Whomps per Whiff, Early 2024 Edition

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, Tyler Stephenson stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first with the bases loaded. He got a pitch to hit from Angels starter Patrick Sandoval, a middle-high sinker. Stephenson was late on it, but he’s strong enough that he managed to muscle it over the right field fence anyway for an opposite field grand slam.

Stephenson is off to a slow-ish start this year. In 18 games and 58 plate appearances, he’s batting .200/.293/.420. But a closer look reveals that he’s been the victim of some atrociously bad luck. Nearly a quarter of his batted balls have been barrels, or batted balls that are struck hard enough, and at beneficial enough angles that they produce extra-base hits more often than not. Stephenson is 229th in plate appearances and 12th in barrels leaguewide.

There’s more good news on the Stephenson front. Last season, he struck out 26.1% of the time and ran the highest swinging strike rate of his career. He’s always had a fairly good batting eye, but he made less contact than ever and paid for it in strikeouts. It’s still early this year, of course, but he’s making much more contact per swing and swinging less often. He’s walking more than ever, and his strikeouts have ticked back down to a more manageable 24.1%, though in only 58 plate appearances there’s plenty of uncertainty still.

Why am I bringing this up? Because Stephenson leads the majors in whomps per whiff, and looking at that leaderboard is helping me understand who’s starting the 2024 season hot. As a refresher, this very simple stat is a ratio of barrels to whiffs. It’s a crude but effective way of measuring the power/contact tradeoff, and the best five hitters of the Statcast era by this metric are, in order: Yordan Alvarez, David Ortiz, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Juan Soto. I have to admit, I didn’t expect Stephenson at the top of the 2024 leaderboard. But even with him there, this looks like a compilation of the very best hitters in baseball this year, plus a few intriguing interlopers:

2024 Whomps per Whiff Leaders
Player Whomps Whiffs Whomps per Whiff
Tyler Stephenson 9 15 .600
Yordan Alvarez 13 26 .500
Juan Soto 14 29 .483
Ryan O’Hearn 9 19 .474
Tyler O’Neill 8 20 .400
Salvador Perez 12 34 .353
Jake Cronenworth 9 26 .346
Kyle Tucker 11 32 .344
Adam Duvall 4 12 .333
Lars Nootbaar 3 9 .333
Shohei Ohtani 16 50 .320
Joc Pederson 5 16 .313
Taylor Ward 10 32 .313
Brendan Donovan 6 20 .300
Mike Trout 11 38 .289

Before we get into the specifics of the list, a quick reminder from my introductory article. Above .300 is incredible. Above .200 is still elite; only 23 players in baseball were at .200 or higher in 2023. League average is in the .115-.120 range, and below .100 is pretty bad. Austin Hedges checked in at .009 last year, worst in baseball among players who barreled up at least one batted ball. All of the guys on the leaderboard above have a stellar whomps per whiff, which makes sense given that sample sizes are still small; by the end of the year, only three players sustained a mark above .300 last year, and there will surely be a similar fall-off this year as well. Now, let’s talk about some boppers.

Alvarez is off to a solid start even by his standards. He’s cut his strikeout rate nearly in half while continuing to pummel the ball to all fields. He’s swung and missed only 26 times this year; 214 players have whiffed more often, while only 13 have more plate appearances. Meanwhile, he’s barreled the ball 13 times already, tied for fourth most in the majors. That’s downright freakish. Shohei Ohtani, who leads baseball with 16 barrels, has swung and missed twice as often as Alvarez. It’s just nearly impossible to combine power and contact the way Yordan does.

Nearly impossible, not impossible. Soto, like Alvarez and Ohtani, has a reasonable claim to the title of best hitter on the planet. So far this year, he’s absolutely on fire. He’s walking 18.4% of the time and striking out 11.7% of the time, He’s swinging less frequently at balls and more frequently at pitches he can drive. And he’s driving them with authority. He’s posting his highest hard-hit, barrel, and fly ball rates of his already-illustrious career, and he’s also hit his third-hardest batted ball ever.

You’ve probably heard of how well Tyler O’Neill has started. You might not have heard about Ryan O’Hearn, though, because he has too many famous teammates. While the baby birds and the other baby birds steal all the headlines, O’Hearn has been mashing in the shadows. I’m talking Mashing with a capital M; O’Hearn leads the majors in xwOBA, Statcast’s measure of overall production that replaces results on contact with expected results based on exit velocity and launch angle.

His batted ball quality has been outrageously good so far, and he’s also slashed his chase rate while still going after the pitches he knows he can drive. That’s how you simultaneously double your walk rate and halve your strikeout rate. The Orioles lineup is deep even when some hitters are struggling. When the complementary players like O’Hearn and Ryan Mountcastle (.206 whomps per whiff, 40th in baseball) are hitting as well, they’re downright unstoppable.

Did you know that Salvador Perez was off to a start this hot? I didn’t, and that’s despite watching a lot of Royals games to get my Vinnie Pasquantino and Cole Ragans fixes. He’s somehow dialed up his contact rates to early-career, slap-hitting Salvy levels while retaining his late-career power. He’s swinging as often as ever – he’s offered at nearly half of the *balls* he’s seen, and 57% of pitches overall. He’s seeing a career-low rate of pitches in the zone, and you can see why. But even when pitchers deceive him, he’s making the ball go far; he already has two homers on pitches outside the strike zone this year.

How are the Astros so bad, again? Kyle Tucker is off to a blazing start as well, and Jose Altuve is crushing the ball too. That’s nothing new for the two of them, though Tucker is putting the ball in the air more frequently than ever, which is impressive for an already fly ball-oriented hitter. He’s locked in and elevating, so you can expect some gaudy power numbers from him given his excellent command of the strike zone and feel to hit. Cronenworth is kind of a discount version of Tucker at the plate, though he’s making hay this year despite hitting more grounders instead of fewer. His real skill is contact; a few barrels and he’ll look good on this list, because he simply doesn’t strike out much.

I’m going to stop going over every player as I move down the list, but some quick hits: Adam Duvall hasn’t played much, but he’s still making loud elevated contact, the skill he’s hung his hat on throughout his career. Mike Trout isn’t even first on the Angels – but that’s because he and Taylor Ward are both red hot. Notably, Trout is making a lot more contact than he has in recent years while still hitting for power; he’d been on a long-term whomps per whiff decline, but he seems to be back.

Wondering why the Cardinals are so anemic offensively despite two players in the top 15? Nootbaar has barely played this year thanks to injury and Donovan is suffering from a rock-bottom BABIP, so their contributions haven’t moved the needle very much. Meanwhile, Nolan Arenado is running a zero whomps per whiff (no barrels, 31 whiffs), recent demotee Victor Scott II is at 0 and 28, and Paul Goldschmidt’s .019 whomps per whiff (1 barrel, 51 whiffs) is in “uh oh this guy might be cooked” range.

Here’s the entirety of the list, which you can play around with by making your own copy or simply peruse at your leisure. I’ve defaulted to a minimum of 150 pitches seen, which feels like a fair minimum and, coincidentally, lets Nootbaar sneak onto the list. If you’re looking for a stripped-down indicator of who’s been bopping this year and who’s struggling out of the gate, I think this list distills a lot of what you want into a single number.

A few other odds and ends that I found amusing or enlightening: Mookie Betts is 20th on this list – and right at his own career average. He’s not even on some unsustainable power binge or swinging and missing at a ludicrous clip. This is just who he is: His average looks like the white-hot spikes that mere mortal hitters achieve when they’re locked in.

Want some unheralded hitters bashing the ball? You’re looking for Luis García Jr., Iván Herrera, Davis Schneider, DJ Stewart, and maybe even Amed Rosario. I’m not sure I completely believe in any of their breakouts, but they’re doing the important things well this year. I’d put Jackson Merrill on this list too if he weren’t so highly touted already. He won’t sustain his high BABIP, but he’s hitting the daylights out of the ball fairly often, so I’m expecting his power numbers to tick up to go along with his phenomenal ability to put the ball in play.

Why should you care about whomps per whiff? As I detailed in its introductory article, it’s fairly stable from year to year and does a reasonable job of predicting offensive output. It’s also a pure way of looking at the hitters who do the important things best; guys who smash the ball a lot compared to how frequently they come up empty just tend to be good hitters in the long run. It’s not sufficient to say that Bryan De La Cruz has 10 barrels, the same number as Ward; he’s swung and missed more than twice as often in a similar number of plate appearances, so I’d take Ward’s power any day. That’s the whole point of this scale.

So enjoy it! I know Vinnie P does. It’s easy to get lost in the sound and fury of early season statistical indicators, but I think this one is pretty dang good, and fun to say besides. And yeah, Stephenson feels like a weird leader for the whole thing – but when you look at the rest of the very good hitters dominating the list, maybe it says more about his potential than it does about the statistic’s utility. Good hitters whomp, and they don’t whiff that often.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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IV Thoughtsmember
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing the early season updates Ben, this is fun to see.
Are you going to updating the data at the link you shared in the article during the season or is this a 1 time thing?

1 month ago
Reply to  Ben Clemens

Can you throw in a monthly update on the Kimbrels leaderboard too? 😉

1 month ago
Reply to  Ben Clemens

if a whiff is a swing, and a whomp is a swing, shouldn’t it be 9/24 on whomps and 15/24 on whiffs for the leader, Tyler Stephenson?