.8%
Lee 87.9 92.4 91.4 84.1 0.9% 24.3% 22.0% 52.8% 106 23.3% 6.3% 102 92 36.2%
Dyson 84.6 78.7 86.0 87.3 3.6% 20.5% 20.1% 55.8% 68 11.6% 7.7% 94 85 34.9%
Barney 86.3 89.0 88.1 84.3 4.3% 25.9% 22.4% 47.4% 70 15.7% 7.2% 86 79 38.7%
Profar 86.8 84.9 93.3 85.9 3.8% 24.6% 19.0% 52.6% 69 19.9% 9.8% 78 76 41.8%
Saladino 87.2 85.3 89.5 87.1 2.1% 26.7% 19.9% 51.3% 77 19.4% 4.1% 93 72 39.4%

Most of the column headers are self-explanatory, including average BIP speed (overall and by BIP type), BIP type frequency, K and BB rates, wRC+ and Adjusted Production, which incorporates the exit speed/angle data. Each hitter’s Adjusted Contact Score (ADJ C) is also listed. Adjusted Contact Score applies league-average production to each hitter’s individual actual BIP type and velocity mix, and compares it to league average of 100.

Cells are also color-coded. If a hitter’s value is two standard deviations or more higher than average, 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.

It should be noted that individual hitters’ BIP frequency and authority figures correlate quite well from year to year, with one notable exception. As with pitchers, individual hitters’ liner rates fluctuate quite significantly from year to year, for all but a handful of hitters with a clear talent (or lack thereof) for squaring up the baseball.

Projecting performance based on BIP speed/angle opens us up to a couple biases that we didn’t need to address when evaluating pitchers. Pitchers face a mix of pull- and opposite-field-oriented hitters, more and less authoritative hitters, etc. Hitters are who they are each time they step up to the plate, and we must choose whether or not to address their individual tendencies.

I have adjusted the projected ground-ball performance for hitters who meet two criteria. First, they’ve recorded over five times as many grounders to the pull side than to the opposite field and, second, they exhibit a resulting deficiency in actual versus projected grounder performance. Such hitters’ projected grounder performance was capped at their actual performance level. Such hitters’ Adjusted Contact Scores and Adjusted Production figures are in red fonts.

I have decided not to adjust for the other primary factor that can skew actual versus projected performance based on exit speed/angle — namely, player speed. We’re attempting to assess hitter contact quality here; let’s keep speed/athleticism separate. As a result, we’ll see some slow, hard-hitting-to-all-fields sluggers overperform on this metric, and some more athletic players underperform. Contact quality is just part of offensive baseball; let’s attempt to isolate and evaluate it on its own.

Lastly, bear in mind that we are talking some really small sample sizes here with some of the listed players. This allows for some stark differences between actual and projected performance.

OK, who had Billy Butler finishing ahead of Gary Sanchez on this list? Yup, sample size. That mammoth liner rate is utterly unrepeatable, and is a significant reason for Butler’s standing. There are other factors at work, however, that suggest he still has something in the tank. Butler significantly underperformed his granular BIP data on fly balls (68 Unadjusted vs. 136 Adjusted Contact Score) and grounders (47 vs. 93). He doesn’t run well – in fact, he utterly lacks complementary skills – and hits the ball to the large part of the yard quite often. Perhaps he should start selectively pulling the ball in the air, “harvesting” some late career power. First he has to get himself in a big-league camp.

Of course, very small sample size caveats are in order in any analysis of Gary Sanchez‘ 2016 season. Still, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. His line underscores both his prodigious talent and some real warning signs for the near-term future. First, the positives. He absolutely crushes the baseball, on a line, on the ground, and especially in the air, where he recorded a 330 Adjusted Contact Score, second in the majors, just behind Pedro Alvarez. This is top-tier thump. In addition, he posted his big 2016 numbers despite a very low liner rate that’s likely to positively regress moving forward. His fly-ball rate also has plenty of room to grow.

On the down side, Sanchez exhibited a pronounced pop up tendency despite his low fly-ball rate. He also proved to be a dead-pull hitter — the only one receiving an extreme grounder-pulling penalty among the group above — inviting infield overshifts. Both of those tendencies could place pressure upon his batting average moving forward. It would be wise to expect moderation on all fronts in 2017, but it would be nice to see his risk areas addressed. A .260/.320/.500 line from a starting catcher should not be seen as a disappointment by Yankee fans.

Steve Pearce continues his tour of the AL East, moving north to Toronto this season. He has proven to be an effective offensive player in carefully managed doses. He has no material weaknesses, as suggested by the lack of color on his line above. His solid K/BB foundation gives him a reasonably high floor. Pearce was quite fortunate on ground balls last season, batting .329 AVG-.355 SLG (188 Unadjusted Contact Score), far more production than the 112 mark his exit-speed/launch-angle data supported. His versatility should play well with the Jays, who might utilize him at first base, left field and even second base.

Mike Moustakas finally seemed to be reaching his potential before his season-ending knee injury. Not long ago, Moustakas was a dead-pull guy with a stifling pop-up tendency; both of those issues have been successfully addressed, and while he was at it, he reduced his already low K rate even further. Why didn’t this show much in his truncated seasonal numbers? He produced just a .200 AVG and .200 SLG on the ground (65 Unadjusted Contact Score) despite underlying data supporting a much higher 139 mark. Oh, and he hits the ball hard. On all BIP types. A healthy Moustakas is primed to take a significant step forward.

Ryon Healy was one of few bright spots in a dismal 2016 season in Oakland. Still, A’s fans would be wise to temper their expectations somewhat moving forward. Like Pearce, there is little color on his line item. While that does imply a dearth of glaring weaknesses, it also suggests the lack of a go-to strength. And there is one key weakness on his line: a very low BB rate. Healy was quite lucky on both liners (131 Unadjusted vs. 103 Adjusted Contact Score) and grounders (126 vs. 108) last season. There’s some real power here (175 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score), and a low pop-up rate always looks nice next to a sturdy fly-ball rate. I see Healy as a power-before-hit type, a .250-.260, 20-homer type not unlike an early-career version of new teammate Trevor Plouffe, who we’ll get to shortly.

Josh Reddick switched leagues late last season, moving to the Dodgers, and returns to the AL with the Astros this season. He appears to be morphing into Nick Markakis before our very eyes. There isn’t a whole lot of distance between Reddick’s high floor and low ceiling. His strikeout rate is very low, and he has done a nice job reducing his once-high pop-up rate. He doesn’t drive the baseball as he once did (2016 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score of 66), but he uses the entire field quite well. His K/BB foundation is strong enough that he can be an above-average offensive player with a below-average Adjusted Contact Score; I call that the Willie Randolph Effect. Can’t say I thought this was where Reddick would be five years ago, but here we are.

The saga of Mike Zunino continues, and it might still have a happy ending. He was famously rushed to the majors, and despite substantial defensive prowess, his massive K, pop-up and pull rates conspired to bring his offensive game crashing down. There were some positive developments last season. Most importantly, his BB rate was up sharply, and he moderated his dead-pull tendency to the extent that he was not assessed an extreme grounder-pulling penalty… barely.

That said, he hits the ball so weakly on the ground that a penalty wouldn’t hurt him much. His is an all-or-nothing uppercut stroke. His offensive weaknesses remain; they’re just not as cartoonish as before. His 2016 overall Adjusted Contact Score of 158 exactly matched Sanchez, believe it or not. Even now, that’s what Zunino has to do to the baseball to be an average-ish offensive player given his weaknesses. He remains a high-risk/high-reward guy, but at least there’s hope again for a 30-homer season at some point.

Trevor Plouffe heads west to compete for Oakland’s third-base job this spring. He’s always been a predictable, unremarkable offensive performer, basically the consummate league-average guy. He was still that same player in 2016, though his traditional numbers suggested less. He was unlucky on both fly balls (64 Unadjusted vs. 106 Adjusted Contact Score) and grounders (64 vs. 111), though he was dangerously close to a grounder-pulling penalty. A couple orange, if not red flags: moving to a pitcher-friendly home park won’t help him, and his downward BB rate trend is creating increasing pressure on his batting average. His ability to hit the ball hard on a line and on the ground serves as some insurance to that end.

Dae-Ho Lee gave MLB a one-year whirl last season, and his results were a mixed bag. He did hit the ball fairly hard in the air (147 Adjusted Contact Score), but simply didn’t hit enough fly balls to do real damage. His uppercut stroke created minimal authority on the ground. His elevated liner rate kept him afloat, but his subpar K/BB foundation and an overall unattractive authority portfolio for a first baseman simply wasn’t enough to make a real impact.

Jarrod Dyson’s minimal BIP authority isn’t done justice in the above table; his overall, fly ball and liner exit speeds were all over two full standard deviations below league average last season. He is the ultimate slap-and-run guy, with a very low K rate working in his favor, and everything else, especially his Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score of 37, working against him. He brings a spark and life to a club in a limited role, but 500 plate appearances of this could get old real quick.

Believe it or not, Darwin Barney’s Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score was even lower than Dyson’s, at 35. The only reason Barney appeared to be a better version of his recent self in 2016 was an elevated liner rate, up in the 76th percentile. Plus, despite hitting those liners very weakly (81 Adjusted Contact Score), he squeezed 102 Unadjusted Contact Score worth of production out of them. He’s still the same guy: a 25th man on an MLB roster at best or, more likely, Triple-A insurance.

It was great to see Jurickson Profar healthy and on a baseball field again last season. That said, I’m not certain that the power he once seemed certain to develop is going to be showing up anytime soon. Repeated shoulder injuries will do that to you. He struggles to elevate the ball at all, let alone with authority. On the plus side, his BB rate was high, and his liner rate should regress upward. A .270 average w/limited power wouldn’t shock me. As a jack-of-all-trades playing multiple positions, that works. As a primary left fielder, I’d want more.

Tyler Saladino appears to have dodged all of the offseason player movement on the South Side and should be part of the early stages of the Chisox’ rebuild. Offensively, there’s not a ton of upside, as his main features are limited BIP authority across the board and a depressed BB rate. His traditional numbers weren’t bad last season, but that was due to good fortune on fly balls (85 Unadjusted vs. 62 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score), liners (94 vs. 86) and especially grounders (148 vs. 93). He’s a serviceable all-purpose reserve infielder, but I wouldn’t expect more.

We hoped you liked reading 2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: A Few AL Non-Qualifiers by Tony Blengino!

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Still no Bregman 🙁