MASTER NOTES: PRO hitters

Do you remember when you were a kid and got a new toy? How you just played with it and played with it until it broke? That’s the way I am with a new fantasy baseball idea. I just play with it and play with it until its arm comes off, or the dog runs away with it.

My latest toy has been this idea that we can assess players by looking at the differences between how often they have good and bad outcomes. I’ve talked about this idea for the last couple of Master Notes, and since it still has both arms, and I don’t have a dog, I’m going to play with it some more.

As you might recall, the core idea is that both hitters and pitchers have positive and negative outcomes across their total plate appearances (PA) for hitters and total batters faced (TBF) for pitchers. When the ball is put into play, the positivity of the outcome is determined by the hardness and trajectory of the batted ball. When the ball is not put into play, the positivity of the outcome depends on if the batter reaches base.

For hitters, positive outcomes are:

  • Hard-hit grounders and fly balls
  • Line drives
  • Walks and HBP

Negative hitter outcomes are:

  • Soft- and medium-hit grounders and fly balls
  • Infield pop-ups
  • Strikeouts

For pitchers, the reverses are true.

Once I knew what the percentage outcomes were per PA/TBF, I identified 2016’s best and worst performers by subtracting their bad outcomes from their good, a metric I called “Net Positive Outcomes” (“NPOs”). I was going to call it “Net Positive Results,” but the abbreviation “NPR” raised copyright problems, and the last thing I want is Ira Glass coming after me.

But “Net Positive Outcomes” sounds too much like something you’d itemize in your Form 1040, so I’m changing it to “Positive Relative Outcomes,” which doesn’t really make much sense semantically but allows me to use the abbreviation “PRO,” which is nifty.

This week, I took the idea a step further, looking for hitters who had good PRO trends over the last three seasons, from 2014-2016. The playing time requirement was 100 PA in each of the three seasons, which included 275 hitters. The goal was to find hitters whose PRO grew from 2014 to 2015, and grew again in 2016. Just to set a level for you, the top quintile of hitter PRO in 2016 was -15% or higher, and the best hitter was Joey Votto, at +6%.

At the same time, I checked for hitters on the other side of the coin, who had declined year-over-year-over-year. Again to level-set, the 2016 bottom quintile was -30% or lower.

The first noticeable result was that more than two-thirds of the batters did not show trends in either direction. Good hitters bounced around within a range of good PROs, bad hitters in a range of bad, medium hitters in a range of medium.

That said, the test found 76 hitters who improved their PRO each season. There’s a complete list here, but let me just draw your attention to a few of these accomplished and consistently positive PRO hitters.

Matt Carpenter (1B/3B/2B, STL) has been getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. He was already excellent at -2% PRO in 2014-15, then got even better in 2016, improving his good outcomes by three points while dropping his bad by three, ending up at +4%. The six-point PRO gain made Carpenter one of only four hitters with positive PRO in 2016 (Joey Votto, David Ortiz and Mike Trout were the others). Most interestingly, he improved his hard-hit flyball percentage from 8% in 2014 to 14% last season. And hard-hit flyballs are wonderful things.

Kendrys Morales (DH, TOR) saw his good outcomes jump 10 points from 2014-16, and his bad outcomes fall by 11, a 21-point gain in PRO. At the same time, his HR per hard-hit flyball (HR/HHFB) increased from well below league median to three points above. Considering his offseason move to a much better HR park, he might be able to bash 30 HR again while recovering some of the BA he surrendered opening up to reach the fences in KC. Or he could keep swinging from the heels and get 40 HR. That’s a win-win.

Teammates Charlie Blackmon (OF, COL) and DJ LeMahieu (2B, COL) both went from the minus-20% in PRO in 2014 to single-digits -8% and -5%, respectively. LeMahieu also upped his HHLD from 7% to 10% of his PA, while Blackmon went from 6% to 9% in that same measure. Both players also saw similar increases in their HHFB%. LeMahieu in particular has been getting some negative buzz after a sensational breakout in 2016. But he did more good stuff and less bad stuff. What more do we want?

The biggest positive PRO move belonged to Brandon Belt (1B, SF). In 2014, Belt’s PRO was a disastrous -30%, near the bottom fifth of all the qualified hitters. In 2015, he had improved to -10%, one of the top 5% of all the hitters, and last year, he improved still further, to -1%, fifth among all hitters. His big gains came from a 10-point reduction in soft- and medium-hit balls and a useful three-point bump in hard-hit, as well as a doubling in walk rate, from 8% to 16%, and a four-point reduction in strikeouts. And while his park is not a great place for HR, his drop in HR/HHFB to less than 20% (league median is 33%), looked unlucky—and bettable.

KC 3B Mike Moustakas finished 2016 in the top quintile of hitter PRO, at -15%. That mark continues a steady run of  improvements, from -28% in 2014 to -22% in 2015. Moustakas’ gains have been split between gains in good outcomes (38-41-44) and drops in bad (66-63-59), so he has positive momentum in both directions. Unfortunately, Moustkas is a large and luminous blip on tout radar, so the likelihood of catching some sleeper Moose are not great. His BaseballHQ.com projection is $16 and that’s what BHQ analyst Dave Adler paid at LABR-AL. All the same, Moustakas’ skills package and steady improvements might make going it justifiable to go the extra buck.

Finally on the good side of the ledger, it’s possible Ian Kinsler (2B, DET) might have played with Ty Cobb, but he has nonetheless improved by quite a bit in his dotage, posting a PRO gain of 20 points over the last three seasons, from -33% in 2014 to -13% last season. Kinsler posted a three-point jump in HHFB%, a power indicator, and significantly decreased his medium-hit GBs and FBs from 40% of his PA to 26%. That many fewer easy outs offset a noteworthy increase in his K%, from the 11-12% range in 2014-15 to 17% last season. Kinsler could be a bargain at 2B, especially given the depth of the position in mixed leagues.

Honorable mention goes to possible profit sources like Nick Markakis (OF ATL), Logan Forsythe (2B, LA), Brian McCann (C, HOU), and Josh Reddick (OF, HOU).

On the downside of this study, the test identified 28 hitters whose PRO declined in 2015 and again in 2016. Here are some prominent players whose PRO trends were downward, and often from poor starting points, making their PROs ... cons:

  • Corey Dickerson  (OF, TAM) -21 points from 2014-2016, to -32%
  • Yan Gomes (C, CLE): -20, to -45%
  • Carlos Gomez (OF, HOU): -15, to -37%
  • Todd Frazier (3B, CHW) -13, to -33%
  • Yasiel Puig (OF, LA), -11, to -32%
  • Justin Upton (OF, DET), -7, to -27%
  • Randal Grichuk (OF, STL) -4, to -31%

There’s table of all qualified hitters here (right-click to download and save; left-click to open in your browser).

Usual caveats about variability and sample size apply, but it seems that if you can get a player who has more good outcomes (and less bad) than another, you should consider it.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.