Hitter Contact-Quality Report: Shortstop

The winter sports have crowned their champions, Cleveland has its first title in eons thanks to their prodigal son LeBron, and baseball now owns a greater part of the sporting stage for the rest of the summer. In that spirit, we continue to take a position-by-position look at hitter contact quality, utilizing granular ball-in-play data, such as BIP type frequencies, exit speed and launch angle. Last time, it was second basemen. Today, the shortstops are at bat.

The data examined today runs through June 8. Players are separated by league, 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 SS BIP Profiles
Machado 92.1 92.5 99.7 90.2 7.6% 36.7% 21.6% 34.1% 153 18.1% 9.7% 154 153 41.1%
Correa 91.9 90.6 97.0 90.7 0.6% 28.1% 23.2% 48.2% 140 25.7% 11.3% 111 121 33.5%
Tulowitzki 90.7 92.6 94.3 87.9 2.5% 45.8% 9.2% 42.5% 139 25.8% 9.5% 80 116 53.3%
Bogaerts 91.0 89.4 92.8 92.3 4.4% 24.3% 19.8% 51.5% 106 16.4% 7.4% 138 112 43.1%
E. Nunez 90.9 91.4 92.4 91.9 5.6% 30.0% 16.9% 47.5% 107 15.1% 2.9% 139 105 39.0%
Lindor 90.5 88.6 90.4 92.3 1.5% 22.6% 22.1% 53.8% 83 13.8% 7.9% 119 96 40.3%
Andrus 86.8 83.4 91.7 87.8 2.3% 26.9% 25.7% 45.0% 74 11.8% 6.6% 91 87 43.6%
B. Miller 92.9 91.0 100.2 92.0 3.0% 30.8% 18.8% 47.4% 93 23.3% 7.3% 94 84 40.3%
Semien 85.9 89.8 89.8 80.1 2.8% 40.6% 14.0% 42.7% 85 23.5% 10.1% 100 83 43.8%
Iglesias 82.3 81.7 82.2 84.0 4.0% 20.5% 25.2% 50.3% 63 13.3% 7.2% 59 74 34.8%
Simmons 84.4 82.6 90.1 83.7 0.0% 26.2% 17.8% 56.1% 54 5.1% 3.4% 45 69 38.9%
Rollins 84.9 85.9 90.0 83.5 6.0% 29.9% 16.2% 47.9% 54 19.9% 9.6% 70 61 50.4%
Gregorius 85.1 84.4 89.9 85.3 6.0% 27.7% 18.7% 47.6% 54 11.4% 3.0% 77 60 38.0%
K. Marte 86.6 86.8 88.0 86.6 4.0% 21.6% 25.6% 48.8% 58 19.1% 4.0% 92 55 41.7%
A. Escobar 84.1 82.8 86.2 84.5 1.9% 22.4% 19.6% 56.1% 51 14.8% 3.3% 52 54 36.8%
AVERAGE 88.0 87.6 91.6 87.5 3.5% 28.9% 19.6% 48.0% 88 17.1% 6.9% 95 89 41.2%

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.

The AL shortstop group is quite unique, combining a handful of young, hard-hitting standouts likely to challenge the offensive standards of the position, with some of the lightest-hitting regulars in the game, who excel on the other side of the ball.

Manny Machado, my preseason AL MVP selection, stands alone at the top. Positives abound in his profile: his K and BB rates are under control, he hits enough fly balls to maximize his power production, and his BIP authority is strong for any defensive position, let alone the lower offensive bar that is set for shortstops. The only area of concern is his high pop -p rate; unchecked, it could cause him to morph from a hit-before-power to a power-before-hit type, an issue which has bedeviled Andrew McCutchen this season.

Carlos Correa hit the ground running upon reaching the majors about a year ago. His first full season has showcased both his immense skills and his areas requiring improvement. He hits the ball about as hard as Machado, though his BIP mix features substantially fewer fly balls. His K rate is quite high, as well. Take a step back and appreciate the power he provides without much of a pull tendency, and with an almost non-existent pop-up rate, at his tender age. His upside is nearly limitless.

You might be a bit shocked by the gap between Troy Tulowitzki’s wRC+ (80) and Adjusted Production (116) as of June 8. He’s been one unlucky fellow to date. Despite hitting the ball in the air with fractionally more authority than Machado, he’s produced just a .269 AVG and .808 SLG (80 Unadjusted Fly Ball Production). Adjusted for exit speed/angle, he “should have” hit .397 AVG-1.124 SLG (162) on fly balls. Same deal on liners, an 83 Unadjusted versus 121 Adjusted Contact Score. Oh, and do you think that 9.2% line-drive rate might regress a bit moving forward? No, this isn’t peak Tulowitzki, but he remains an offensive force to be reckoned with.

OK, you might be wondering why Xander Bogaerts ranks fifth on the above list. First off, I love Bogaerts, and have been waiting for his breakout season. He simply needed to get strong enough to take advantage of the Green Monster factor. Consider it done. A lot of “donut hole” fly balls that are hits almost nowhere else clank off the Monster for doubles; Bogaerts has recorded a .477 AVG and 1.000 SLG (164 Unadjusted Contact Score) on fly balls through June 8, but “should have” been hitting just .372 AVG-.945 SLG (125). His actual numbers are also puffed up a bit by overperformance on grounders (.366 AVG-.402 SLG, 255 Unadjusted Contact Score). He’s still on the upswing; just wait until his fly-ball rate presses up toward the average range.

Each year, a new Twin regular seems to dramatically outperform his granular BIP metrics. In 2014, it was Danny Santana. Last year, it was Miguel Sano. This time around, it’s Eduardo Nunez. Through June 8, Nunez had a 139 wRC+, despite an uneven BIP mix featuring a low liner and high pop-up rate, and decent (though not particularly exciting) BIP authority. You see, he batted .758 AVG-1.091 SLG (143 Unadjusted Liner Contact Score) on liners and .339 AVG-.356 SLG on grounders (211 Unadjusted Grounder Contact Score) through that date, way over his skis on both counts. Adjustment for context slices his 138 Unadjusted to a 107 Adjusted Contact Score on all BIP. Yes, Nunez is a useful piece, but he has not instantly blossomed into an impact player.

I am a huge Francisco Lindor fan, who pushed for the Mariners to draft him second overall, and who has compared him to Derek Jeter offensively on many occasions. That said, he too has enjoyed some good fortune thus far this season. At this stage in his development, he has yet to generate average range fly-ball or line-drive authority. Despite this, he has batted .717 AVG-1.065 SLG on liners, for a 132 Unadjusted Liner Contact Score, compared to his 91 context-adjusted mark. Like Correa and Bogaerts, Lindor’s fly-ball rate is low and has room for growth; it’ll be a couple years until Lindor truly taps into his power upside, but once he does, watch out.

Elvis Andrus is the best offensive player among the AL shortstop group’s many well below-average baseball impactors. His K/BB profile and liner/grounder authority outshines the rest of that group, making his floor higher. He’ll never have a league average Adjusted Contact Score, but given the right balance of factors, could will his way to a 100 wRC+ or Adjusted Production mark.

Brad Miller, despite his defensive unevenness, continues to tantalize offensively. His overall BIP authority is best among shortstops in either league, as he absolutely scalds his liners and grounders. Unfortunately, a preponderance of his fly balls sit in the high end of the 75-94 mph “donut hole”, which yields little production. Just a little more juice on those fly balls and Miller goes flying up this list.

Lastly, some brief highlights from the low-BIP authority blue and black lower left-hand corner of the table. Marcus Semien hits his fly balls harder but grounders weaker than the rest of the group. It’s an uppercut, sell-out-for-power approach that hasn’t worked particularly well to date. His liner rate should regress upward, but his fly-ball rate is nearly maxed out.

Jose Iglesias has been rather quiet at the plate, despite a 25.2% liner rate. His overall, fly-ball and liner authority is over two STD below league average. Both his offensive floor and ceiling are low. Ketel Marte has outperformed his BIP authority to date. You might say, he’s fast, so he should. Well, I would submit that he’s not so fast that he should be hitting .367 AVG-.388 SLG (248 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground. He needs to whittle that K rate down to have offensive value.

Alcides Escobar hits the ball barely harder than Iglesias, two STD below average overall, in the air and on a line, and appeared to use up all of his offensive good fortune in 2015. That he batted leadoff for a World Series champion will go down as one of the wonders of the modern age.

NL SS BIP Profiles
C. Seager 90.3 92.9 96.4 85.9 0.5% 28.8% 22.0% 48.7% 135 16.7% 8.5% 135 140 41.2%
A. Diaz 90.1 88.0 96.2 89.3 5.1% 28.8% 18.6% 47.5% 117 12.4% 5.1% 132 127 48.3%
Story 90.9 92.9 93.9 87.0 4.7% 41.9% 22.3% 31.1% 170 33.6% 6.7% 110 107 40.5%
Villar 89.5 92.0 92.5 87.3 2.0% 16.9% 24.3% 56.8% 100 24.4% 14.0% 130 100 32.0%
Mercer 87.4 88.0 92.8 85.1 4.8% 26.3% 20.4% 48.5% 74 12.6% 11.7% 99 98 32.8%
B. Crawford 89.6 91.2 92.5 86.6 7.0% 31.0% 20.3% 41.8% 88 19.8% 9.9% 104 92 43.1%
A. Russell 87.1 90.9 88.3 83.3 3.8% 25.0% 25.0% 46.2% 104 26.4% 10.6% 79 91 36.6%
Espinosa 89.8 90.5 98.0 83.6 3.8% 42.0% 18.3% 35.9% 90 23.4% 8.3% 75 83 47.2%
Cozart 87.6 87.2 92.2 86.7 3.6% 33.4% 23.6% 39.4% 75 12.9% 4.0% 125 81 46.8%
Hechavarria 89.4 87.4 93.1 89.8 0.6% 27.4% 23.2% 48.8% 70 12.0% 4.0% 59 78 26.2%
A. Ramirez 84.8 84.8 85.0 85.0 3.2% 23.8% 22.7% 50.3% 61 13.3% 3.5% 72 65 47.6%
A. Cabrera 88.0 88.1 94.4 84.7 3.7% 28.6% 23.6% 44.1% 68 21.1% 5.6% 94 63 55.5%
Galvis 88.9 88.0 94.1 87.1 1.2% 36.2% 25.8% 36.8% 71 21.2% 3.5% 66 63 42.4%
Ahmed 88.3 90.3 95.1 84.6 4.2% 27.1% 22.9% 45.8% 62 20.2% 5.9% 44 61 41.5%
Aybar 84.1 83.9 83.1 84.7 0.9% 24.3% 20.0% 54.8% 49 17.8% 3.7% 13 48 42.4%
AVERAGE 88.4 89.1 92.5 86.0 3.3% 29.4% 22.2% 45.1% 89 19.2% 7.0% 89 86 41.6%

The NL group might lack the star power of their AL brethren, but there is still an abundance of young talent. Corey Seager fits in nicely with the AL elite. Like Correa, Bogaerts and Seager, his fly-ball rate has room to grow, while authority-wise, he’s ahead of those three in the air. His K and BB rates are under control, and his pop-up rate is microscopic. It’s a low-risk, high-reward package.

Aledmys Diaz seemingly came out of nowhere to save the Cardinals’ bacon this season. His K rate is extremely low, giving him plenty of margin for error, which he apparently doesn’t need, on the authority side. His low BB rate, high pop-up rate and modest fly-ball authority are not insignificant blemishes, but it remains an impressive bat package for the position. He crushes his liners, offering hope for his long-term power potential.

Look at Trevor Story’s all-or-nothing line. His huge K rate and very low BB rate affords him little margin for error on balls in play, but strong fly-ball authority and his good pal Coors Field save the day. Every bit of his MLB-best-for-a middle-infielder 170 Adjusted Contact Score is needed to make him an above-average offensive player. His pop-up rate is high and his fly-ball rate is about maxed out, so there is tons of downside risk moving forward.

The emergence of Jonathan Villar has been a pleasant development in the Brewers’ rebuilding campaign. Don’t put much stock in that 130 wRC+ figure as of June 8, however. Much of that is built upon his inflated .464 AVG-1.179 SLG (194 Unadjusted Contact Score) in the air, and .344 AVG-.375 SLG (224 Unadjusted Contact Score) on the ground. Overall, his 151 Unadjusted Contact Score is cut way down to 100 once adjusted for context. There are plenty of good signs here, as his fly-ball rate has tons of room to grow, and his average fly-ball authority is strong. He appears to be a viable starter moving forward, on either side of phenom Orlando Arcia.

Jordy Mercer is the NL’s Elvis Andrus, at least with the bat. He doesn’t hit the ball very hard, but his K/BB profile is so strong that his offensive floor is quite high. Despite a suboptimal BIP mix featuring a high pop-up rate, and a middling authority profile, Mercer is a league-average bat, regardless of position, thanks to his ability to manage a plate appearance.

Brandon Crawford’s offensive performance has slipped backward just a bit this season. His frequency and authority figures are in the average range across the board, with one glaring exception: his very high pop-up rate. His Adjusted Production lags his wRC+ a bit due to overperformance on grounders; he’s batted .286 AVG-.286 SLG (145 Unadjusted Contact Score), compared to his 96 adjusted mark. Still, a solid offensive package for an impact defender.

Addison Russell was expected to perform along the lines of the other youthful shortstop mega-prospects in both leagues, but it hasn’t happened just yet. His Adjusted Contact Score sits at a healthy 104 through June 8, but that’s due to a high liner rate, which is likely to regress moving forward. His K rate is quite high, he struggles to elevate the baseball, and his authority is weak overall, though respectable in the air. He’s far from a sure thing to reach his offensive ceiling.

The Nats sure do appear to be committed to Danny Espinosa’s all-or-nothing approach, as evidenced by their reluctance to give Trea Turner a real shot. Espinosa smokes his liners, and has a maxed-out fly-ball rate, but even then has recorded only a 90 overall Adjusted Contact Score. Barring a sudden surge in fly-ball authority, this would be appear to be about as good as it gets with the bat for Espinosa.

Zack Cozart has long been a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop. His traditional numbers say otherwise this season, though his granular data suggest he’s still the same guy. His fly-ball authority is over a full STD below league average, but thanks to a few cheap homers down the LF line, he’s carrying a .315 AVG-.889 SLG (102 Unadjusted Contact Score) in the air. Adjusted for context, that plunges to a 40 mark. Now, targeted fly-ball-pulling for distance is a real thing, but I’m not ready to call Cozart an established practitioner at that art form just yet.

I’ve always believed that Adeiny Hechavarria has a little something in his bat. The K and pop-up rates are very low, the former over two full STD below average, he uses the entire field, and his BIP authority isn’t nearly as bad as most of the low-producing shortstops in both leagues. I still believe there are .280-.315-.370 seasons in his future.

Don’t buy Asdrubal Cabrera’s solid offensive numbers to date. He’s a dead pull hitter and easy overshift call from both sides of the plate, and his performance through June 8 was largely fueled by an unsustainable .806 AVG-.944 SLG on line drives (135 Unadjusted Contact Score). Adjusted for context, his overall Adjusted Contact Score is a poor 68, and his below-average K/BB profile offers no relief.

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“baseball now owns a greater part of the sporting stage for the rest of the summer. In that spirit, we continue to take a position-by-position look at hitter contact quality, utilizing granular ball-in-play data, such as BIP type frequencies, exit speed and launch angle.”

I love you fangraphs, don’t ever change.