Hitter Contact-Quality Report: First Base and DH

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken a look at the 2016 contact management ability of ERA-qualifying starting pitchers in both leagues, utilizing granular batted-ball data. Now it’s the hitters’ turn. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position look at hitters’ contact quality, using exit speed, launch angle, and BIP type frequencies as our tools. Today, let’s look at each team’s primary first basemen and designated hitters.

The data examined today runs through June 2. Players are separated by league and position, and 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:

AL 1B BIP Profiles – Thru 6/2
Name Avg MPH FLY MPH LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% ADJ C K% BB% wRC+ ADJ PR Pull%
M. Cabrera 93.2 94.3 96.6 90.3 1.8% 29.9% 23.4% 44.9% 191 15.0% 10.6% 152 203 36.5%
Mauer 90.4 92.9 94.7 86.2 0.0% 20.3% 32.0% 47.7% 120 15.8% 14.9% 122 143 28.1%
Smoak 93.1 92.7 97.6 87.1 1.1% 33.0% 34.1% 31.8% 189 30.1% 12.8% 121 140 40.9%
Hosmer 93.9 94.8 96.4 92.6 1.3% 23.8% 16.9% 58.1% 137 19.0% 7.7% 152 132 36.4%
C. Davis 89.8 93.5 91.9 83.0 5.0% 43.7% 19.3% 31.9% 147 31.1% 14.7% 108 115 46.7%
Alonso 89.8 88.6 95.9 89.4 4.0% 26.4% 20.8% 48.8% 97 16.3% 7.8% 54 104 37.3%
Cron 89.3 89.5 88.1 89.5 3.6% 39.6% 15.1% 41.7% 96 14.8% 6.6% 93 104 30.9%
Napoli 92.1 97.4 97.9 84.6 4.3% 37.1% 16.4% 42.2% 158 34.8% 8.7% 114 100 48.3%
Morrison 91.0 88.7 98.2 88.5 4.1% 22.2% 21.2% 52.5% 105 26.3% 11.9% 89 96 49.5%
J. Abreu 90.0 88.6 96.0 88.9 3.7% 31.1% 17.7% 47.6% 105 21.6% 6.8% 81 95 32.9%
H. Ramirez 91.1 90.5 94.9 91.4 3.9% 24.0% 19.5% 52.6% 100 20.9% 6.4% 103 92 34.2%
Moreland 90.5 90.4 94.2 89.6 3.3% 29.8% 22.3% 44.6% 100 25.8% 8.1% 71 85 45.5%
Lind 92.2 93.0 97.6 90.7 3.8% 34.5% 14.0% 47.7% 93 21.5% 4.2% 90 81 37.4%
Teixeira 87.7 89.3 92.1 84.4 2.6% 27.3% 22.2% 47.9% 68 26.2% 11.2% 49 67 53.0%
M.Gonzalez 86.8 93.3 89.8 81.4 2.1% 28.8% 19.1% 50.0% 73 26.9% 4.1% 70 57 46.9%
AVERAGE 90.7 91.8 94.8 87.8 3.0% 30.1% 20.9% 46.0% 119 23.1% 9.1% 98 108 40.3%

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 verus 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 overperforming on this metric, and some more athletic players underperforming. Contact quality is just part of offensive baseball; let’s attempt to isolate and evaluate it on its own.

Miguel Cabrera unsurprisingly sits on top of the list of AL first basemen. He’s one of those lumbering sluggers I just mentioned, with an insane overall Adjusted Contact Score of 191 and Adjusted Production of 203. His lack of speed and a big ballpark holds his wRC+ well below those levels. Low K rate, low pop-up rate, well above-average authority across all BIP types and to all fields, repeated high liner rates… he remains the gold standard.

Joe Mauer doesn’t hit the ball all that hard, or hit it in the air that often, but his avoidance of negative events makes him productive. His liner rate will regress downward, but he has always had a knack for squaring up the baseball, and his K/BB ratio is impeccable. Gotta love the zero pop ups as well. He’s a very high-floor, moderate-ceiling guy.

Let’s not get that excited about Justin Smoak’s early season performance. His liner rate is off of the charts, and he’s shown no inkling of reaching that level in the past; expect big-time downward regression. He’s also a dead-pull guy from both sides of the plate, an easy overshift decision. He’s better than his traditional numbers from his Safeco days, and the Jays deserve credit for recognizing that. That said, he’s no better than a mid-range AL 1B option.

If I had to pick one first basemen for the next five years, I’d take Eric Hosmer. He hits all BIP types very hard, and his fly-ball rate has plenty of room to grow. The K and BB rates are also likely to improve. He’s having a big year with a low liner rate; there’s plenty more in the tank for this budding superstar.

Yonder Alonso is nothing special, but he’s been one unlucky cat so far. He sprays the ball around, and isn’t overshifted, but has somehow produced just a .109 AVG and .127 SLG (24 Unadjusted Grounder Contact Score) on the ground. He hits a bunch of grounders, so this has had an outsized effect on his overall numbers to date. He’s a league-average hitter and a below-average offensive first baseman, but not the ready-for-pasture type his raw numbers suggest.

Mike Napoli is a case in point of the extreme authority necessary to survive if you’re a high-K, dead-pull infield overshift candidate. He’s hit his fly balls and liners harder than any AL first basemen to date, and is among leaders at his position in fly-ball rate. His Adjusted Contact Score (158), which includes a slight pulled-grounder penalty, ranks third at his position. His off-the-wall 34.8% K rate drags his Adjusted Production down to 100, exactly league average and well below for his position. If his extreme BIP authority in the air falters at all, he’s gone.

Jose Abreu has shown signs of decline this season. His average fly-ball authority is actually below league average to date; there isn’t much blue and black in the 1B/DH tables, so Abreu stands out in this regard. He actually could stand to pull the baseball more; while his all-fields approach dissuades overshifts, he might need to selectively pull in the air more to rekindle his power production. He still hits his liners quite hard, so perhaps a minor swing tweak can put him back on track.

Next, let’s look at the NL first basemen:

NL 1B BIP Profiles – Thru 6/2
Name Avg MPH FLY MPH LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% ADJ C K% BB% wRC+ ADJ PR Pull%
Goldschmidt 91.3 91.9 96.4 87.1 3.7% 28.7% 22.8% 44.9% 135 23.2% 20.3% 137 144 41.9%
Rizzo 90.2 90.1 96.0 88.2 4.5% 41.7% 16.0% 37.8% 107 12.3% 14.5% 135 143 45.2%
Votto 90.2 95.2 90.4 84.6 0.0% 28.1% 24.2% 47.7% 164 26.6% 14.0% 98 139 41.5%
Belt 86.6 88.8 90.5 79.3 0.7% 43.4% 29.0% 26.9% 108 15.8% 17.2% 161 139 35.4%
C. Carter 94.8 98.0 99.7 88.6 2.4% 41.3% 21.4% 34.9% 212 33.0% 8.4% 103 135 42.9%
Freeman 91.2 93.4 95.3 83.4 3.6% 38.5% 27.1% 30.7% 162 25.8% 9.8% 106 132 40.4%
Moss 89.9 95.8 91.6 76.0 6.1% 43.9% 19.5% 30.5% 192 33.6% 9.9% 115 122 50.0%
Bour 94.5 90.5 101.7 94.4 2.6% 32.7% 20.7% 44.0% 120 20.4% 10.2% 105 120 50.0%
Myers 89.1 88.6 93.5 87.1 1.2% 34.2% 19.3% 45.3% 132 22.6% 5.3% 105 112 36.4%
Duda 90.9 92.4 94.4 88.0 2.9% 38.8% 22.3% 35.9% 116 20.0% 7.6% 98 111 38.8%
Zimmerman 95.2 95.1 101.1 93.8 3.4% 29.7% 15.2% 51.7% 116 20.5% 7.8% 103 110 35.2%
Reynolds 88.8 88.0 94.6 86.6 2.7% 23.9% 27.4% 46.0% 118 25.0% 10.2% 99 104 35.7%
R. Howard 93.6 95.5 98.7 86.9 1.1% 43.6% 24.5% 30.9% 157 33.3% 7.5% 42 103 42.6%
Jaso 86.0 85.1 89.7 85.1 1.4% 19.6% 17.5% 61.5% 83 12.9% 9.1% 122 101 36.8%
Ad.Gonzalez 89.0 92.3 92.0 86.2 0.7% 23.4% 21.4% 54.5% 96 20.7% 11.3% 113 100 31.7%
AVERAGE 90.8 92.0 95.0 86.4 2.5% 34.1% 21.9% 41.5% 135 23.0% 10.9% 109 121 40.3%

Paul Goldschmidt hasn’t been as overwhelming as in 2015, but he’s still the class of the NL first-base crop. More yellow than orange and red this time around, but great BB rate, manageable K rate, strong BIP authority to all fields. If this is what a couple of nondescript Goldschmidt months look like, he’s pretty special.

It’s interesting to note Anthony Rizzo’s ordinary 107 Adjusted Contact Score to date. That’s largely due to a very low liner rate, which should regress upward moving forward, along with his extreme grounder-pulling tendency. His exceptionally low K rate for a power hitter carries the day; it raises his floor so high that even when he isn’t consistently impacting the baseball the way he can, he remains quite productive.

So, you think Joey Votto’s in decline? I submit that he’s just been unlucky. Through June 2, he he’d recorded just a .526 AVG and .579 SLG on liners (55 Unadjusted Liner Contact Score) and an insane .075 AVG-.075 SLG (10) on the ground. He’s not a clear overshift guy, so there’s a lot of bad luck in that latter number. No pop ups, typically high liner rate, strong authority in the air… it might not be peak Votto, what with his high K rate and somewhat diminished non-fly authority, but it’s still pretty darned good.

Talk about an odd line… check out Brandon Belt. His average grounder authority is over two standard deviations below league average, dragging down his overall average to over one full STD below. How has he excelled this season? A superior K/BB profile plus a very high liner rate has done the trick. One is real, one will regress. Belt’s very high fly-ball rate has also been a driving force, and is also likely to decline as we move forward. It’s an unorthodox package that has a ton of future downside.

Chris Carter is the NL’s even more extreme version of Napoli. They have the two best Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Scores among first basemen: 336 for Carter, 289 for Napoli. He crushes his liners, but has batted only .571 AVG-.943 SLG (93 Adjusted Liner Contact Score) on them. His massive K rate sets the contact authority bar very high, but he clears it. Despite a pulled-grounder penalty, his Adjusted Production of 135 far exceeds his wRC+, thanks to his superior 212 Adjusted Contact Score, the highest you’ll see today. Nice bargain-signing for the Brew Crew.

So who has the highest average exit speed among first basemen and DHs? How about Ryan Zimmerman. He crushes the ball in the air, on a line and on the ground. His limiting factors are a grounder-heavy BIP mix, also featuring a low liner rate, which should regress. He retains the athleticism to get his share of leg hits, and uses the field enough to avoid overshifts. He’s just a few more elevated baseballs away from being a high achiever at his position. Oh, and Justin Bour hits the ball about as hard as Zimmerman, and is a pulled-grounder tendency away from being quite a producer himself.

Lastly, a requiem for Ryan Howard. He’s not as bad as his raw numbers. He still crushes the baseball, at least when he hits it. His liner rate is high. In addition to his poor K/BB profile, a huge limiting factor is his .087 AVG-.087 SLG on the ground, which has little prospect for change, as he never hits a grounder the other way. Even modestly improved K and BB rates and/or a few shift-busting grounders, and Howard would be viable.

AL DH BIP Profiles – Thru 6/2
Name Avg MPH FLY MPH LD MPH GB MPH POP% FLY% LD% GB% ADJ C K% BB% wRC+ ADJ PR Pull%
Ortiz 94.2 96.9 100.9 88.9 3.3% 46.1% 18.2% 32.5% 156 15.1% 12.3% 198 175 49.4%
N. Cruz 94.9 96.7 100.5 91.6 4.2% 32.6% 20.1% 43.1% 167 22.1% 11.5% 153 153 43.1%
V. Martinez 91.5 94.2 96.8 85.2 5.4% 32.1% 27.4% 35.1% 131 10.3% 5.9% 145 150 45.8%
K. Morales 92.5 93.4 95.5 90.7 1.4% 37.6% 15.8% 45.2% 137 19.2% 7.4% 61 130 39.7%
Pujols 91.2 94.3 96.0 88.1 3.5% 31.8% 16.8% 48.0% 95 12.4% 10.2% 102 118 47.4%
Park 90.6 97.0 94.5 82.0 4.0% 38.6% 17.8% 39.6% 169 31.3% 8.5% 112 115 48.5%
P. Alvarez 92.5 97.4 98.8 87.7 7.1% 26.2% 15.5% 51.2% 117 22.7% 11.7% 86 113 44.1%
K. Davis 93.4 96.6 103.9 88.2 4.3% 39.3% 17.1% 39.3% 153 26.2% 3.0% 107 111 39.3%
Encarnacion 91.3 94.8 96.9 85.9 6.1% 36.8% 23.3% 33.7% 114 21.5% 8.4% 106 108 53.4%
C. Santana 90.2 89.7 94.6 89.8 4.2% 41.0% 12.5% 42.3% 70 11.1% 14.2% 110 105 51.2%
Av. Garcia 88.7 88.3 94.3 85.7 2.7% 21.8% 21.8% 53.6% 114 23.9% 6.7% 91 97 39.1%
Beltran 91.0 92.0 96.0 90.6 4.7% 37.3% 18.7% 39.3% 107 20.8% 4.5% 119 95 46.0%
Fielder 88.8 87.6 94.0 87.7 3.1% 29.4% 20.6% 46.9% 87 17.4% 8.3% 41 93 36.9%
T. White 89.5 93.5 93.6 85.6 7.7% 32.7% 18.3% 41.3% 93 25.2% 9.8% 97 85 47.1%
Dickerson 93.2 95.8 96.2 90.1 6.4% 41.8% 11.8% 40.0% 88 27.7% 5.4% 81 68 36.4%
AVERAGE 91.6 93.9 96.8 87.9 4.5% 35.0% 18.4% 42.1% 120 20.5% 8.5% 107 114 44.5%

As you might expect, David Ortiz is the class of the DH crop. Sure, Fenway and the Monster help him (317 Unadjusted vs. 248 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score), but the combination of authority and an exceptional K/BB profile is tough to match. He’s the ultimate harvester, maxing out his fly-ball and pull rates, but he can certainly withstand a grounder-pulling penalty. Enjoy him while you can.

Nelson Cruz is finally where he belongs, as a primary DH. Along with Zimmerman, he’s the only first baseman or DH with an “orange” or better authority rating on each major BIP type, and Cruz has a superior BIP frequency mix. His is a very safe offensive profile at present; his Adjusted Production exactly matches his wRC+ mark as of June 2.

Victor Martinez certainly appears to be healthy again. His low K rate is quite a safety net, and the superior BIP mix and solid BIP authority of pre-2015 seasons have returned. He moves the ball around just enough to avoid infield overshifts, quite important given his utter lack of speed. A healthy Martinez offers a very high floor with measureable upside, an attractive combination.

Kendrys Morales is much better than his raw numbers to date. Get a load of this one: he’s batting a meager .346 AVG-.423 SLG on line drives through June 2. That’s good for an Unadjusted Liner Contact Score of 26. His Unadjusted Fly, Liner and Grounder Contact Scores of 82, 26 and 83, respectively, are way lower than the corresponding adjusted-for-context marks of 164, 113 and 124. Sure, he’s slow and gets no leg hits, but his contact quality remains well above average, as suggested by his 130 Adjusted Production figure.

This is the new normal for Albert Pujols. His K/BB profile remains strong, and he still hits the ball hard, but his inability to consistently elevate the baseball, coupled with a significant pull tendency, puts a cap on his production. His good fortune on the ground to date (.234 AVG-.281 SLG) precluded the application of a pulled-grounder penalty; he has a ton of grounder downside. His liner rate should bounce up a bit, but I don’t have high hopes for Pujols moving forward.

Byung-ho Park is a member of the Napoli/Carter club: tons of authority, all of which is needed to offset a stratospheric K rate. There’s a ton of risk here; the gap between his fly and grounder authority is massive, and his pull tendency is very close to becoming a real problem. The second time around the league could be tough on Park.

Pedro Alvarez remains caught in that weird place, with a very high pop-up and a low fly-ball rate. If he had average range rates in both, he’d be the star everyone once thought he’d be. He has posted a 310 Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score to date, best among DHs, but still hasn’t shown the ability to regularly tap into that power. He’ll keep getting chances.

If Carlos Santana were a shifty middle infielder with speed and bat-handling ability, I’d be excited about his profile. Alas, he’s not. The strong K/BB ratio is great, and the low liner rate should regress positively, but his authority is nondescript, he’s a dead-pull overshift guy from both sides, and his wheels won’t earn him any extra bases. You’ve got to do better than a 70 Adjusted Contact Score from your DH.

Note to the Yankees: don’t rush into a commitment to Carlos Beltran. Much of his production to date comes from massive overperformance (.867 AVG-1.133 SLG, 172 Unadjusted Contact Score) on liners. He’s also been helped by his park on fly balls, and is right on the precipice of receiving a grounder-pulling penalty. A lot more risk than additional reward here.

Not too much to say about Prince Fielder’s line. In a sea of red, orange and yellow, there’s only blue and white for Fielder. One positive: he’s been very unlucky on the ground (.082 AVG-.082 SLG, 12 Unadjusted Contact Score), despite the fact that he moves the ball around enough to avoid constant overshifts. He needs a power resurgence to have value, and myriad physical concerns cast doubt as to whether that will happen.

We hoped you liked reading Hitter Contact-Quality Report: First Base and DH by Tony Blengino!

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OddBall Herrera
Member
OddBall Herrera

Huh, for a guy who otherwise seems like he’s finally putting it all together (Myers), there’s not a lot of positive there.

Unless we were to read all of his data points’ being within one standard deviation to mean that his performance seems sustainable.

realitypolice
Member
realitypolice

Do note that the data is through June 2, and since then Myers has absolutely beaten the snot out of the ball. I’d suspect that if run through last night, he’d have a few more orange cells.