2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: NL Right Fielders

We’re headed down the homestretch of our position-by-position look at hitter contact quality, utilizing granular exit speed and launch angle data. Last week, we examined American League right fielders; today, we turn our focus to their National League counterparts.

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 RF BIP Profiles
Harper 89.5 89.7 95.6 86.9 3.8% 38.6% 17.2% 40.4% 109 18.7% 17.2% 112 130 39.4%
C.Gonzalez 91.1 88.6 95.9 90.9 2.6% 29.9% 21.3% 46.2% 137 20.4% 7.3% 108 126 37.1%
Stanton 95.1 95.0 99.0 95.2 5.1% 38.2% 16.7% 40.0% 164 29.8% 10.6% 114 121 40.4%
Piscotty 88.8 90.6 93.5 85.0 3.3% 32.9% 20.2% 43.6% 127 20.5% 7.9% 115 118 42.3%
Pence 91.9 91.1 96.6 90.8 3.0% 25.4% 16.8% 54.8% 125 21.5% 9.7% 121 118 34.0%
Kemp 88.8 92.1 92.3 82.5 1.9% 37.8% 20.5% 39.9% 138 23.2% 5.4% 109 115 44.5%
Tomas 91.3 91.5 96.4 88.9 1.3% 30.1% 21.0% 47.6% 142 24.2% 5.5% 109 115 41.0%
Markakis 91.4 89.2 94.7 92.0 2.4% 32.7% 21.9% 43.0% 99 14.8% 10.4% 98 115 33.5%
Polanco 90.7 90.2 97.3 88.4 4.1% 33.0% 24.0% 38.8% 114 20.3% 9.0% 108 111 49.2%
Bruce 89.3 92.7 93.0 83.9 2.4% 38.6% 21.9% 37.1% 115 21.4% 7.5% 111 106 44.5%
Granderson 88.4 89.6 92.3 83.3 1.9% 40.2% 21.5% 36.4% 99 20.5% 11.7% 114 103 43.6%
Puig 91.6 94.2 93.9 92.4 8.0% 27.1% 16.4% 48.5% 97 20.1% 6.5% 102 91 43.0%
Heyward 87.4 85.0 90.6 89.0 4.8% 28.5% 20.5% 46.2% 77 15.7% 9.1% 72 88 40.7%
H.Perez 89.2 87.2 92.2 90.1 1.9% 34.2% 20.4% 43.5% 90 21.9% 4.2% 89 78 36.9%
Bourjos 88.4 88.7 90.4 88.6 5.0% 27.0% 17.0% 51.0% 75 23.8% 4.4% 79 63 41.3%
AVERAGE 90.2 90.4 94.2 88.5 3.4% 32.9% 19.8% 43.8% 114 21.1% 8.4% 104 107 40.8%

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.

As stated in last week’s review of AL right fielders, the two leagues were almost equally productive at this position, with the AL a bit more top-heavy. That relative top-heaviness was due in part to a steep decline by the NL’s positional standard-bearer, Bryce Harper, relative to his 2015 tour de force. He’s quite a topic. First, we don’t want to overreact to Harper’s subpar ball-striking (109 overall Adjusted Contact Score), as he dealt with nagging injuries for most of the season. That said, areas of concern do exist. He was one of three regular NL right fielder to be levied an extreme grounder-pulling penalty. (A handful of others came close.) He batted all of .198 AVG-.214 SLG (69 Contact Score) on the ground. This is a new, negative development. In addition, Harper’s 2016 overall average exit velocity sat squarely in the average range; it might surprise you that he’s never ranked better than “yellow” in that category.

Now for the reasons not to worry. One: his K/BB foundation is about as good as it gets. It enables him to absorb struggles of all sorts while remaining productive even in his “off” seasons. His liner rate is ripe for positive regression moving forward; he sat in the eighth percentile among NL regulars in this category in 2016 after ranking in the 72nd and 62nd percentiles the previous two seasons. Oh, and he’ll play at age 24 in 2017. No, he’s not Mike Trout, but Harper is still pretty darned good.

Very quietly, Carlos Gonzalez wasn’t helped by Coors Field last season. He batted.342 AVG-.932 SLG (115 Unadjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) in the air despite granular data that supported a higher 147 mark. He doesn’t destroy the baseball to quite the extent he once did, but he still hits all BIP types hard (Adjusted Contact Scores of 147, 121, 135 and 137 on fly balls, liners, grounders and overall), and his strikeout rate has gradually moderated over time. He lacks the ceiling he once did, but now projects as a safely above average offensive ballplayer in any ballpark.

Giancarlo Stanton has arrived at a career crossroads. He remains the game’s premier baseball destroyer, though his 2016 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score of 220 is down a bit off of career highs. He crushes all BIP types and hits a ton of fly balls: all should be A-OK with regard to contact quality, right? Well, whiffing as much as he does (and his trend is up sharply in that category), he needs a 164 overall Adjusted Contact Score to merely rank as a reasonably well above-average offensive right fielder.

Stanton has (a) never posted a league-average liner rate; (b) is flirting with extreme grounder-puller status, which would deal his already tenuous batting average a body blow; and (c) sees both his K and BB rates spinning in the wrong directions. Throw in the possibility that he may now truly be injury prone, and there’s a ton of risk here. Mike Trout had some negative markers on his profile a couple years back; he dealt with them. Stanton must do the same, or his contract size and length could soon become an issue.

Stephen Piscotty lacks the ceiling of the players already discussed, but he possesses a fairly high floor. If anything, he was a bit unlucky in the air (136 Unadjusted vs. 163 Adjusted Contact Score). There are no overarching strengths or weaknesses here, though his relatively weak grounder authority could act as a limiting factor on his batting average. He feels like a long-term .280-.290, 20 HR guy who could drive in 100 runs out of the No. 5 hole for a long time, say the Bill Skowron of his time.

Hunter Pence’s profile is as odd-looking as his swing, but both sure do work for him. Pence, too, has never posted a league-average liner rate, but he more than compensates by smoking BIP of all types (Adjusted Contact Scores of 176, 118, 136 and 125 for Fly Balls, Liners, Grounders and overall). He uses the entire field and has maintained a high level of athleticism well into his 30s. Interestingly, he has never posted a league-average fly-ball rate, either; his is a young player’s profile that could yet yield an impressive late-career power peak.

Matt Kemp is the classic power “harvester.” He has allowed his walk rate to disappear as he has focused on pulling the ball in the air. He, too, ran squarely up against the assessment of an extreme grounder-pulling penalty; he batted all of .200 AVG-.221 SLG (71 Adjusted Production) on the ground thanks to that and to an uppercut swing that severely limits grounder authority. After posting above-average liner rates and overall exit speeds from 2008 to -14, he has plunged in both categories due to his singular focus on pull power. He’ll continue to hit homers and do little else for at least a while longer.

Yasmany Tomas has struggled defensively thus far in his MLB career, but there signs that he can be a long-term middle-of-the-order run producer. Yes, his K/BB foundation is almost non-existent, which limits his margin for error with regard to ball-striking. That said, he hits all BIP types well (Adjusted Contact Scores of 168, 115, 109 and 142 on Fly Balls, Liners, Grounders and overall) and runs a very low pop-up rate in relation to his fly-ball rate. That’s a strength he shares with Kemp, the player immediately above him on the list. Even modest improvements in his K and BB rates could run him significantly higher on this list. It’s sort of the Mark Trumbo starter set with regard to both assets and liabilities.

Nick Markakis is the anti-Yasmany Tomas. Markakis’ impeccable K/BB foundation affords him considerable margin for error with regard to contact authority. That’s a good thing, as he lugged around an Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score of just 58 last season, worst on this list. Markakis uses the entire field, however, and really strokes his ground balls. He was actually quite unlucky on the ground, batting just .236 AVG-.242 SLG (94 Unadjusted Contact Score) despite fundamentals that supported a much higher 139 mark. He churns out solid liner rates annually and appears to be a fairly safe bet to finish within hailing distance of league-average offense for the intermediate future.

Gregory Polanco is a lump of clay who needs to decide whether he’s a hit-before-power or a power-before-hit player. The strong K/BB foundation relative to is youth suggests the former, his near extreme grounder-pulling status the latter. The stakes are pretty high. He batted just .180 AVG-.195 SLG (57 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground last season, despite granular data supporting a 120 mark. If he hadn’t been relatively lucky in the air (142 Unadjusted vs. 102 Adjusted Contact Score), his grounder performance would have hammered his bottom line. I’m relatively bullish on Polanco, but 2017 is a key year.

Next up, the matched set of Mets, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson. Two “harvesters” with similar strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, both hit lots of fly balls while limiting their pop-up rates. On the negative side, both are fairly extreme grounder-pullers (Granderson barely netting a penalty, Bruce barely missing one) with uppercut swings and the resulting well below-average grounder authority. I’m a little more sanguine about Granderson’s prospects moving forward. He has sharply cut his pop-up rate in recent seasons, and his K rate has moderated, as well. On the other hand, Bruce’s overall BIP authority has been gradually slipping away in recent seasons. If I were the Mets, I’d move Bruce, but then again I probably wouldn’t have dealt assets for him in the first place.

Yasiel Puig’s upside remains substantial, but it’s time for him to work on the major blemishes on his offensive game. His always above-average pop-up rate really got away from him in 2016; it was far and away the highest among NL regulars. It’s even more noticeable when compared to his relatively low fly-ball rate. With the two in such proportion you get all of the risk with very little reward. In addition, his liner-rate percentile rank has now remained in single digits for three years running. Below average is fine (ask Hunter Pence), but that far below is not. To top it off, he was an extreme grounder-puller, offsetting to some extent his well above-average grounder authority.

Should he figure it out, his Adjusted Fly Ball (137), Liner (109) and Grounder (142, despite the penalty) Contact Scores tell you all you need to know. His batted-ball mix was so bad that it took those high-quality ingredients and created a soup resulting in a below-average 97 overall Adjusted Contact Score. I still believe in the upside.

Then there’s Jason Heyward. Much has been made of his new swing this offseason, and truth be told, the old one was ready to put into storage. His pop-up to fly-ball ratio is poor, though not to the same extent as Puig’s. His average fly-ball exit speed is ugly compared to his peers, as is his 59 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score. This is a big strong guy who put up MLB numbers at a young age, so this is all about swing and body mechanics; the strength and athleticism are there. Luckily, his K/BB foundation makes his offensive game somewhat tolerable in a great lineup, and his defensive contribution is immense. He’s still young enough to figure it out. Watch the pop-up rate and the fly-ball exit speed in the early going to get a read on his progress.

Hernan Perez is a useful utilityman who really shouldn’t play as much as he did last season. He’s a wild swinger whose poor BB rate gives him a very low floor. His bottom line was propped up by his home park (92 Unadjusted vs. 67 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score) and a high fly-ball rate. Like others on this list, his ability to limit pop ups while elevating the ball fairly regularly is a true talent. His ability to hit the ball hard on the ground (123 Adjusted Contact Score) also affords him some batting-average insurance. He’s a nice multipurpose backup, but I wouldn’t bet on his next opportunity for regular play to go as smoothly.

Peter Bourjos was nominally the Phils’ regular right fielder last season, and he moves on to the White Sox on a minor-league deal in 2017. There are multiple holes in his offensive game: he doesn’t hit the ball all that hard (overall 75 Adjusted Contact Score), has posted very low liner rates whenever he’s had a chance to play regularly, and his K/BB foundation is poor. That said, his game has a heavy speed premium, allowing him to outperform his exit-speed/launch-angle data, especially on the ground. Not by enough to justify him ever again earning a regular role, however.

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7 years ago

I must have missed Josh Reddick. What post did you classify him in?

7 years ago

Not an NL RF anymore.