By Jon Becker
Now that we’re after the All-Star Game and have seen more than half of 2019’s regular season games come and go, we’ve got a plenty large sample to evaluate players this season. One of my favorite things to do is look at players who’ve changed drastically–positively or negatively–from season to season. Today, I’ll be taking a look at the batters who’ve changed their hard hit rates the most, for better or for worse.
Note that this version of hard-hit rate is calculated as Hard-hit balls/(At-Bats + Sacrifice Flies). Our denominator penalizes a hitter for strikeouts. Those you would see from Statcast and on FanGraphs use a denominator of “Batted Balls” which does not incorporate strikeouts.
The number you get from our calculation allows you to say “Player X has recorded a hard-hit ball in Y% of his times at bat.”
Let’s start with the top three hard-hit rate improvements, from the 2018 season to the first half of this season. A minimum of 400 at-bats last season and 200 at-bats this season are required to qualify.
1. Scott Kingery, 19.2% to 34.7% (15.5% increase)
When you increase your triple-slash from .226/.267/.338 (.605 OPS) to .292/.344/.545 (.889 OPS), you have to have changed something. For Kingery, that’s hitting the ball way harder. He’s made an even more dramatic increase against left-handed pitching, raising his hard-hit rate against southpaws from 16.9% to 53.7%. That’s the highest hard-hit rate against lefties this year of those with at least 50 at-bats against them.
2. Cody Bellinger, 29.3% to 42.7% (13.4% increase)
As Mark Simon noted on Monday, the NL’s leader in OPS+ and leader in DRS amongst non-catchers and its leading MVP candidate is also its leader in hard-hit rate. He was middle of the pack in 2018 (75th out of 179 hitters with at least 400 at-bats), but has been anything but this season. His most pronounced change has been against sliders, raising his hard-hit rate against those pitches from 28.2% to 50%. He has the highest hard-hit rate this season against that pitch type (minimum 25 at-bats ending with sliders).
3. Josh Bell, 26.9% to 38.1% (11.2% increase)
Perhaps the biggest breakout of the season, Bell came into the season with a career OPS of .784 and a WAR of 2.2 (per Baseball-Reference), largely due to well-below-average defense at first base. This season? A 1.024 OPS and 3.0 WAR to go along with vastly improved defense (-9 DRS last year, 0 this year). The switch-hitting Bell has gotten better from both sides of the plate, with a 11.1 percentage-point increase as a righty and 10.9 percentage-point jump from the left side.
And now, for those who’ve seen their hard-hit rates plummet the most:
1. Jackie Bradley Jr., 29.3% to 22.9% (6.4% decrease)
Bradley’s put his March/April funk (.406 OPS) behind him, slashing .272/.377/.497 (.874 OPS) since May 1, but his hard-hit rate hasn’t quite rebounded yet. His hard-hit rate since the beginning of May is actually lower than his season average, at 21.4%.
2. Rougned Odor, 33.4% to 27.4% (6% decrease)
After a slightly below-average season in 2018 (.253/.326/.424, for a 97 OPS+), Odor’s production has cratered in 2019, as he is batting just .198/.264/.407 (an OPS+ of 69). The lefty swinger actually hasn’t been much worse against same-sided pitching (a 4 percentage-point decrease), but righties have given him trouble (a 6.9 percentage-point decrease). Fortunately for Odor, he’s still just 25 years old, so there is time to improve.
3. Matt Carpenter, 35.4% to 29.6% (5.8% decrease)
Of the three trailers on this list, Carpenter was by far the best in 2018, putting up a .257/.374/.523 triple-slash, setting a career high with 36 homers, and finishing 9th in NL MVP voting. He’s currently in the midst of his first career below- average season (88 OPS+) and has struck out in almost a quarter of his plate appearances, by far the highest rate of his career.
Here’s the top 15 and bottom 15:
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||29.1%||22.6%||-6.5%|