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The baseball universe is really coming into its own when it comes to advanced data metrics that we can parse through, with hard-hit rates, exit velocities, spray charts and batted-ball outcomes all becoming accessible tools to throw in the toolkit before we go digging for answers.

Today's piece kicks off a series where we're going to be exploring some notable gainers in categories that are largely associated with power. This piece, the first of the set, will be regarding hard-hit rate. Then we'll investigate those who increased their pull rate before checking in with fly ball rates, and finally tying all three together. Some player profiles will briefly bring in the other metrics for context, as there's always more to learn.

We're including players here that have accrued at least 200 PAs in both 2015 and 2016 to have something actionable to utilize, but we'll ignore gainers like Carlos Ruiz (+18%) and Alejandro de Aza (+16.9%) in order to address viable options.

Editor's Note: Stay on top of our MLB off-season news and fantasy analysis all year round. Read our daily fantasy columns about MLB prospects, dynasty outlooks, player outlooks and much more. It's always fantasy baseball season here. Let's Go!

 

Top Hard-Hit Rate Gainers in 2016

Player Name 2016 HH% 2015 HH% Difference
Tyler Flowers 43.80% 30.90% 12.90%
Shin-Soo Choo 43.20% 32.80% 10.40%
Asdrubal Cabrera 36.70% 26.40% 10.30%
Yasmany Tomas 41.00% 31.00% 10.00%
Jean Segura 29.70% 19.70% 10.00%
Salvador Perez 33.80% 24.00% 9.80%
Jose Reyes 29.00% 19.70% 9.30%
Wilson Ramos 35.40% 26.40% 9.00%
Yasmani Grandal 38.90% 30.00% 8.90%
DJ LeMahieu 35.20% 26.60% 8.60%
Victor Martinez 38.80% 30.60% 8.20%
Jose Altuve 33.80% 25.90% 7.90%
Ian Kinsler 34.00% 26.40% 7.60%
Starlin Castro 31.20% 23.60% 7.60%
Tyler Saladino 25.30% 18.00% 7.30%
Kole Calhoun 35.30% 28.00% 7.30%
Daniel Murphy 38.20% 31.10% 7.10%
Mike Napoli 36.70% 29.70% 7.00%
Kevin Kiermaier 31.40% 24.60% 6.80%

 

What to Expect From These Hard-Hit Gainers?

Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves +12.9%

As with many of these names, Flowers makes loud contact when the bat meets the ball, but he misses the ball at an alarming rate as well (28% strikeout rate in 2016). While it’s tempting to look at Flowers’ .270 average from last season alongside the decent pop and not-too-distant top-prospect profile and project him for mixed-league viability, his .366 BABIP is still a bit too high even for a guy with a 43.8% hard-hit rate. Still, he’s the 27th catcher off of NFBC boards as of March 17th and has enough talent to be a solid second catcher in 2C leagues.

Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers +10.4%

You might not know it by his innocent .242/.357/.399 triple slash from 2016, but Choo really smoked the ball – when he was on the field. In only 48 games, 210 plate appearances, the 34-year-old clubbed seven homers with six steals with a gaudy 43.2% hard-hit rate. While this figure likely would’ve fallen with more playing time, it’s still notable that…well, nothing notable happened. His HR/FB rate remained at a usual 17.5%, his ISO was an unimpressive .157 and his BABIP was a career-low .288 against a recent five-year average of roughly .330. With a nearly nonexistent ADP of 327.01 per NFBC data (OF79), Choo is a nifty late-round flier.

Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks +10%

Tomas posted gains across the board with his power profile, with the 10% gain here coming with a 9.4% rise in pull rate and an 8.2% fly-ball rate jump. This resulted in his HR/FB rate skyrocketing from 13% to 25%, meaning a quarter of the fly balls that he hit, which he did only 31.4% of the time – below the league-average mark of 34.6% -- left the yard. I know Arizona is about as hitter friendly a park as they come, but we likely saw Tomas’ ceiling in 2016. Banking on another 30-homer campaign would be troubling, but projecting him for 25 taters should be fair.

Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners +10%

Segura entered 2016 with nearly no wind in his sails, but we did just talk about how Chase Field is an offensive haven. He also worked on his swing and tried to emphasize hitting more fly balls, which resulted in a 3.6% jump to a respectable 27.8%. As you can see, the most significant result was the quality of contact made, as the 10% spike here was almost entirely taken from his soft-contact rate that fell from 25.6% to 16.2%. While expecting his gains to hold going from Arizona to Seattle, or even just from a career year to the next, is a risky proposal, the talent is there for the 27-year-old to at least smack 12 homers with 30 swipes and an average toward .300.

Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals +9.8%,
Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays +9%,
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers +8.9%

Look at that, three catchers who really improved their power lot in 2016! Ramos had the best average with the most even spray chart, as his pull% was only 38.3% to Grandal’s 42.9% and Perez’s 47.4%, as well as the lowest fly-ball rate at 25.3% compared to Grandal’s 39.2% and Perez’s 47.1%.

Ramos’ knee injury obviously dampens things, but folks should feel good about his 2016 being projectable given the metrics behind the stats. We can’t quantify Lasik eye surgery either, but one has to wager that being able to see the ball goes a long way (just look at Joe Panik’s slip last season after the concussion gave him blurred vision). Grandal is much more power-oriented with a wild 25.2% HR/FB rate that the hard-hit rate supports some of, but that’s unlikely to hold steady. Perez didn’t see much change other than a 7% jump in strikeout rate, meaning there’s actually some room for him to cross that 25-homer threshold.

DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies +8.6%

LeMahieu vaulted himself into the trivia world by winning the 2016 NL Batting title, with the hard contact that he made coming with his line-drive rate that sits in the 26% range and yields a career BABIP above .350. DJL’s .348/.416/.495 triple slash was helped along by Coors Field, as his hard-hit rate held at 37.7% in Colorado against a 32.5% road mark. He won’t post a .420 BABIP at Coors again, but it is notable that his three highest months in terms of HH% coincided with his three best Pull% months. His average still holds strong in the months, but he could likely hit 15+ homers if he were to consistently pull the ball.

Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers +8.2%

This isn’t so much about V-Mart improving, but rather that he rebounded after a down year in 2015. He had posted hard-hit rates of 38.1% and 39.4% in ’13 and ’14, respectively, before it dropped to 30.6% as injuries gobbled up ’15. 2016’s 38.8% mark brought back his steady profile even at the age of 37, as even dealing with a hernia for half of the season couldn’t stifle his swing. He likely won’t be healthy for all of 2017 with age working against him, but with an NFBC ADP of 234.45, he should return profits.

Tyler Saladino, Chicago White Sox +7.3%

Saladino has always housed a somewhat intriguing, albeit modest, blend of power and speed inside the South Sider system, but the opportunity for consistent playing time has never been there. After 254 PAs in 2015 that led to a paltry 18% HH rate, he bumped that up to 25.3% in ’16 with his 319 PAs that led to eight homers and a .282 average (he also went 11-for-16 on steal attempts). With the hard contact trending upward and a vacancy at 2B thanks to Brett Lawrie’s departure, Saladino stands to step in and offer a quiet 15/20/.270 candidate at an NFBC ADP of 422.67.

Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels +7.3%

This is an interesting one, as Calhoun saw his homer total drop from 26 to 18 despite his lacing the ball more while also upping his fly-ball rate by 4.5%. He has always posted a HR/FB rate around 14% in his three MLB seasons, yet it fell to 9.4% last season -- even in the face of harder contact and more flies. This isn't to say that he's a lock to bounce back to 2015 levels in 2017, but it sure as shoot looks like it's in the cards. Calhoun should be a lock for roughly 90 runs considering his lineup slot ahead of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but hitting 20-25 homers of his own would really make this underrated commodity into a solid mid-round pick.

Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays +6.8%

Kiermaier deserves a lot of buzz heading into 2017 after stepping his HH% up to 31.4% alongside growth in his fly-ball rate and pulling the ball nearly half of the time. This led to a drop in his BABIP to .278 despite his strong wheels since you can’t outrun a fly, but the 13-point batting average slip was assuaged by more than doubling his walk rate – from 4.5% to 9.7% -- for a career-high OBP of .331. He hadn’t even cracked .300 in ’15 there, which was enough for Tampa Bay to consider KK for the leadoff spot in 2017. While the hard hits won’t lead to a .300 average, it should allow him to smack 15-18 homers with the 25-steal capabilities.

 

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