Last week, FanGraphs released a new bit of interesting batted ball data courtesy of Baseball Info Solutions. Now, you can take a look at classifications for batted balls by hitters, put into directional data and, perhaps more interestingly, quality of contact data. This week, FanGraphs' Neil Weinberg poured over the data and took a look at some profiles for players of different qualities. The findings are extremely interesting, and they deserve a look.
I wanted to take a look at this data and evaluate some of the Miami Marlins' players to see if this collection of information matches our perceptions. What can this new data tell us about the Fish of the last few years? Let's take a look at a few interesting cases.
Giancarlo Stanton: Destroyer of Worlds
It is no surprise that Stanton hits baseballs very hard. We have seen it in action before.
Thus, it may not surprise you to hear that Stanton is the hardest hitter on the team, now and for the last few seasons. BIS data has 44 percent of Stanton's balls as hit hard. This rates as the fifth-highest percentage of hard-hit balls in all of baseball this early in the year, behind only players currently tearing it up like Alex Rodriguez and Paul Goldschmidt.
It should not surprise you either to hear that, since 2012, Stanton is fourth among all qualified hitters in terms of percentage of hard hit batted balls. Stanton's percentage sits at 41 percent since that monster 2012 season, which is behind only Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, and Goldschmidt. It turns out that if you hit the ball pretty hard consistently, you end up being a pretty good hitter.
What separates Stanton from some of the other great hitters is that he is a little less adept at avoiding softly-hit balls. His nearly 16 percent rate for soft-hit balls is the highest among hitters with at least a 38 percent rate of hard-hit balls. Compare that to Cabrera, who owns a nine percent rate of soft hit balls, or Goldschmidt, who owns a 10 percent rate. This would matter more if Stanton was not probably demolishing balls harder than anyone else, making the balls he does crush likely more valuable than the average hard-hit ball for even the best players. Pedro Alvarez, who owns the next-highest soft-hit percentage in this cohort, probably can attest to this.
Christian Yelich; Then and Now
Here is a surprising stat: Christian Yelich holds the second-highest hard-hit percentage on the team thus far this season!
It is surprising because the last indelible images of Yelich we have from 2015 is him failing to catch up to multiple high fastballs from the likes of Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Of course, we know that there is a good chance that his lingering back injury at the time had something to do with that. The first week of the season was a very successful one for Yelich, as he was hitting .304/.407/.348 before the supposed back injury happened against the Atlanta Braves. It is very possible he was hitting the ball pretty hard during that time frame, even if those balls were hit on the ground; Yelich had 38.5 percent of his grounders classified as hard-hit thus far this year.
Of course, you can also see why his batting line is where it is right now. His soft-hit rate is significantly higher than it had been in last year. Thus far, he had put up a 21.6 percent rate of soft-hit balls, which is way too high for success in the majors. Yelich probably needs his back healed up before he can barrel up on the ball more, but do not let it be said that he has hit nothing hard this year, even with the astronomical 81 percent ground ball rate.
Slap Hitters Vary
Last week, we talked about how Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria were finding success as slap hitters in Miami early in the year. Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out that Gordon is hitting like prime Ichiro Suzuki and finding ridiculous success so far. It is clear that there is only one Ichiro, however, and that it is very easy to become a bad hitter with this skillset.
The reason Ichiro had so many skeptics was because his game didn’t give him much margin of error. He had to handle himself perfectly in order to make the most of his skills. It doesn’t take much of a slide to go from Ichiro to Ben Revere, who also makes a lot of contact, and who also runs well, and who also puts the ball on the ground. Ichiro routinely ran wRC+ figures in the triple digits. Revere has a career mark of 84. You don’t want to fall too in love with speed, because most of the time, in the past, these runners haven’t been good hitters.
For those who thought that Gordon has just been making better contact this year than he had before, that may not even necessarily be the case. The line drive rate is up and the fly balls are down, but the data shows a minimal difference in quality of contact. Gordon's hard-hit rate is at 18.6 percent, up a bit from 17.3 percent last year. His soft-hit rate is down a bit from 22.8 percent to 20.6 percent.
In the last section, we talked about how Yelich's soft-hit rate of 21 percent was a bad thing. A whole host of mediocre hitters since 2012 have 20 percent of greater rates of soft-hit balls, including the league leader, Ichiro himself, who hit just .277/.309/.361 since 2012. That kind of batted ball profile only works well if you have supreme speed and elite bat control, and we just do not know how well Gordon has developed that, even if he has shown it thus far this season.
As for Hechavarria, his rates look a little more normal, even if his ground ball rate is too high for his career. However, his career profile as a Marlin best matches the sort of bad wRC+ and offensive production that he has provided thus far.
The differences between the best and worst hitters are only 10 percentage points on hard-hit balls, but the fact that Hechavarria has not had that 10 percent makes him a poor hitter thus far.
This season has been a little different so far, though it is difficult to tell if that is positive or negative. He has hit harder balls, as he owns a 31 percent rate of hard-hit balls. However, he also has a 21 percent soft-hit ball percentage, so he has been a little more all-or-nothing, but still has struggled to make the right amount of good contact on the ball.
This data likely is not predictive of much, but some of it does confirm our suspicions, both of the early season and of past years. However, it also does go against some of the prevailing thoughts of the early campaign, and I would love to see how these trends develop in 2015.