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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 caps off our short series looking at those who posted gains in hard-hit, pull and fly ball rates in 2016 -- categories that are largely associated with power. We've looked at all three of these metrics individually, but now we're going to tie it all together and look at the names who had at least a 4% gain in each stat. While we're not going to go overboard and expect the world of them in 2017, it's nice to be able to look back at their 2016 stats and know their results weren't just some fluky HR/FB luck.

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 omit names that are only relevant in 50-team leagues in order to address viable options.

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Top Power-Metric Gainers in 2016

Player Name Hard Hit Gain Pull Rate Gain Fly Ball Rate Gain Average Gain
Yasmany Tomas 10% 9.30% 8.20% 9.17%
Matt Holliday 5.20% 12.70% 6.90% 8.27%
Salvador Perez 9.80% 4.40% 9.70% 7.97%
Kevin Kiermaier 6.80% 8.20% 8.30% 7.77%
Jason Kipnis 5.10% 5.50% 9.30% 6.63%
Brad Miller 4.80% 9.60% 5.40% 6.60%
Christian Yelich 4.90% 4.30% 5% 4.73%

 

What to Expect From These Power-Metric Gainers?

Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks – 3B/OF

Tomas is the poster boy for this whole series, as he leads the pack with gains above 8% in all three categories that we’ve analyzed. While some of this is due to his underwhelming 2015 where he only hit nine homers in 426 plate appearances, that still doesn’t mean he was guaranteed to turn it around. The only real question one has to ask themselves is whether they believe in Tomas’ new form that he showed at age-25 and how much regression might hit him. It’s highly unlikely that he can post a 25% HR/FB rate again (tied with Chris Davis) and create such wild value out of a below league-average 31.4% fly-ball rate, but with his other gains then he just might not drop off as much as others fear – let alone if he actually continues to grow.

Matt Holliday, New York Yankees – 1B/OF

Holliday wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for an injury-hampered 2015 campaign that made his return to “normal” Hollidian levels appear so dramatic. That said, there was no guarantee that the aging slugger was going to be able to bounce back so this is still nice to see – especially before he begins his service at the sandbox known as Yankee Stadium. While his .246 average from ’16 was easily a career worst, it makes sense considering these power-oriented gains he showed. The 20 homers in only 426 PAs matched his 20 homers from 2014, except he needed 667 PAs to do so then. While owners won’t be upset if he reverts back toward his .270s average and lesser power ways, he could blast 25+ homers in Yankee Stadium. He’s currently 12-for-39 with four homers (1.075 OPS) in Spring Training, so I’m buying.

Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals - C

Perez has slowly turned himself into your stereotypical loud-power, middling-average catcher after six big-league seasons. He hit .331 in his rookie showing of 2011 (158 plate appearances) before hitting .301, .292, .260, .260 and most recently, .247. This has been paired with homer totals of 11, 13, 17, 21 and 22 over the last five seasons, though he hadn’t ever seen an uptick in metrics across the board like this before. He hadn’t ever seen a strikeout rate increase as dramatic either, though (14.8% to 21.8%). Look for the power to play up yet again in 2017 as his swing continues to profile in a more “slugger” fashion. It’d be ideal if Kauffman Stadium was more hitter-friendly and if the Royals had a little more to offer in the counting stats, but 60 runs and RBIs should join his 20+ homers to make for solid value.

Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays - OF

Kiermaier flashed his double-digit pop with 20-steal potential in 2015 before really becoming a more extreme power hitter in ’16 with an above-average fly-ball rate with a much healthier hard-hit rate. The pull rate holding near 50% with the fly balls should point to how a guy with serious wheels can only muster a .246 average (.278 BABIP). Think of how Billy Hamilton suffered by hitting too many flies instead of peppering grounders and letting his legs help him out. The difference here is that Kiermaier actually houses the power to leave the yard with some regularity. If he holds onto most of these gains then he could hit 15-18 homers with 25-30 steals, with potential for a solid run total if he gets a piece of the leadoff-platoon pie.

Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians – 2B

Kipnis had gone through two disappointing seasons in a row with a power-zapped 2014-15 that saw him only hit 15 homers in 1,196 plate PAs (compared to 17 in 2013 – 658 PAs). While he wasn’t bad in 2015 – he hit a career-high .303 – it was just underwhelming after a promising upward trajectory was cut down by an injury-laden age-27 season. Kipnis then partied like it was 2013 last season, as nearly all of his metrics read similarly to that superb season (though he only stole 15 bases in ’16 compared to 30 in ’13). After posting HR/FB rates of 4.8% and 6.9%, he brought that mark up to 13.1% (12.4% in ’13). While we need him to rebound from this early-season injury, Kipnis should still have the profile of a guy who can hit 18 homers and swipe double-digit bags with a healthy average and counting stats.

Brad Miller, Tampa Bay Rays – 1B/SS

Miller clearly put power on the forefront of his to-do list in the middle of 2016 after a rough first two months of the season, as the 27-year-old went on to blast 25 homers over the final four months of ’16. Interestingly, his batted-ball rates really didn’t fluctuate that much between those unfortunate first two months and the final four outside of a low 29.2% fly-ball rate in May (when he hit for better average, .291). His HR/FB rate shot up from around 15% to 26.9% in July and 33.3% in August before coming back down to 16.7% in September/October. Let’s assume the mid-to-high teens are his usual, with spikes possible. His fantasy owners in daily formats should be mindful of his lesser power against lefties, as he only slugged .373 against them (.509 vs. RHP) thanks to a 30.8% hard-hit rate (36.1% vs. RHP).

Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins - OF

Yelich has long been known for his plus speed/average and groundball ways, but had always teased us with such a good hitting tool that he could feasibly become a five-category contributor if he could just stop trying to kill groundhogs at the dish. 2016 saw him finally flip the switch, as these modest gains in all three power-hitting metrics aligned to yield a lofty 23.6% HR/FB rate (up from 12.5%) that saw him hit 21 homers after mashing only seven in ’15. His ground-ball rate had so much to give that he still turned in a 56.5% mark and sustained a high .356 BABIP – allowing him to keep his high average (.298) – but with all of these things coming together, it just meant that those increased fly balls became that much more valuable as the young outfielder vaulted his way into the top-10 OF conversation.

 

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