There are so many great metrics available at our fingertips when analyzing hitters. Certainly Barrel percentage is the best measure of a player’s power, O-Swing percentage or Chase rate is a measure of a hitter’s plate discipline. I could go on and on but while metrics like xwOBA attempt to be all-encompassing to a hitter’s value, I like to look at certain metrics in conjunction with other metrics to help draw conclusions about players. In this small sample season, not all metrics will stabilize. We cannot simply trust how a player performs this year and assume that’s his new baseline.
The two metrics I’m looking at today are hard hit percentage and whiff rate. Hard hit% is simple. It’s the number of balls hit at or above 95 mph divided by the total number of batted balls. The league average is 34.8% this year. By itself, the metric is powerful. Just, take a look.
At under 95 mph, wOBA hovers around .200. Nothing special about that but also the harder or softer the ball is hit below 95 mph doesn’t really matter. So, obviously, we want players with a high hard hit%. The next metric I want to include is whiff rate (Whiff%). It’s simply the number of swings and misses divided by the number of swings. The league average is around 24.5%. While each of these metrics has a different denominator, together, they can tell an interesting story about a player. These metrics require approximately 80 batted balls for HH% and 100 PA for whiff% to stabilize. The league-average HH%-Whiff% in 2020 is 10.3%. Here’s the top-10 from 2019.
Hard Hit% Minus Whiff% - Top 10 2019
|Mookie Betts||Red Sox||33.90%|
|Rafael Devers||Red Sox||26.30%|
Pretty good list, no? Of course, it includes Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, so that’s great. It also includes breakouts D.J. LeMahieu, Rafael Devers, and Matt Chapman. Let’s take a look at the largest surgers in 2020 among qualified hitters.
Hard Hit Minus Whiff% - Surgers
|Eloy Jimenez||White Sox||28.50%||17.30%||11.20%|
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||Blue Jays||23.90%||15.40%||8.50%|
|Randal Grichuk||Blue Jays||20.30%||12.90%||7.40%|
Unsurprisingly, Corey Seager tops the surgers list. He’s very likely going to be a top contender for comeback player of the year. His hard hit% is an impressive 56.1% while carrying a league-average whiff rate. He currently leads the Majors in Barrel% and the only reason he’s not leading the league in homers is his launch angle. He hits a few too many ground balls, but I’m not going to complain if he continues to mash like he’s doing now.
An abdominal injury that occurred in late-July last year really hurt Luke Voit’s production down the stretch in 2019. Well, he’s healthy again and absolutely mashing. His Whiff% isn’t as bad as you’d think for a guy with a 25%+ strikeout rate at just 25.9%. If we remove his injury-riddled final two months of 2019, Voit has a .386 OBP and 47 homers across 712 plate appearances as a Yankee. This is what a healthy Voit looks like. That’ll do.
Juan Soto is tied with Fernando Tatis Jr. for the best HH-Whiff% in 2020. They are both just 21 years old! Along with Acuna, these are going to be the faces of MLB for the next decade-plus. As impressive as Soto was at age-20, he’s even better this year. At the plate, he’s the best comp to Mike Trout I’ve seen, in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms Trout next season and should be drafted as a top-5 hitter in fantasy leagues in 2021.
Speaking of young talent, enter Eloy Jimenez! He already has 42 home runs in 162 career games. The only thing he hasn’t shown yet is patience. AKA, the ability to take a walk. That seems to be a philosophy with the White Sox, especially with their young hitters. His improvements this year are solely with his hard hit% but his batted ball quality is elite. He’ll be another exciting young player to watch this decade.
The only thing keeping Mike Trout over Juan Soto is the fact that Trout is still getting better! It’s insane. He’s 29 years old, so at some point, he’s going to plateau/decline. But, 2020 is not that year. Trout is still the King.
Freddie Freeman may be having the best season of his career. He’s walking more, striking out less, and has a career-best OPS (1.016) this season. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see him perform for 162 games this year. I’d like to see a little more loft to boost those power numbers but I don’t think owners are complaining.
You may want to check in on impatient Vlad Gurrero Jr. owners to see if they are willing to part ways with him. Not every top-tier prospect becomes a star immediately despite the recent success of several phenoms mentioned in this article. He’s only seen slight improvements in ISO and wRC+ but a closer look into his underlying metrics shows major skills growth HH%, exit velocity, and BRL% despite hitting the ball on the ground more frequently. He’s also walking at a higher clip which is a good sign. He’s so close to breaking out. If he works this offseason to adjust his launch angle, I think we’ll see the .300-35 HR player we’ve all envisioned.
Adam Eaton is an odd name to this list. He’s hitting the ball surprisingly hard but they are all on the ground. He’s actually improved his HR/FB% which reflects his gains in terms of this metric but again, a 10% jump in ground ball rate kills any power gains he might have. He’s hitting a measly .215 but I think he’s extremely unlucky in terms of BABIP that sits a .252 (career-.332). I’m not buying Eaton and he’ll be 32 years old without ever really showing much power in the past.
Randal Grichuk’s gains this year are less related to quality of contact and more about making more contact. During his Cardinals career, he struck out 30% of the time. Since joining the Blue Jays, it dropped to a more respectable 26%. This year, however, he’s sitting at 21.5%. On the surface, it looks good. But, he’s still chasing pitches outside the zone at a similar clip and making the same amount of contact on pitches in the zone. That means he’s able to make contact on more ball outside the zone. So, he’s figured out a way to increase his plate coverage which explains his decrease in strikeout rate. Typically, contact on pitches outside the zone isn’t great for a hitter. That’s why I think his BABIP will regress. I think this is a positive sign for Grichuk but not sure how much I will trust him going into 2021.
Cesar Hernadez is definitely hitting the ball harder this year but it hasn’t shown up in his results. He’s pounding the ball into the ground. Even with his improved HH%, he still falls below league average. At age 30, I don’t think there’s much to see here.
Hard Hit% Minus Whiff% - Fallers
|Yoan Moncada||White Sox||1.10%||18.50%||-17.40%|
|Rafael Devers||Red Sox||10.30%||26.30%||-16.00%|
|Xander Bogaerts||Red Sox||13.00%||25.10%||-12.10%|
|Starling Marte||- - -||3.70%||14.60%||-10.90%|
Noooo, my beloved Shin-Soo Choo. At age-37 least year, Choo was a monster with a HH% in the 95th percentile. Despite his advancing age, he had improved his HH% for three straight seasons prior to 2020. He was due for regression, but, it’s not just HH%. He’s also whiffing about 4% more often. I hate to say it about one of the most underrated fantasy assets over the last decade, but it may be time to move on from the Choo Choo Train.
I’m disappointed to see my Dark Horse AL MVP Yoan Moncada on the decliners list. He’s never had a HH% or average exit velocities this low in his career. Personally, I think he’s hurt. Prior to August 12th, his HH% was over 40%. He then missed a game on 8/12 due to “nagging body aches.” Since then, his production has suffered. I can’t say for sure but I know a healthy Moncada would not be hitting the ball so poorly. I’ll be buying back in next season at a discount.
Josh Bell is having a miserable season after his 2019 breakout. His HH% is down a bit from last year but it’s still strong. It’s not the main culprit for his plummeting numbers. He’s simply struggling to make contact. It’s not just one pitch type either. His whiff% is up over 10% against all pitch types (fastballs, offspeed, and breaking balls) from a year ago. This will end up being a lost season for Bell. He’s still in his prime and hitting the ball with authority, so I could see him as a bounceback depending on the price in 2021.
Not even the backdrop of Coors Field can salvage Ryan McMahon’s batting average. He’s hitting just .214 with an xBA one point below the Mendoza Line. He’s been completely useless against breaking balls (0.183 xwOBA) with an insane 53.7% whiff% against the bendy pitches. His quality of contact is simply not good enough to maintain a 36% K-rate. I’m out on McMahon until he improves his contact.
Anthony Rendon showing up on the fallers list just shows how amazing he was last year. After topping the HH%-Whiff% list last season, he’s fallen some, but still in the top 80th percentile. We witnessed his best season in 2019 and now he’s just back to his baseline performance, which is still great. I don’t have any concerns here.
Speaking of one’s best season, Marcus Semien had his in 2019. He showed steady progress over the last several years only to fall back to a 2017 version of himself this year. He’s at a league-average whiff% but was 6% better than league average last year. It’s led to a jump in K% by nearly 8%. It’s not just the strikeouts either. He’s not hitting the ball hard. It doesn’t help that his surrounding cast isn’t playing like they did in 2019. I’m beginning to think 2019 will be the outlier in Semien’s career.
Charlie Blackmon is 34 years old. At this stage of his career, his power metrics are pedestrian at best. The only thing keeping him from being Jeff McNeil is Coors Field. (Psst, I’m not a believer in McNeil’s power despite the recent outburst). He hasn’t stolen bases since 2018 and now his power appears to be declining. He’s dangerously close to being an average/runs play in fantasy. I’ll be fading him next year.
Like many Red Sox hitters, Xander Bogaerts has struggled to match his success from 2019. However, his numbers are still very good. Other than a slight dip in HH% and a small increase to his K%, he’s essentially the same hitter as he was in 2019. Much like Devers, I’m not concerned at all.
After back to back 20 homer seasons, Starling Marte‘s power metrics look more like 2017 than the previous two seasons. I was really impressed with how he improved his exit velocity on fly balls last season but it’s just not there this year. With an average exit velocity of 90.6 mph, he’s in the bottom 25% of all qualified hitters. His number one asset is his speed but he’ll be 32 years old next month his value could slip significantly if he’s unable to provide a rebound in the power department next season.