As 2021 ends, it’s once again time for our supplemental MLB awards, ones that are statistically driven. These will salute some of the leaders in specific areas of our recordkeeping.
The Hard-Hitter Award
Sports Info Solutions charts every batted ball as hard-, medium- or soft-hit, based on the ball’s location and velocity. The winner of the Hard-Hitter Award is the player who had the highest percentage of batted balls that were hard-hit among those batters with a minimum of 350 plate appearances.
For the second straight year, our winner is Fernando Tatis Jr., who recorded a hard-hit ball on 48% of his batted balls in 2021. He edged out Aaron Judge (47%) for the overall lead. Miguel Sano, Patrick Wisdom, Shohei Ohtani, and Joey Votto (all at 46%) rounded out the top six.
The Dodgers led the majors in team hard-hit rate for the third straight season with 35% of their batted balls classified to be hard-hit. They were followed by the Twins, Reds, and Blue Jays (34%).
The Contact Minimizer Award
The Contact Minimizer goes to the pitcher who most limited hard contact in 2021 (minimum 100 innings pitched).
The winner is Zack Wheeler, who allowed hard contact in 22% of the batted balls against him. He was followed by Brewers teammates Adrian Houser and Corbin Burnes (both 25%). Six pitchers were at 26%, a list that included up-and-comers Alek Manoah, Ryan Yarbrough, Ranger Suarez, and Logan Webb, as well as standouts Max Fried and Wade Miley.
The Dodgers (29%) edged out the Giants, Astros, Phillies, and Yankees (each at 30%) for the lowest hard-hit rate among team pitching staffs.
The Flat Bat Award
The Flat Bat Award is given annually to the best bunter of the year. To determine the winner, we look at run value–run expectancy gained or lost–for both successful and unsuccessful sacrifice bunt and bunt-for-hit attempts for each player.
This year’s winner is Nicky Lopez of the Royals, who had an AL-best 12 successful sacrifice bunts and only one failed attempt, along with six bunt hits (and no failed bunt hit attempts).
The runner-up was Daulton Varsho of the Diamondbacks, who also had six bunt hits without an unsuccessful one, though only one sacrifice bunt. Joey Gallo, of the Rangers and Yankees, who tied with Garrett Hampson of the Rockies for most bunt hits, finished third.
Click here to read about the methodology behind the Flat Bat Award.
The Vacuum Cleaner Award
SIS Video Scouts also track what are known as “Good Fielding Plays,” which are often those that lead to the unlikely recording of an out. Those can be broken up into different subtypes, including one just for groundballs. The leader in Good Fielding Plays on groundballs is the winner of our Vacuum Cleaner Award.
For this year, that honor goes to Braves third baseman Austin Riley. He led all players with 18 Good Fielding Plays on groundballs, one more than Nolan Arenado and Luis Urías.
Riley also made a significant jump in Defensive Runs Saved at third base from 2020 to 2021, going from -10 to 13.
The Fly Swatter Award
This is a similar award to The Vacuum Cleaner, except it’s for Good Fielding Plays resulting in outs on fly balls and line drives.
The MLB leader in this stat was Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, who had 16. Cardinals utility man Tommy Edman ranked second with 13, just ahead of teammate Harrison Bader and Astros/Indians outfielder Myles Straw, who each had 12.
The Stolen Base Stopper
The award for the Stolen Base Stopper goes to the pitcher and catcher who had the most Stolen Base Runs Saved in 2021.
Elias Díaz of the Rockies was the leader among catchers with 6 Stolen Base Runs Saved, edging out Tomás Nido and Salvador Perez (5 each). Díaz made tremendous all-around defensive improvements the last two seasons, going from -21 Runs Saved in 2019 to 9 Runs Saved in 2021. Díaz had 14 caught stealings against 22 stolen bases allowed (a 39% caught stealing percentage) and also picked off five baserunners.
Ryan Weathers of the Padres led all pitchers with 4 Stolen Base Runs Saved, one more than Wade Miley of the Reds. Weathers had an MLB-best 9 combined pickoffs and pitcher caught stealings in 94 2/3 innings pitched in 2021.
The Hall of Framer
The Hall of Framer award goes to the catcher who had the best pitch-framing numbers in 2021. In our world, that means the catcher who had the most called strikes above expectations (Strike Zone Plus-Minus).
The runaway leader for that was Angels catcher Max Stassi, who was credited with 81 more strikes than expected. Mike Zunino of the Rays and Will Smith of the Dodgers ranked second with 65.
You can hear Stassi talking about pitch framing in an appearance on The Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast from September.
On a per-pitch basis, among catchers with at least 2,000 pitches caught, Nido edges Stassi out. He’s at 1.4 strikes more than expected per 100 pitches caught. Stassi is at 1.3.
To learn more about our pitch-framing methodology, read the paper from our award-winning presentation at the Sloan Sports Conference.
For more statistical leaders, check out The Bill James Handbook – 2022 which makes a great holiday gift.