Welcome back to this investigative piece where we examine players who have seen some notable changes in their power profiles -- for better or for worse -- in 2017.
As usual, you don’t need me to tell you that Miguel Sano or Aaron Judge are strong or that Jarrod Dyson and Billy Hamilton are toward the bottom in average exit velocity. And as with every April analysis article, the standard “it’s really early so read with heaping grains of salt” note applies.
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Mitch Moreland (1B - BOS):
Entering play on Thursday, Moreland was your 2017 leader in hard-hit rate at a hilarious 60 percent. He went 1-for-4 with a double and is doing all he can to manufacture that lovely .476 BABIP that’s fueling his .344/.420/.574 triple slash. As Boston’s regular five-hole hitter, the lefty-swinging slugger should have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of that low right-field wall and turn the hard contact into his usual 20-plus homer stuff -- just with better counting stats and a healthy average.
Michael Brantley (OF - CLE):
Brantley stepped onto the field on Thursday as the bronze medalist on the hard-hit rate leaderboard with a 57.6 percent rate and his usually stout zone-contact rate (91.2 percent). While nothing jumps off the page with his two homers and .286 average, it’s incredibly encouraging to see him locked in at the dish after his long road back to playing. This is to say that people should be taking him seriously again if they were still writing him off due to the time missed.
Elvis Andrus (SS - TEX):
Andrus already has three homers in only 62 plate appearances after socking a career-high eight in 568 PAs last season. While the exact pop pace will slow, it isn’t as though the three long balls were flukes as the speedster is tied for the fourth-most batted balls of 95 mph or more at 24 (tied with another power breakout in Nicholas Castellanos). He won’t keep his name atop that leaderboard throughout the season, but this is a notable surger for sure.
Ryan Zimmerman (3B - WAS):
Zimmerman appears poised to have his best season since 2013 despite a downtick in AEV and a lower rate of 95+ mph balls overall, so what gives? Well, as we all know, raw power isn’t everything. It has to be channeled in the proper manner -- namely, somewhat upwards. His overall launch angle has only improved by roughly four degrees on average, but there’s no doubting that his power is rising after he clobbered an R.A. Dickey knuckler to straight-away center field on Thursday for his fifth homer in only 58 PAs. He won’t sustain a HR/FB rate near 30 percent, but he’s finally directing his loud contact in the right direction.
Taylor Motter (SS - SEA):
If you lower the bar for minimum batted-ball events on the Statcast leaderboard to 20 then you get Miguel Sano, Miguel Cabrera, Motter, Freddie Freeman…wait, go back. Motter is third? Yup, at 96 mph -- and that was before he clubbed a two-run shot over the center-field fence on Thursday. The issue here is he won’t have an everyday role once Jean Segura returns in a couple of days, though we suspect Seattle will find a place for this scorching bat somewhere.
Edwin Encarnacion (1B - CLE):
Encarnacion actually sported a 51.6 percent hard-hit rate and above-average .310 BABIP entering Thursday, so how is he now hitting .218 with only two homers on the season? Well, while the contact is still “hard”, it just isn’t as hard as we’re used to seeing from E5. His 91.5 mph AEV from last season is down to 89.9 mph and his zone-contact rate is down to 77.5 percent from 85 percent. Basically, he’s making less frequent contact (backed by a 14.3 percent swinging-strike rate, 9.4 percent in ’16) and when he does connect, it’s got a bit less behind it. There’s some trouble here.
Ryan Schimpf (2B/3B - SD):
Schimpf does have three homers on the season, but also a horrid .119 batting average with a .077 BABIP thanks to a paltry 82.1 mph average exit velocity. That is the fifth worst out of all players with at least 25 batted-ball events, which is okay if you’re the aforementioned Dyson or Hamilton, but not a power-centric bat like Schimpf. The fly-ball happy Padre had a respectable 91.5 mph AEV last season and will need to square up the ball like that to give his fly balls a chance to consistently do damage.
Kyle Seager (3B - SEA):
Seager hasn’t homered yet and only has a .074 ISO through his first 16 games of 2017. Seattle’s third-bagger has posted AEVs of 89.3 and 90.9 mph over his past two seasons so his current 87.4 mph mark isn’t terrible, but this is a guy who has made a name for consistency. His current 20 percent hard-hit rate is nearly half of his 38.7 percent rate from 2016 and his line-drive rate has given about six percentage points to a lofty 42.2 percent ground-ball rate. This should iron out, but he’s not exactly suffering from bad luck here.
Xander Bogaerts (SS - BOS):
Bogaerts enjoyed a keen 90 mph AEV last season en route to his power breakout (21 homers in 719 PAs), but has only posted an 86.8 mph mark thus far and is also rocking a “zero” in the barrels column. It’s hard to complain about a guy who is hitting .333, but there’s no doubt that fantasy owners paid up for him in drafts just for some speed and a high batting average after his 2016 campaign. Only eight of his 37 batted balls have been at 95 mph or more (21.6 percent) compared to his 39.8 percent mark from ’16, which isn’t what we like to see. He’s a decent buy low if owners are frustrated, but this isn’t good.
Curtis Granderson (OF - NYM):
The Grandy Man can…not barrel the ball to save his life right now. Seriously, he has none thus far alongside an ugly 84.8 mph AEV (88.3 in ’16). He’s hitting plenty of fly balls, but has a ghastly 27 percent soft-contact rate and a very low 35.1 percent pull rate (43.6 percent in ’16) that may suggest he’s not seeing the ball well in the box. This doesn’t read as a, “he’s making a concerted effort to use all fields” type of thing, as Grandy has never been shy about being a pull-happy power bat. How long can he hold off Michael Conforto for a real everyday job?