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

… and Alex Bregman, due to popular demand. Been grinding away at these hitter and pitcher contact-quality/-management reports for a good chunk of the offseason, and today we reach this series’ final chapter, with a handful of NL non-qualifiers who weren’t included in the position-by-position breakdowns of league regulars. Plus Bregman, who wasn’t included in last week’s AL non-qualifier piece.

In case you’re new to this type of analysis, we’re attempting to assess hitters’ true talent levels by using exit-speed and launch-angle data to determine how they “should have” performed in 2016. The players included today are NL hitters who ranked in the top 120 in the league in plate appearances but didn’t slot in as a club’s primary regular at any position — plus a handful of players requested by you, the readers. Here goes:

BIP Profiles – Selected NL Non-Quals
Kang 90.9 94.9 96.9 85.4 2.5% 34.8% 20.3% 42.3% 137 21.4% 9.7% 133 127 43.6%
Joseph 90.9 93.2 96.2 88.1 6.1% 39.0% 17.9% 37.0% 130 21.6% 6.3% 113 115 41.9%
T.Turner 90.5 91.7 95.0 88.0 2.0% 29.7% 25.2% 43.1% 122 18.2% 4.3% 147 113 36.8%
Broxton 95.0 94.9 98.2 93.8 0.9% 29.3% 25.0% 44.8% 175 36.1% 14.8% 109 112 40.0%
Toles 90.0 90.2 95.0 86.7 1.2% 28.4% 22.2% 48.1% 115 21.7% 7.0% 132 103 37.0%
J.Peralta 87.9 90.6 93.9 82.1 1.7% 33.5% 24.2% 40.7% 94 17.9% 6.4% 90 94 44.9%
K.Johnson 88.3 89.0 93.1 86.0 2.9% 28.8% 20.8% 47.5% 94 19.5% 7.5% 87 92 40.7%
Wong 87.4 85.2 92.0 86.9 2.3% 31.8% 19.9% 46.0% 72 14.4% 9.4% 85 86 45.1%
Pierzynski 87.9 85.3 94.4 86.8 1.4% 28.1% 20.0% 50.5% 81 11.2% 2.3% 41 86 36.2%
I.Suzuki 84.5 82.0 87.4 84.9 2.8% 21.3% 27.6% 48.3% 67 11.5% 8.2% 99 84 32.1%
Dahl 88.4 89.8 91.1 86.5 3.1% 30.0% 21.5% 45.4% 99 24.9% 6.3% 111 83 34.4%
Swanson 90.1 91.0 91.6 87.9 1.0% 29.9% 22.7% 46.4% 89 23.4% 9.0% 107 83 29.6%
Bregman* 88.2 88.6 95.9 82.6 5.4% 37.6% 28.2% 28.9% 86 24.0% 6.9% 112 77 38.0%

Most of the column headers are self-explanatory, including average BIP speed (overall and by BIP type), BIP type frequency, K and BB rates, 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.

Jung Ho Kang’s arrival at spring training has been delayed by off-field developments in his native South Korea. We’ll stick to the on-field data today. He has emerged as an immensely valuable offensive player, doling out considerable damage relative to his position even after a move from shortstop to third base. He is a power-before-hit player, focused on pulling the ball (he was hit with an excessive grounder-pulling penalty) and driving it in the air (216 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score). He doesn’t hit the ball very hard on the ground, which will put some pressure on his batting average moving forward. Reasonable K and BB rates act as some insurance in that regard.

There’s plenty of risk and reward in Tommy Joseph’s profile. He hits the ball like a first baseman should (201 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) but lacks the plate discipline you’d like in a power hitter. His pop-up rate is through the roof, and his fly-ball rate is unlikely to move any higher, effectively capping his long-ball power. On the other hand, he’s likely due for a positive bounce in his low liner rate (13th percentile in 2016) moving forward. He projects as a league-average-range offensive first baseman.

Trea Turner moves in from center field to shortstop in 2017. His traditional numbers get a boost from his exceptional speed, one that is not fully captured in this type of analysis. To wit: he recorded an incredible .378 AVG and .415 SLG (254 Unadjusted Contact Score) on grounders in 2016, while his underlying exit-speed and -angle data supported a much lower 108 mark. Part of that difference is real, and attributable to his wheels, while some is due to random chance. Even with the massive markdown from an overall 170 Unadjusted to a 122 Adjusted Contact Score, the resulting Adjusted Production figure of 113 is really good for either a center fielder or shortstop.

One should expect Turner’s sky-high liner rate (91st percentile) to regress downward, but there’s no cause for worry here. His very low pop-up rate is a good sign, as are his above-average Adjusted Contact Scores on all BIP types (122, 108 and 108 Fly Ball, Liner and Grounder, respectively.)

Keon Broxton possesses the single most interesting line of this entire series. There are really strong strengths and weak weaknesses everywhere you look. On the negative side, his K rate would render most mortals unplayable. A 36.1% K rate should be terminal. In addition, it’s almost certain that his very high liner rate will be coming down in 2017.

But boy, oh boy, does Broxton crush the baseball. He does it on all BIP types, too, as his Adjusted Fly Ball, Liner, Grounder and overall Contact Scores (of 216, 121, 162 and 175, respectively) all suggest. In addition, his walk rate is extremely high, at least mitigating the effects of his K rate, and he almost never pops up. On balance, I really like what I see. If he could get the K rate down into the 26-28% rate, we could have a real star on our hands. The Brewers have tons of prospect depth, but to take the next step, they need a star or two. Who would have thought that it might be Keon Broxton to fill that void?

Andrew Toles came out of nowhere to add real value to the Dodgers last season. His traditional numbers, however, were puffed up fairly significantly by his outsized performance on grounders. Toles batted .370 AVG-.444 SLG (261 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground, while the underlying data supported a much lower 105 mark. He runs OK, but nowhere near well enough to suggest such a speed premium. This is not Trea Turner. Toles’ line in the above table is quite vanilla; there’s nothing on which to hang his hat as the underpinning of a regular player’s skill set.

Jhonny Peralta’s very slow fade continued in 2016. Very quietly, his career arc confirms many of the basic tenets of BIP-based analysis. He has never been a crusher of the baseball but has combined a strong K/BB foundation, a consistently high liner rate, and a late-career change in approach towards pull-based power “harvesting” once his raw physical tools began to decline. All that said, there isn’t much ceiling left here. Even with his pull tendency, there isn’t much power remaining, and his average can only go so high given his low grounder exit speeds. His liner rate — 2016 was his seventh straight year with a percentile rank above 60, with six of them 77 of higher — keeps his floor reasonably high.

What is there to say about Kelly Johnson? Well, his line is devoid of any coloring whatsoever, the only player at any position in either league to meet that criterion. His ability to play multiple positions and function as a reasonably tough out with some pop off of the bench has been attractive — if not to every club than at least to the Braves and Mets. He isn’t signed at present.

Kolten Wong appears to be somewhat lost as a hitter, at least based on the 2016 data. The low K rate is a positive, but that’s about it. Right now, he’s a high-risk (extreme grounder-pulling tendency), low-reward (49 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) hitter. Even a very low K rate isn’t going to save someone with an overall Adjusted Contact Score of 72. The good news is that he doesn’t have to be powerful and use the whole field to be a league-average performer. He does need to be one or the other, though.

A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t nearly as bad as his numbers suggested in 2016, but he was… still bad anyway. Actually, this was largely a case of regression of the good fortune that drove his 2015 numbers. In any event, it was quite a career for Pierzynski, who played part of 19 seasons in the big leagues, accumulating 2,043 hits and a World Series title in 2005 with the White Sox.

Ichiro Suzuki remains one of a kind, and is basically impervious to this type of analysis. Even at his best, Ichiro never really crushed the baseball. It’s been about putting the ball in play and dramatically outperforming his exit-speed and -angle data, especially on the ground. He did so again in 2016, with his Unadjusted beating his Adjusted Grounder Contact Score by 118 to 73. Don’t be shocked by a performance plunge in 2017; that liner rate is coming down hard, and there’s nothing left in the air (32 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score).

Now for a trio of heralded youngsters whose 2016 true offensive talent levels were much lower than that suggested by their traditional numbers, for a variety of reasons. With David Dahl, it’s obviously all about Coors Field. He produced a lusty .442 AVG and 1.186 SLG (188 Unadjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) despite ordinary fly-ball authority that supported a much lower 86 mark. He also overperformed on grounders by a wide margin (236 Unadjusted vs. 85 Adjusted Grounder Contact Score). Again, Dahl runs fine, but not that well. Overall, his Unadjusted Contact Score of 170 gets cut way down to 99 for context. He’s still young and getting stronger, and Coors will certainly hide some warts, but don’t be shocked if Dahl comes down to earth in 2017.

Then there’s Dansby Swanson. He somehow batted an otherworldly .483 AVG-.483 SLG (386 Unadjusted Contact Score) on grounders, compared to the much lower 105 mark supported by the data. He also overperformed on fly balls (121 Unadjusted vs. 68 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score), and his high liner rate is likely to regress downward moving forward. I do like that low pop-up rate, however. Overall, his 135 Unadjusted Contact Score gets carved down to 89 for context. Again, he’s just a kid and is still physically developing, but he doesn’t project as a star offensive player anytime soon. His eventual offensive upside is more Brandon Crawford than Carlos Correa.

Then there’s Alex Bregman. His profile here, put bluntly, is a mess. He doesn’t impact his grounders, at all, and almost always pulls them. He hit .154 AVG-.179 SLG (44 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground, and was assessed an excessive-pulling penalty. His traditional 2016 numbers were propped up by an unsustainably high liner rate. His pop-up rate was high, and his fly-ball rate has nowhere to go but down. Bregman significantly outperformed his exit-speed and -angle data on fly balls (121 Unadjusted vs. 66 Adjusted Contact Score) and liners (142 vs. 104). His raw numbers suggest a ready-for-prime-time player; digging deeper calls that status into question. He looks like a power-before-hit guy who hasn’t developed much power just yet.

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7 years ago

Is there a breakdown of the BIP profile of Nelson Cruz anywhere? I went back and checked both your AL RF and 1B/DH articles and didn’t see his name listed. Thanks for your work on these profiles.

Graham Singer
7 years ago
Reply to  MS97

he’s in the AL 1B/DH article, one of the DHs closest to the top