By Mark Simon
There have been a lot of hard-hit balls this season and a lot more figure to be hit tonight in the Home Run Derby.
With that in mind, it got us to wondering: Who is hitting the ball hard most often this season? We can answer that rather easily in this age of sabermetrics. Here are the top five players in hard-hit rate in 2019 among those with at least 200 at-bats.
Note that this version of hard-hit rate is calculated as Hard-hit balls/(At-Bats + Sacrifice Flies). Our denominator penalizes a hitter for strikeouts. Those you would see from Statcast and on Fangraphs use a denominator of “Batted Balls” which does not incorporate strikeouts.
The number you get from our calculation allows you to say “Player X has recorded a hard-hit ball in Y% of his times at bat.”
1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers (42.7%)
What’s scary about Bellinger’s numbers at the All-Star Break is that our system of assessing expected performance believes Bellinger could have been even better. He had a .353 expected batting average and .738 slugging percentage based on where and how hard-hit his batted balls were hit. Those were bumps of 17 and 46 points from his batting average and slugging percentage.
Bellinger probably deserved a few more breaks against breaking pitches. Last season, he had 37 hard-hit balls and totaled 36 hits against them. This season, he’s recorded 35 hard-hit balls against curves and sliders, but has “only” 19 hits to show for it.
2. Justin Turner, Dodgers (42.3%)
Justin Turner has ranked in this top 10 virtually all season, which isn’t a surprise given that he led the majors in this stat in 2018 (38%) and ranked second in 2017 (34%). His consistency has been impressive. Turner and Christian Yelich are the only players in this top 10 who had a hard-hit rate of 35% or higher last season.
3. Christian Yelich, Brewers (42.0%)
There hasn’t been any drop-off for Christian Yelich, who leads the majors with 31 home runs this season. The difference between Yelich this season is that despite a bit of a dip in production against breaking balls, he’s been all over changeups. He’s hitting .440 when an at-bat ends in one. In 2018 he had 25 hard-hit balls in 81 at-bats ending with that pitch. This season, he’s had 23 in 50 changeup-ending at-bats.
4. Anthony Rendon, Nationals (40.8%)
Anthony Rendon has been awesome in the final year of his contract and should be one of the top free agents this offseason if the Nationals don’t sign him to an extension. That there has been an abundance of home runs for Rendon isn’t that big a surprise if you look at the jump in his fly ball rate – about six percentage points from 2018 to 49% and his average launch angle, which has shot up two degrees to 20.1.
5. Matt Olson, Athletics (39.8%)
Matt Olson has the lowest batting average on this list (.250), a figure comparable to how he fared in 2018 with similar hard-hit rate and exit velocity numbers (he ranks in the top 10 percent in MLB). What’s hurting Olson this season is that he’s 7-for-45 when hitting a ground ball or line drive through a defensive shift (.156 batting average). Figuring out how to counter how defenses align against him might net Olson a few more hits. Though if he continues to drive the ball as he has, the Athletics probably will be willing to live with a few fewer.
The top 50 players at the All-Star Break are in the chart below.
|13||Tommy La Stella||37.8|