Batted Ball Profiles for Remaining Free Agent Hitters

The Super Bowl is over, spring training is nearly upon us, and a whole bunch of potentially valuable free agents remain unsigned. Previously in this space, we already took a look at Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana from a batted-ball profile perspective; today and tomorrow, we’ll examine five others – starting pitchers Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, and position players Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz. Today, we’ll look at the hitters – tomorrow, the pitchers.

Below you will see the three hitters’ K and BB rates, as well as their batted ball breakdowns by type, all expressed relative to MLB averages, both in a scaled to 100 and percentile form.

Drew % REL PCT
K 24.80% 124 78
BB 10.80% 136 83
POP 11.70% 150 84
FLY 31.50% 111 68
LD 23.70% 111 79
GB 33.10% 78 9
—— —— —— ——
Morales % REL PCT
K 17.40% 87 47
BB 7.50% 94 43
POP 5.50% 71 22
FLY 29.60% 105 57
LD 19.90% 93 27
GB 44.90% 105 73
—— —— —— ——
Cruz % REL PCT
K 23.90% 120 75
BB 7.70% 97 46
POP 9.40% 120 67
FLY 31.40% 111 65
LD 19.10% 90 15
GB 40.10% 94 48

Stephen Drew turns 31 next month. His K and BB rates have both been consistently higher than league average over the last few seasons, with both percentile ranks climbing to career highs of 78 and 83 last season, respectively. He has developed a significant fly ball tendency, and his popup rates have also been consistently high. Drew’s popup percentile ranks have been over 70 for four years, and over 80 for two. For a guy lacking big power, this is not a good thing. His fly ball percentile rank of 68 is in line with his career norms. Drew’s 2013 line drive percentile rank of 79 nearly matched his career best, and marked his fourth straight year of 67 or higher. LD rates don’t correlate very well from year to year, but four good years in a row is a nice trend. With all of these popups, flies and liners, there’s obviously not much of the pie left for the grounders – Drew’s best grounder percentile rank since 2008 is 24.

Kendrys Morales will turn 31 this summer. For a power guy, his K and BB rates are both quite low, with 2013 percentile ranks of 47 and 43, respectively. He’s more than just a grip-it-and-rip-it type – his popup percentile rank of 22 is very low – it has been below MLB average in each of his years as a regular. His line drive rates have been quite low, however, as his 2013 percentile rank of 27 essentially matched his 2012 mark. His groundball frequencies have been consistently high – 73 percentile rank in 2013, 70 or higher in three of his last four seasons. That’s not a good thing when you’re among the slowest runners in the game.

Nelson Cruz will turn 34 this summer. Cruz has the nasty combination of a higher than MLB average K rate and a lower than MLB average BB rate. He has met those criteria three years running, and his K and BB percentile ranks of 75 and 46, respectively, are quite representative of his true ability level. Unlike Morales, Cruz has the more typical all-or-nothing power hitter BIP profile with regard to popups and fly balls – his percentile ranks in those categories (67 and 65 in 2013) have consistently been well above league average throughout his career. His miniscule line drive percentile rank of 15 is also representative of his true ability level – it has declined four years in a row. Cruz is not and has never been a prolific ground ball hitter.

Now that we’ve examined the hitters’ batted ball frequencies, let’s examine the production. For each hitter, their actual AVG and SLG by batted-ball type is listed, and the resulting run value is expressed relative to MLB average, scaled to 100. For each batted-ball type, an adjusted relative run value is listed, which incorporates park factors, luck, etc.. The “ALL BIP” line item aggregates the relative run values for all batted-ball types, and the “ALL PA” line item incorporates the K and BB information. (SH and SF are included as outs, and HBP is excluded from the slash line for purposes of this exercise.)

FLY 0.392 —— 0.969 178 112
LD 0.667 —— 0.931 109 103
GB 0.204 —— 0.252 82 146
ALL BIP 0.352 —— 0.616 133 121
ALL PA 0.253 0.335 0.443 117 108
—— —— —— —— —— ——
FLY 0.366 —— 0.978 170 236
LD 0.611 —— 0.8 86 114
GB 0.236 —— 0.246 96 135
ALL BIP 0.343 —— 0.556 117 152
ALL PA 0.278 0.332 0.45 117 149
—— —— —— —— —— ——
FLY 0.379 —— 1.179 221 205
LD 0.691 —— 0.982 119 127
GB 0.273 —— 0.298 133 133
ALL BIP 0.351 —— 0.662 143 142
ALL PA 0.258 0.316 0.488 120 119

As a frame of reference, consider that the MLB average AVG-SLG on fly balls in 2013 was .284-.743, on line drives was .657-.863 and on ground balls was .237-.257. The MLB average AVG-SLG on all batted balls was .323-.505.

Drew’s actual fly ball production run values are inflated significantly by Fenway Park, which turns many a routine fly into singles and doubles. It’s a big comedown from 178 relative fly ball production to 112. Drew’s actual ground ball production was quite low, and is adjusted significantly upward to 146 based on Drew’s hard/soft ground ball rates. However……..Drew is an “extreme ground ball puller” – he hit 6.25 times as many groundballs to RCF/RF than to LF/LCF in 2013… I am very uncomfortable inflating Drew’s ground ball production higher than the league average of 100.

He’s an easy infield overshift decision, and will be hard pressed to do much damage on the ground. That knocks down his adjusted overall projection a tad from the level listed above – adjusted for park, luck, etc., Drew is basically a league average bat, about a .240-.325-.395 guy – not bad for a shortstop, but not the type of guy who deserves big dollars and years.

Morales’ fly ball production, on the other hand, was killed by the new and improved but still pitcher-friendly Safeco Field last year, and should be adjusted upward from a relative run value of 170 to 236. His .611 AVG and .800 SLG on line drives was also much lower than it should have been, due to bad luck. Morales’ hard/soft grounder rates also cause his ground ball relative run values to be adjusted upward, though that must be taken with a grain of salt due to his lack of speed.

Still, it is very clear that Kendrys Morales was a significantly better offensive player than his actual numbers suggested in 2013. While that 149 adjusted relative overall production figure is likely a bit heavy because of Morales’ lack of speed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morales’ true talent level doesn’t reside somewhere in the .295-.350-.500 range – pretty solid, even for a DH.

Cruz’ fly ball power is real – his home park in Texas punched it up a bit, but a downward adjustment from 221 to 205 is no big deal. Cruz also tattoos his line drives, and his solid ground ball production is supported by his hard/soft grounder rates. His overall BIP run value relative to the league of 142 isn’t far behind Morales’ 152 mark. Cruz gets hurt once you add back the K’s and BB’s – Morales’ relatively low K rate allows his relative production to barely drift downward to 149, while Cruz’ mark drops sharply to 119.

Stephen Drew has a checkered injury history, to be kind, and was helped greatly by his home park last season. He is an adequate defender who shouldn’t have to move off of the shortstop position very soon. He possesses a significant normal platoon split. He is not the type of player to whom you would want to make a material commitment in terms of dollars or years. He is likely worth more to the Red Sox than anyone else because of the Fenway fly ball factor. A one-year, $10M deal to go back to Boston would make tons of sense. For another club to go to that level or higher and give up a draft pick would be done at that club’s peril.

Kendrys Morales has a massive leg injury in his past, though he did hold up quite well in 2013. He is an offense-only player, with zero baserunning or defensive value. He is a switch-hitter who is much more dangerous from the left side. That said, this guy can flat hit, and he has played his entire career in very pitcher-friendly surroundings. In the right ballpark, Morales can put up serious offensive numbers. He is a hit-before-power guy, as opposed to a power-before-hit guy – and that is meant in a good way.

Outside of injury recurrence, there is very little risk that Morales won’t be a significant offensive performer in the next two to three years. You are paying for the bat only, but a two or three year deal for about $10M per year can be justified, if you can stomach the draft pick compensation.

Ah, Nelson Cruz…..his injury history is more of the nagging variety, but there’s the matter of last year’s PED suspension that likely propped up all of his batted-ball numbers last season. While Morales is a bat-only guy who doesn’t play the field, Cruz might be even worse – a bat-only guy who plays the field and gives back a big chunk of his value. He is a power-before-hit guy, and gets no quarter from his K and BB rates. Red flags abound. He’s worthy of a year or two at a modest cost… a DH.

As a regular corner outfielder, there’s really no reason to get anywhere near him. The team most commonly linked to him, the Mariners, might be the worst fit. They need outfielders, for sure, but calling Nelson Cruz an outfielder is truly a stretch at this point, and even though the Safeco fences have come in, they still knock down fly balls to the LCF/CF area that Cruz loves as much or more than any ballpark with the possible exception of PNC Park.

On a closing, related note to the last point on Cruz, let’s take a look at Corey Hart’s batted ball frequency and production data for 2012.

Hart % REL PCT
K 24.30% 134 85
BB 7.10% 86 35
POP 6.20% 74 27
FLY 37.20% 130 95
LD 18.00% 85 12
GB 38.70% 92 34
FLY 0.379 —— 1.098 192 148
LD 0.654 —— 0.872 110 112
GB 0.278 —— 0.318 143 119
ALL BIP 0.37 —— 0.693 156 132
ALL PA 0.27 0.323 0.507 124 108

In 2012, Hart’s K rate was higher and BB rate was lower relative to the league compared to 2013 Nelson Cruz. He was a more extreme fly ball hitter, and had a similarly low LD rate, though his popup rate was much lower. Production-wise, Hart slightly lags Cruz pretty much across the board of all batted-ball types once you adjust for hitter-friendly Miller Park; he had a 132 run value relative to the MLB average on all BIP, compared to 142 for Cruz.

Plug in the K’s and BB’s, and Hart drops down to 108. Like Cruz, Hart does the bulk of his damage to the parts of the field that Safeco kills, and one likely shouldn’t expect much defensive value, at least in the outfield, from a guy coming off of a significant surgical procedure and a full missed season. While one can understand the search for some righthanders to complement the young lefty bats in Seattle, going after multiple defensively-challenged big-part-of-a-big-field fly ball hitters would appear to be an overly risky strategy.

Lots of player movement is likely to happen in the coming days, with one or more of the above likely to find homes before too long. Breaking these players’ 2013 stat lines into smaller building blocks often yields insights that aren’t obvious on the surface. A major commitment of both years and dollars to any of the above players would appear risky, but the right team adding the right player discussed above for the right contract terms could represent the difference between success and failure in 2014.

We hoped you liked reading Batted Ball Profiles for Remaining Free Agent Hitters by Tony Blengino!

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I would love to have these exact breakouts for all hitters (and pitchers as well) as some sort of added option on this site (if I’m not seeing it, just my ignorance, and I’d love to know where).

My only quibble is that the last sentence before the second chart should be rewritten to explain what actually shows up in the chart. I was able to make sense of it, but it was a distraction to an otherwise great column.

Thanks Tony!