Let’s kick things off with a question. How many qualified hitters had a Hard Hit Percentage of 40% or higher as of July 1st?
Don’t look, we’ll get to the answer in a moment, but first, let’s look back over the past few years to properly set things up.
In 2015, a total of 8 qualified hitters finished with a hard hit rate of 40% or higher. These players represented the best of the best among power hitters. J.D. Martinez finished with the highest total of 42.6%, followed closely by Big Papi, Matt Kemp (remember when he was good), Goldy, Chris Daivs, Harper, Trout and Miggy. If we lowered the hard hit threshold to 38% we add just 5 players for a total of 13. I use 2015 as a starting point because this is right around where the launch angle revolution began and these numbers represent the annual norm.
In 2016, a total of 13 players finished with a hard hit rate of 40% or higher. That was the total number of players from 2015 with a Hard% higher than 38%, in case you forgot. What is equally impressive is the number of players sitting on the cusp, with 12 additional players with a hard hit rate between 38 and 40%. That nearly doubles the 13 total we saw in 2015 with a hard hit rate of 38% or higher. Daniel Murphy is one of those men, and he represents, at least in my mind, the catalyst as he had little fantasy significance prior to 2016. Now, with a little adjustment he was hitting the ball as hard as the big boys.
Moving on to 2017, a total of 18 players finished with a hard hit rate of 40% or higher. That once elite tier is slowly growing, and is more than double what we saw just two years prior. I’m sure some of this can be credited to the juiced ball (which major league baseball denies), but that’s a discussion for another time. When we add in the 38-40% crowd we up that total to 29 players. It’s a small increase over 2016, but that is more than double the number of players from 2015.
Next up is 2018, and those baby steps are about to take a big leap. A total of 45… yes, 45 players finished with a hard hit rate of 40% or higher. That’s more than double what we saw in 2017. And no longer are the names we see associated with those elite power bats of years past (a whole 3 years prior). Freddy Galvis, Jed Lowrie and Nick Markakis now sit among those names, along with Joe Mauer and Salvador Perez finishing in the top-15. If there is the occasional name among the elite in hard hit rate I can write it off as a fluke or career year, but there are just too many here that don’t belong – at least in my mind – as I associate a high hard hit rate with power.
And we still haven’t added on the 38-40% crowd. When we do that the total number of players raised to 60. To see the occasional Scooter Gennett, Asdrubal Cabrera, Marwin Gonzalez, Tucker Barnhart or Eduardo Escobar in this range is one thing, but all of them, in the same year along with similar players with limited success – something is wrong here.
So, back to our original question. How many qualified hitters had a hard hit rate of 40% or higher on July 1?
85! Take a second to think about that. 85 players compared to just 8 five years ago. I know all these players will not finish above 40%, but that total should easily beat out the 45 we saw last year. Even scarier, do you know how many players currently have a hard hit rate of 50% or higher? 8, which is the total number of players with a hard hit rate over 40% in 2015. Franmil Reyes just missed the cut with a 9th ranked 49.7% hard hit rate. Franmil Fricken Reyes. Are you kidding me?!?!
Before I go on a rant, if we add in the 38-40% players (who are lightweights in today’s game) we get an additional 20 players upping the total to 105 players. To put that into context, if you played in a 10 team league with 10 active hitters, it is statistically possible for every team to roster a full squad of hitters with a hard hit rate of 38% or higher.
As I said earlier, when I think of hard hit rate I think power, the ability to drive the ball either for home runs or gap doubles power. I think many of you associate it the same way to one extent or another. I heard someone make a case for JaCoby Jones’ power based on his 43.3% hard hit rate. I read a story about Renato Nunez (40.5%) having the potential of being the next Chris Davis. Yet those same people fail to acknowledge Adam Jones and his 40.7%, Brian Dozier at 41.7%, or Brian Anderson and Kole Calhoun (both at 43.4). I’m not saying they should. What I am saying is things have now become a puzzle open to interpretation.
You could once look above the 38% mark and know you were getting or had good, strong power potential. Now those top dogs are surrounded by paparazzi pretending to be stars. Hell, Shin-Soo Choo is in the top-20, and Christian Walker is challenging Paul Goldschmidt for the final spot in the top-10. One year ago Rhys Hoskins would rank in the upper echelon with a mark above 47%. This year he is just happy to crack the top-20.
And looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, will this trend continue? How many players will finish above 40% this year and next? Is the ball partly responsible, and if so, what will happen if/when the manufacture makes a minor adjustment – remember that dead-ball stretch not too long ago. A decent number of those balls clearing the fence will fall to the warning track, more pop-ups, fewer homers with lower averages because of the sacrificed plate discipline offered up to the hard hit gods. Again, I digress as this is a rant for another column.
The Hard Hit category has become watered down and should not be something you solely rely upon. Granted it is still important, but it is no longer that virtual guarantee to which we can judge a player by. Walks, strikeouts, and contact are still some of the more reliable stats, and some of those 100+ players are lacking in one, two, or all three of these. I can continue but the bottom line is this. Check out all facets of your players underlying metrics and don’t let hard hit rate be the deciding factor.
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