Power Beyond the Howard Zone

Some guys are really hitting a lot of home runs, but it’s early. Everyone knows it’s early, but rather than getting into what constitutes an acceptable sample size for analysis, let’s look at a concrete example using an unsubtle, but helpfully simple tool.

Another thing that everyone knows is that Ryan Howard (any news on him today?) has monster power to all fields. While there are a few sluggers who hit around 25% of their fly balls out of the park, from 2007-2009 Ryan Howard hit an incredible 29.4% out of the park, far and away the best among qualified hitters during that period. Let’s call that the “Howard Zone.” Many players who are playing far above or far below their true talent in different areas so far this season. Let’s look at one extreme — the six players who have hit 30% or more of their fly balls out of the park so far in 2010, players who are (currently) beyond the Howard Zone.

Jason Heyward, 40.0%. I won’t bore you with another recititation of Heyward’s sudden legend. Despite some problems with pitches in the dirt, his overall numbers show a guy who isn’t swinging at many bad pitches (21.9 O-Swing%). He’s got great power, but no one has 40% HR/FB power. At least I don’t think so. One thing to watch is Heyward’s ability to get the ball into the air as the season progresses. So far, he actually isn’t hitting that many fly balls (26.3%), and is hitting a bunch of grounders (55.3%). I’m not sounding any alarms, but it’s something to watch.

Nelson Cruz, 36.8%. Cruz has always shown power (.231 career ISO), but this is beyond him. Yes, the park helps, but he’s a good hitter that actually passed through waivers a few years ago. Despite the inevitable power regression from terrifying to merely excellent, he could be in for a monster season. Have people noticed he’s probably a better player than Josh Hamilton?

Kelly Johnson, 36.8%. Speaking of being helped by a park… Jack Moore covered Johnson this morning, so I’ll keep it brief: Johnson’s always had good offensive skills, but he’s not going to finish the season with anything close his current .492 ISO, but 20+ home runs is realistic. Great pickup by Arizona.

Ty Wigginton, 35.3%. I just realized that Ty Wigginton and Garrett Atkins are two different people. Ty’s the one who can hit. Okay, so he’s not going to his more than a third of his fly balls out, but so far, he’s hitting righties just about as well as lefties, although his career splits aren’t as horrible as one might think, given his reputation. He’s a useful hitter in a part-time role, but his presence on this list should be a warning to all those who think that Vernon Wells‘ and Jose Guillen’s power resurgences (with lower HR/FB rates thatn Wigginton) are for real.

Paul Konerko, 32.0%. A big .400 wOBA start from the guy in the last season of a seemingly endless contract. His career HR/FB rate is 16.7%, and he hasn’t been over 20% since 2005.

Derek Jeter, 30.0%. Despite the big overall surge in 2009 and a new stadium that helped his power output, no one expects Jeter to continue this. Indeed, despite the great fortune on fly balls so far, his 2010 ISO is merely a decent .158, and Jeter is hitting about 74% of his balls in play into the ground.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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Re: Cruz – Yeah, we’ve noticed in Texas. Thankfully we didn’t throw a Feldman-sized extension at Hamilton.