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By The Numbers

Controlled Power: An Underrated Skill Set

by Matt Williams
Updated On: August 24, 2021, 10:50 am ET

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In this week’s “By The Numbers” breakdown, the analysis will focus on hitters who have demonstrated a unique combination of bat control and power since the All-Star break. While home runs, exit velocity, and barrel rates are popular metrics to measure power, they lack the ability to showcase the true skills of a player. This is difficult to quantify with certain accuracy, but there are certain statistics that can be tracked and cross-referenced that paint a more comprehensive picture. 

A fantasy manager can track a player’s fly-ball rate, ground ball rate, average launch angle, and a home run to fly ball ratio in order to gain a more detailed picture behind a player’s performance, but this takes time and the process can have flawed results. Instead, the goal should be to find trustworthy metrics that can measure the most important attributes of a hitter’s power production. This will allow you to locate possible breakouts and values that could give you an edge in your fantasy league.

In a June edition of By The Numbers, I investigated how the new lower COR baseball was impacting fantasy results. The lesson of the article was to identify hitters that had the skills to overcome MLB’s new standard baseball due to its higher drag coefficient despite an increase in exit velocity.

The theory was to avoid “hang time,” since the baseball stood a better chance of avoiding drag if it stayed in the air for as little time as possible. This seems to be counterproductive for power-hitting since the desired result in fantasy is home runs, which requires the ball to be struck in the air. This is where the important variables enter the discussion. How does one hit the ball hard enough to carry the ball over the fence while avoiding the negative effects of the lower COR baseball? The answer is line drives and “blasts.”

 

Blasts: A Refresher


What is a blast? Let’s take a look at an excerpt from my June article:

 

In January of 2021, Alex Chamberlain wrote an article about a unique subset of “Barrels” called “Blast” percentage. The intention of the article was to isolate elite barrels into a usable metric by eliminating Batted Ball Events with suboptimal exit velocity and Launch Angle. Well, what do you know? That is exactly what we wanted to do!

Instead of the high variance of batted balls that Barrel percentage leaves you with, Blast percentage narrows the 25.5 to 30.5-degree Launch Angle gap to 28 degrees while increasing the lowest exit velocity threshold from 97.5 miles per hour to an even 100 miles per hour. Alex found that since 2017, Statcast Barrels have been divided nearly down the middle between blasts and “weak barrels” (46% blasts to 54% weak barrels). The difference in production between Barrels, Blasts, and “weak” Barrels is fairly wide since 2017:

  • Barrels: 1.416 wOBAcon, 58% home run rate, .804 batting average
  • Blasts: 1.744 wOBAcon, 82% home run rate, .919 batting average
  • Weak Barrels: 1.140 wOBAcon, 38% home run rate, .707 batting average

 

The results led to a series of players who hit a certain threshold in “Blast percentage” while also carrying an acceptable sd(LA), which stands for standard deviation launch angle. This measures a hitter's bat control. 

Average launch angle is a measurement of exactly what it says, an average. A hitter could theoretically hit nothing by pop-ups and ground balls and have a desirable average launch angle if the midpoint happens to line up with a researcher’s preferred result. However, this obviously tells a flawed story and could lead to a massive error in player analysis. Instead, you want to measure a player’s launch angle “tightness,” and that is what sd(LA) does. You want to know which hitters have the tightness range in their launch angle in order to locate candidates who show the ability to consistently hit an ideal range.

The June article set filter parameters to identify hitters who carried a Blast percentage above eight percent and an sd(LA) of 30 degrees or lower. The recommendation of Jorge Soler has certainly paid off but now it is time to locate a new crop of hitters for the home stretch in fantasy leagues.

 

Second Half Bomb Squad


Using the exact parameters from the previous research you might expect to see quite a few names reach the desired threshold, but what if I told you there were only five? Since the all-star break, only five hitters with at least 50 batted ball events have registered an sd(LA) below 30 degrees with a Blast percentage above eight.

There are added columns to showcase barrel rates as well as Dynamic Hard Hit Rate, which you can read about here.

 

sd(LA)BlastBoard

 

Eloy Jimenez, OF White Sox

 

If you are thinking to yourself that breaking down Eloy Jimenez is a waste of time, I would agree with you. It is hardly a surprise that a talented hitter like Eloy would be on this list, but you should take the time to recognize that there are still only five names. The fact that Jimenez is on this list speaks to just how special he can be moving forward, not that you needed a reminder.

 

EloyHR

 

Josh Donaldson, 3B Twins

 

This is a subtle reminder to anyone who tries to write off the former MVP as someone past his prime. Donaldson suffers from being injury-prone, not from being devoid of talent. The “Bringer of Rain” can still mash.

The 35-year-old is just a season removed from a 37 home run campaign in 2019 in which he drove in 94 RBI and slugged .521 over 659 plate appearances. This season Donaldson is slashing .245/.346/.452 with 17 long balls, 51 RBI, a .342 wOBA, and the highest barrel rate of his career (16.5 percent).

 

Donaldson HR

 

Donaldson has posted a hard-hit rate of over 50 percent for the last three seasons and carries a higher dynamic hard-hit rate than Eloy Jimenez. Do not sleep on the Twins' third baseman, the talent is very much still alive.

 

Anthony Santander, OF Orioles

 

The 26-year-old blasted 11 home runs over just 37 games last season due to an oblique strain and was a popular sleeper due to his underrated power in 2019. The Orioles outfielder has already missed significant time this season due to a left ankle sprain and being placed on the COVID injured list but has been stellar while on the field in August.

 

Santander HR

 

Santander is batting .303/.333/.606 this month with six of his 12 home runs and has posted the highest hard-hit rate of his career. Many fantasy managers will look at an unimpressive .241/.287/.425 slash line and move on, but you know better. The switch-hitting slugger is available in nearly 70 percent of Yahoo leagues and has quietly been one of the most effective hitters in the second half in the middle of a lousy lineup.

 

Santander LA Spray

 

Brent Rooker, OF Twins

 

I am willing to bet that when you started reading this article, Brent Rooker is not a name you expected to hear. In limited at-bats in 2020 the 26-year-old was able to post a .316/.381/.579 slash line across a meager sample size of 21 plate appearances. This is what we call a useless sample size, but with a home run, two doubles, and a maximum exit velocity of 112.2 miles per hour the results were still intriguing. The issue for Rooker in 2021 was going to be at-bats. 

As fate would have it, Byron Buxton has not been able to stay on the field along with several of his teammates, leaving the door open for Rooker to make some noise. Since the all-star break, the Twins outfielder has posted a fantastic 34.4 percent dynamic hard-hit rate and an 11.5 percent blast rate. This rivals just about any power hitter you are likely to name, with the blast rate ranking fourth in MLB behind only Tyler O'Neill (who barely missed this list) and Miguel Sano. Rooker places just ahead of Joey Gallo, Shohei Ohtani, and Juan Soto. Yes, that is incredibly impressive. 

 

Rooker HR

 

Rooker has proven to be a well-balanced hitter from a batted ball perspective, posting a 24.1 percent line-drive rate, 36.7 percent ground ball rate, and 39.2 percent fly-ball rate all while hitting the ball to all fields. 

 

Rooker LA Spray

 

A .200/.272/.408 slash line is awfully deceptive given the skills that have been showcased and perhaps a .247 BABIP is partly to blame. Rooker has the raw power and bat control to break out in a major way under the radar in fantasy leagues, but given his propensity for strikeouts, there will likely always be a downside. Fortune favors the bold.

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Alex Dickerson, OF Giants

 

A major issue that holds Alex Dickerson back is a variable that is out of his control. He plays for the San Francisco Giants, a team that loves to platoon. The 31-year-old finds the bench routinely against left-handed pitchers and this limits his overall upside in fantasy leagues, especially those that set weekly lineups.

 

  • 252 at-bats
  • 232 versus RHP (.237 average, .246 career)
  • 20 versus LHP (.250 average, .265 career)

 

Let’s move on to the good news. Dickerson has a .289 ISO in August with a 1.022 OPS and a 170 wRC+. Since the All-Star break, the Giants outfielder has had the second-highest blast rate among our group of candidates with the second-highest dynamic hard-hit rate. The sad part is that Dickerson would have quite the cheering section if given everyday at-bats, but unfortunately, those are not coming in the foreseeable future.

 

Dickerson HR

 

Fantasy managers who make daily lineup moves can benefit from Dickerson’s underrated skill set, but those in weekly leagues will need to scout the upcoming schedule and probable pitchers.