Analyzing Power Drainers

In one of the most iconic and artistic pieces of American cinematography of all time, power-hungry aliens travel to Earth from Planet Moron Mountain and drain NBA basketball all-stars of their talent. While I still hold out hope that there will be a baseball version of SpaceJam within my lifetime, I can only imagine who amongst MLB’s stars would be cast. One look at statcast leaderboards could help. Here are the 10 qualified hitters so far this year who have seen the largest drain in hard-hit rate:

Year-to-Year Changes (Hard-Hit %)
Rk. Player 2020 2021 Change
1 Evan White 52.5 28.8 -23.7
2 Rio Ruiz 39 24.2 -14.8
3 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 49.4 34.9 -14.5
4 Marcell Ozuna 54.4 40.4 -14
5 Colin Moran 47.2 33.3 -13.9
6 Eugenio Suárez 44.7 31.2 -13.5
7 Dominic Smith 46.7 33.3 -13.4
8 Matt Chapman 51.7 38.7 -13
9 Miguel Sanó 57.3 44.4 -12.9
10 Dylan Moore 44.7 32.5 -12.2
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
*Among all qualified hitters in 2021.

Fantasy managers may not be surprised to see these names. If you are a fantasy manager and you have one of these players rostered, you already know they are underperforming your expectations. The questions that arise for these hitters are the same as those NBA players who had their talent stolen; How do I get it back?

Matt Chapman

A great piece has already been written about Chapman’s recent affinity for up the middle ground balls by FanGraphs’ own Devin Fink and you can take advice from PitcherList’s recent Patience or Panic. But I think Jeff Zimmerman’s note on Chapman’s focus on ridding his mechanics of bad habits acquired in 2020 as a result of an injured hip explains the most. 

Has This Happened Before?

The quick answer is yes. In 2019, Chapman’s hard-hit rate fell to 20.5%. On the season, he’s at 25.5%, but his rolling average is not making the upward trajectory that you would hope to see. I’ve switched to the BIS version of hard-hit % which is reflected in this graph and is calculated differently from statcast metrics, thus the reason for the difference in chart and table. Regardless of how it is measured, it’s easy to see that Chapman isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to.  

What’s Changed?

Looking at Chapman’s 2021 batted ball statistics compared to his average, he’s not off by much in most categories except for hard-hit rate. It is promising to see that the hard-hit rate has shifted to medium-hit rate and not soft-hit rate, which may suggest he could be on his way to getting that power back. I included his line drive rolling average because his loss of power has been combined with less lift on the ball. Though he’s putting the ball on the ground (2021: 36.7%, 2020: 25.8%), as Fink noted, more often than a line drive (2021: 15.6%, 2020: 23.6%), he has started to get a little more lift on the ball in recent weeks. While line drives are great, hard-hit line drives are better and Chapman hasn’t put the power behind them that is needed to find space. Here’s an example:

When we shift back over to statcast data, we see some concerning signs. 

Expected Statistics – Matt Chapman
Season AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2020 0.232 0.241 0.535 0.535 0.335 0.343
2021 0.211 0.199 0.361 0.355 0.300 0.296
Career 0.251 0.49 0.348
SOURCE: Statcast

Last year, Chapman was expected to do a little better, injury set in and things changed. This year though Chapman is actually expected to be doing worse as a result of weaker contact and more ground balls. Though Chapman is barrelling the ball at a career level 10.4%, his max EV so far this year was 108.9 MPH compared to a career-high 115.9 MPH. I’m not so sure my car can even drive that fast. But, that 7 MPH difference results in a lot of scrolling on the savant leaderboards. While his season max in 2021 is sandwiched between Gleyber Torres and Jose Altuve, his career max is up there with this season’s Ronald Acuna Jr. 

Finally, Chapman’s launch angle currently sits at 14.3 degrees. His career average is 16.9. This mix of less power and a less than ideal launch angle seems to be the key. Here’s a look at Chapman’s launch angle by zone, comparing his 2019 season to his 2021 season so far:

Will It Come Back?

Chapman has 5 home runs on the year. He started with a 34 pre-season ZIPS projection, and now has a 21 ZIPS rest-of-season projection. Bringing that 34 home run expectation down to 26 is disappointing, but I’ll still take it. In order to get there, Chapman needs to find that power and quick. Is it true that it’s all in the hips? While I haven’t seen anything that would suggest Chapman is still struggling with injury, surgery is a major thing and it could just be that Chapman is still adjusting to a new hip.

The story being told by the data is matching up with the player’s narrative. His hard-hit rate is down, his launch angle is off and his swing mechanics are being experimented with to accompany an injury recovery. Chapman proved in 2019 that when his power dips, he can recover. Fantasy managers should keep a very close eye on hard-hit rate and max exit velocity over the coming weeks in order to decide whether or not Chapman should remain a starting third baseman in their lineups.

 

Eugenio Suárez

Suárez has 10 home runs on the year. He started with a 34 pre-season ZIPS projection, and now has a 24 ZIPS rest-of-season projection. If someone offered to trade me Suárez for Chapman, I would take it. Suárez profile tells a better story of recovery, he has more current home runs than Chapman and he is projected to hit more moving forward. Suárez is also qualified at the SS position in a number of leagues. It’s a gamble of which one will recover and I would bet on Suárez. But, you could also look at it as, according to ZIPS, Suárez is doing exactly what we expected and Chapman is not.

Has This Happened Before?

Once again, the quick answer is yes. It’s been mentioned over and again that Suárez had an incredibly slow start in 2020, but heated up as the season went on. Everyone asked, will he do this again in 2021? Well, the graph above shows us that he’s already on his way and he never got as low this year as he did last year during that slow start. 

What’s Changed?

Unlike Chapman, Suárez has already reached last year’s max EV (111.4 MPH) and has come very close to his career-high (112.8 MPH). That is promising. What’s not promising is his .160 BABIP, a 33.7% K% and an increased swinging strike rate:

This is something that didn’t happen last year. Both his O-Contact% and Contact% are down from last year and way down from his career levels. Suárez has increased his swinging strike rate matched with a career-high first-pitch swing rate of 31.6% and all of this makes it feel like he’s pressing.

Plate Discipline – Eugenio Suárez
Season O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2020 52.70% 82.70% 70.70% 37.90% 62.30% 12.20%
2021 42.10% 81.50% 65.80% 39.90% 61.10% 14.60%
Career 55.90% 85.50% 75.50% 43.70% 60.70% 10.60%

Will It Come Back?

One look at Suárez’s statcast percentiles show us that he still has the power, he just needs to do it more consistently. He’s chasing, pressing, and trying to get right back to where he finished 2020. But, if 202o tells us anything, it could be that he just needs some more time for the weather to warm up, for his eye to acclimate, and for him to start that uptick in hard-hit rate that he’s proven he can make happen. I personally am interested in finding someone willing to cut bait on Suárez. I believe in those 24 ZIPS RoS home runs and I could use them.  

 

 

Dominic Smith

Has This Happened Before?

Yes, in fact, it has happened many times before. Smith seems to go through these peaks and valleys of power. The up and down nature of this graph starts to tell the story of streaky hitting. 

What’s Changed?

RotoGraphs’ own Nicklaus Gaut’s verdict was to hold on to Dominic Smith and Nicklaus pointed out Smith’s expected statistics are showing promise for the rest of the season. Like Suárez, Smith has already come very close to reaching his max EV (2021: 109.3 MPH, Career: 110.7 MPH) and his average launch angle hasn’t shifted too much from previous years. It’s very possible that the performance put on by Smith in 2020 was a peak. His hard-hit rate reached 46.7% (statcast) on the season and his barrel rate finished at 13.3%, both of which were above his career averages. He’s pulling the ball less, 36.4% so far in 2021 versus 44.4% last year and his HR/FB rate is only 6.1% compared to last year’s 22.2%, so we can clearly see that the decreased hard-hit rate is connected to other aspects of his game. 

Will It Come Back?

Yes, but for only short bursts. Smith has proven that he can hit the ball hard and his max EV shows us that. But, his statcast 18th percentile average exit velocity, 40th percentile barrel rate, and 15th percentile wiff and chase rates don’t make it seem like he can sustain a hard-hit rate that will lead to the success he had in 2020. Peaks and valleys are the story for me and in shallow leagues where he may be on the wire, I would wait for him to heat up and capitalize on the peak. 





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ArmadilloFury
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ArmadilloFury

On that graph, Smith’s hard % has never been this low for so many games. The fall in hard% is even more damning than it looks given the higher avg exit velos with the new ball. Given the LoLMets, I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith is playing through an injury. He was dealing with wrist issued in spring training – https://www.mlb.com/news/dominic-smith-day-to-day-with-wrist-soreness

96mnc
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96mnc

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