Who doesn’t love a good power hitter? A lot of Major League Baseball fans I talk to love scoring and big hits. Myself, I’m a pitching duel guy but I can’t deny that watching lots of offense can be fun, too.
With an off-season that can’t seem to get the heat working on the stove (so far), The Junkball Daily will continue to ascertain the ‘best of’ certain aspects of the game.
So, what makes a complete slugger?
Statistically, we’ll look into ISO (isolated power), Home Runs, OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), ratio of home runs on fly balls hit (HR/FB), how often a player strikes out (K% or BB/K rate), the rate at which they make contact on pitches in the strike zone (Zone Contact %), as well as how often they whiff (SwStr%) and how often their hits are considered hard contact (Hard %).
The main focus of the evaluation will be ISO, so lets talk a little about that first.
Isolated power interprets how often a player gets an extra base hit (double, triple, home run). It’s important to note that this statistic is not park adjusted; a hitter who plays half his games in stadium like Coors Field will tend to have a higher ISO than a batter who plays in, say, Petco Park will tend to have a lower ISO. More on that in a bit.
Not all hits are equal, obviously, and ISO assigns a weight to each event. There are three ways to calculate:
ISO= doubles + (2*triples) + (3*Home Runs)/ AB
ISO= Extra bases/AB
I like to use ISO over slugging percentage because two .500 sluggers can be having very different seasons; one could be high due to home runs (with a higher K rate) while the other may be a doubles hitter with a lower strikeout rate.
In terms of the stat’s consistency, it should take about 2-3 full seasons before we can put anything behind a hitter’s slugging production.
The context for ISO is as follows:
.240+ is an excellent power hitter
.150 is considered average
.090 is a weak slugger
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this appraisal, lets take a gander at 2017’s ISO leaders in the chart below.
Not surprisingly, current New York Yankees Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge distinguish themselves from the other three on the list. However, Judge will not be included in this eval because he’s only played one season and it’s too soon to consider his 2017 performance as a consistent measurement.
We are going to look at the top 20 ISO performers of the last three seasons. Additionally, the hitters will need to have at least 1400 plate appearances to qualify. The green highlights are the best in the particular category, yellow represents second, and orange is third.
Now, on the surface, the most complete slugger should be Stanton, right? The issue I have with going along with Stanton is his low BB/K rate, high whiff rate, and low batting average.
Why do those stats matter? Because Stanton is a free swinger who relies on his strength in lieu of pure hitting ability. I see the league’s best slugger as a guy who not only hits the ball hard and far, but can be highly efficient and balanced with his at-bats.
OK, what about Martinez? Second best ISO, high batting average and BABIP, and first in the rate of hard contact. His issue lies in striking out a lot and, like Stanton, a high whiff rate.
Both Stanton and Martinez can rock the ball, that’s not debatable. But a lot of hitters can, too, if they are swinging for the fences more often than not. I’m not trying to punish or debase either hitter, I just think there are guys who can do what they do with more skill.
That leads us to our number three on our ISO rankings- Arenado. He also happens to be the guy I consider the most complete slugger in the league.
First and foremost, he places in the most categories (pertaining to power hitting) more than any other hitter in the top 10. And Arenado isn’t a sloppy swinger; 9.7% whiff rate. He’s second to only Anthony Rizzo when it comes to contact made on pitches in the strike zone. Those facts alone confirm he’s got a great eye for hittable pitches.
His BABIP is league-average (.299), meaning he needn’t rely on much luck to be a successful hitter.
And, he’s second in most home runs through the last three seasons with 120; 19 at home versus 18 on the road in 2017.
Hold up. Arenado plays in Coors field for 50% of his games! Well, let’s try to deconstruct my opinion.
Here is a cart displaying his career splits between home and away games.
The biggest difference here is total hits, a difference of 72. Yes, he’s hit 22 more home runs at Coors than in visitor stadiums but that’s really not that high of a fluctuation when you consider 3,022 career plate appearances.
So, we can assess that he’s not playing with that big of an advantage at Coors.
One other thing I’d like to point out is exit velocity. Most elite power hitters can crush pitches, on average, at a rate around 100MPH. And Arenado? Well, lets investigate.
Arenado, compared to the top ISO hitters, has the lowest exit velocity. Why does that matter? Because he’s able to do what the other sluggers do while not hitting the ball as hard as they are. An impressive feat considering he’s at least two MPH lower than both Stanton and Martinez; well behind Judge in 2017. Not that he should be rewarded per se, but it is an aspect worth noting.
When you think of power hitters, Arenado doesn’t always come to mind as quick as some of the other hitters in baseball. Hopefully now you’ve allowed him into your subconscious; to be referenced the next time you have that debate, whether you make a case for him as the most complete slugger or not.