2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: NL Center Fielders

The primary focus this week might be on the Hall of Fame results, but our position-by-position look at hitter contact quality rolls on. Earlier this week, we reviewed American League center fielders; today, we turn to their National League counterparts. As a reminder, we are using granular exit-speed and launch-angle data to determine how 2016 regulars “should have” performed.

The players below are listed in Adjusted Production order. Adjusted Production expresses, on a scale where 100 equals average, what a hitter “should have” produced based on the exit speed/launch angle of each ball put in play. Each player’s Adjusted Contact Score, which weeds out the strikeouts and walks and states what each player should have produced on BIP alone, is also listed. Here goes:

NL CF BIP Profiles
Cespedes 92.7 92.7 96.3 91.3 4.8% 36.6% 21.5% 37.1% 149 19.9% 9.4% 134 142 39.3%
Pederson 93.2 94.8 96.5 92.7 4.4% 35.3% 20.6% 39.7% 159 27.3% 13.2% 129 131 41.6%
McCutchen 90.3 93.0 93.6 86.6 5.3% 36.4% 22.5% 35.8% 127 21.2% 10.2% 106 122 44.8%
Blackmon 88.1 88.2 92.2 85.6 2.8% 35.0% 27.8% 34.4% 116 15.9% 6.7% 130 119 43.9%
Fowler 88.4 87.7 93.1 86.2 2.4% 33.1% 23.8% 40.7% 113 22.5% 14.3% 129 115 39.5%
Ozuna 91.5 90.6 95.7 90.7 3.4% 33.1% 19.5% 43.9% 115 18.9% 7.1% 105 111 37.7%
Grichuk 92.3 94.3 96.6 89.9 4.6% 39.2% 15.7% 40.5% 147 29.5% 5.9% 102 103 47.1%
Span 86.2 85.5 88.6 85.9 2.1% 22.6% 22.6% 52.7% 83 12.4% 8.3% 96 99 37.7%
O.Herrera 88.5 87.0 90.0 90.5 3.2% 28.8% 21.6% 46.4% 98 20.4% 9.6% 110 98 26.7%
Nieuwenhuis 91.1 94.5 95.4 87.2 2.0% 31.8% 19.7% 46.5% 112 33.9% 14.3% 89 85 48.5%
Inciarte 85.8 85.9 89.5 84.3 4.2% 22.6% 23.7% 49.4% 62 11.8% 7.8% 97 77 31.9%
Jay 86.1 85.4 91.0 84.3 1.1% 20.0% 24.1% 54.9% 80 20.9% 5.1% 100 73 35.8%
Bourn 85.2 87.9 86.9 82.0 1.8% 24.3% 22.4% 51.5% 73 22.3% 6.8% 79 68 36.2%
Hamilton 83.1 82.2 85.6 83.1 3.0% 27.5% 21.9% 47.7% 66 20.2% 7.8% 78 68 34.9%
Revere 83.7 84.8 85.8 82.7 0.3% 26.2% 18.1% 55.3% 54 9.1% 4.8% 47 66 37.5%
AVERAGE 88.4 89.0 91.8 86.9 3.0% 30.2% 21.7% 45.1% 104 20.4% 8.8% 102 98 38.9%

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

Despite the absence of Mike Trout, the NL center-field group actually was more productive than their junior-circuit counterparts, no matter the measuring stick. It’s all about depth. The second place AL center fielder, Adam Jones, would rank seventh in the NL.

Yoenis Cespedes is listed with the center fielders, though it certainly remains open to debate whether he meets the defensive requirements of the position. Offensively, no questions remain: he’s elite, no matter where he plays. He always has tattooed the baseball, but it took some time for him to hone his K/BB foundation from its unacceptable early state. His K rate has gradually descended into the average range, and he pulled a Sammy Sosa in 2016 with regard to his BB rate. That is, he’s still a free-swinger, but he has finally earned the “respect” walks that proven sluggers receive once pitchers tire of challenging them. He’s a 3-4-5 hitter for any club in the game.

Both risk and reward abound in Joc Pederson’s profile. He destroys all BIP types, but most importantly, decimates the ball in the air (298 Unadjusted and Adjusted Contact Score, the best among NL regulars). His walk rate is high, and his significant grounder authority also affords him some batting-average insurance. His overall 159 Adjusted Contact Score was the best at his position, even better than Cespedes. It needs to be, as his K rate is a real problem. Pederson hits the ball the other way just enough to keep clubs honest, but he rates as a clear power-before-hit guy, albeit a very good one. With targeted improvements, he could be one of the stars of his generation, but the time to make those adjustments is now.

So, is Andrew McCutchen a little higher on this list than you expected? There are issues here, but he’s still pretty good. He was quite unlucky on both fly balls (122 Unadjusted vs. 150 Adjusted Contact Score) and liners (84 vs. 102), and overall, his 127 Adjusted Contact Score far outstripped his unadjusted 108 mark. About those issues, however… K rate up, BB rate way down, pop-up rate way up — and, just as importantly as any of them, he became an extreme puller on the ground, inviting infield overshifts and severely hampering his grounder production (.215 AVG-.215 SLG). Great hitters have down years, but they then make adjustments. Let’s see what McCutchen does this season, hopefully in a corner-outfield role.

Both of these statements can be correct: Charlie Blackmon is a pretty good baseball player, and Charlie Blackmon is greatly aided by Coors Field. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, but his home park gives him a big boost. His Unadjusted Fly Ball (163) and Line Drive (118) Contact Scores are way above his adjusted marks of 108 and 98. Overall, his 148 Unadjusted Contact Score dwarfs his adjusted 116 mark. What he does very well is not only make contact, but make squared-up contact. His liner rates have been in the 84th and 97th percentiles among NL regulars the past two seasons, so this appears to be a true talent of his. Not all Rockies are helped uniformly by Coors, but Blackmon just might be helped more than any of them.

As previously stated, speed players aren’t necessarily treated well by this type of analysis. The fact that Dexter Fowler still fares well despite his healthy speed premium is a testament to his development as a player. He greatly outperformed his granular data on the ground (.322 AVG-.356 SLG, 185 Unadjusted Contact Score, vs. 104 adjusted mark) thanks largely to his wheels. Like Blackmon, he doesn’t hit the ball all that hard, and though his liner rates typically aren’t as high, he’s a star-caliber offensive player in years when his liner rate spikes, like 2014 and 2016. He should be reasonably productive throughout his new deal with the Cardinals.

I’ve long been a big fan of Marcell Ozuna, and am still waiting for him to take the next step to stardom. I’m beginning to wonder whether we’re all just going to have to settle for a nice, above-average player. He hits all BIP types harder than average (114, 114 and 126 Adjusted Fly Ball, Liner and Grounder Contact Scores), but stars hit their fly balls a lot harder than that. He crushes a bunch of them, but mis-hits quite a few as well. There’s room to grow: his K and BB rates are both moving in the right direction, and his liner rate has plenty of ceiling remaining. It’s never even been league average. His best year is still ahead of him, and I’d guess it will be really good. I do doubt at this point whether he’ll ever become the perennial 30-homer guy I once envisioned.

Randal Grichuk has a lot of holes, but he has a ton of potential as well. He was seen as a disappointment last season, being demoted to the minors at one point, but his clear strengths are tough to ignore. He destroys the baseball, especially in the air (242 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score). His overall 147 Adjusted Contact Score was third only to Cespedes and Pederson among this group, but he needed every bit of it due to his awful K/BB foundation. His liner rate was off the charts low as well, in the third percentile among NL regulars. With improved K, BB and liner rates, Grichuk is a star, even in a corner-outfield spot. I’m a believer. Cardinals tend to get better.

Denard Span exudes league average-ness, and I mean that as a compliment. How he gets it done — with OBP-centric skills that make him a prototypical leadoff man — is in short supply in the game these days. He’s clearly begun his descent, as his K and BB rates are beginning to creep in the wrong direction, and his never-that-impressive ball-striking authority has slipped out of the average range. His liner rate has been in the 68th percentile or higher in each of the last three seasons, so the chances of him remaining a viable asset for the remainder of his contract appear solid.

Odubel Herrera went from Rule 5 pick to incredibly wealthy man in a short period of time. Like Fowler, he fares well in this analysis despite the fact his speed premium is ignored. He batted an extreme .348 AVG-.362 SLG (206 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground, far outdistancing his adjusted 136 mark. Still, he does hit his grounders much harder than league average, so it’s not all speed. His K and BB rates also improved markedly, so he’s a legitimate offensive threat. For Herrera to be rated a league-average bat, excluding the effect of his legs, is quite a statement.

Things drop off dramatically from here. Amazingly, Kirk Nieuwenhuis‘ fly-ball authority is second to only Pederson’s on this list. Relax, though, as he’s a pure platooner who totally sells out for power, whiffing and pulling constantly. He batted a puny .116 AVG-.130 SLG (24 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground thanks to the overshifts, and earned an extreme-pulling penalty. He does draw his walks, but should be seen as more of a complementary player as the Brewer rebuild enters its next phase.

Ender Inciarte deserves every bit of praise that he receives for his defense, but he is a very limited offensive player. His 22 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score is lower than Billy Hamilton’s. He overperformed on all three BIP types, and his speed is of limited help on fly balls and liners. He has posted above-average liner rates throughout his career, and does make consistent contact, so he’s not an offensive black hole, but I don’t envision him becoming even an average bat for this defensive-oriented position.

Jon Jay joins the World Champion Cubs (kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) this season. I’m not sure this is going to go very well. Jay does square up the baseballL his liner rate has been above league average every season since 2010. That’s about it for the good, however. His K and BB rates are both getting away from him, and he was quite lucky on all BIP types in 2016 (89 Unadjusted vs. 46 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score, 108 vs. 94 Liner, 92 vs. 69 Grounder, 110 vs. 80 Overall). Expect little more than perhaps an empty .270-plus batting average from Jay.

Michael Bourn appeared to be a reasonably competent complementary player for both the Diamondbacks and Orioles last season. “Appeared” is the key word here. He, too, was lucky on all BIP types, with his overall 94 Unadjusted Contact Score far outstripping his adjusted 73 mark. His K/BB foundation, once a strength, is poor for a table-setter. The 2016 season was his best-case scenario offensively. He shouldn’t ever receive 300-plus plate appearances again.

Billy Hamilton has been very slow to cobble together a representative offensive game. I’ve never been one to advocate simply slapping the ball on the ground and running for just about anyone, but that’s my advice for Hamilton. He strikes out too much, has no impact in the air (27 Adjusted Contact Score) or on a line (81), and his speed premium is considerable (.311 AVG-.377 SLG, 186 Unadjusted Contact Score, miles above adjusted 63 mark). His overall, fly-ball and liner authority are all over two full STD lower than league average. He needs to show offensive progress in 2017.

Ben Revere, who moves to the Angels this season, is cooked offensively. He doesn’t run like he used to, and has basically been reduced to slapping weak infield grounders. His Adjusted Fly Ball (22), Liner (79) and Grounder (64) Contact Scores were all among the very lowest among 2016 regulars. He makes tons of contact, but most of it is superfluous.

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Love this series, Tony. Keon Broxton only trailed Kirk Nieuwenhuis by a handful of plate appearances/batted balls for the Brewers in CF last year & from all accounts he absolutely smokes the ball.

Any chance we could get a quick summation of his batted ball profile? Thank you.


I’d love to see a summary of Keon Broxton as well.