(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)
We’re about ten days into our young season and sample sizes are small, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look at how some players are performing in the early going in 2018. This article will present a few players who are hitting the ball well and some who are not thus far in the season. I’m going to discuss these players in terms of their Statcast or batted ball data through the lens of a few major stats: Launch Angle, Exit Velocity, and expected statistics through baseball savant and xStats that estimate a player’s true stats by using this batted ball data. If you want to learn more about how xStats work, check out my article here.
Shohei Ohtani (SP/Util, Los Angeles Angels)– Everyone and their mother is discussing Ohtani right now as he lit the world on fire last week with 3 HRs (one off Corey Kluber) and 2 wins on the mound. And Ohtani’s statcast figures look excellent as well. He’s 2nd in baseball in Average Exit Velocity at 97.3 MPH (1st- Miguel Sano). If you watched any of his at-bats, it comes as no surprise as he’s been pretty locked in. But has it been luck? His 13th ranked xSLG (.784) suggests that these balls are leaving the yard with ease. However, it’s important to keep in mind his 75% HR/FB% and 57% ground ball rate. The latter is notable when also considering his 4.0-degree average launch angle, which ranks 248th out of 288. With launch angle, keep in mind that higher is not necessarily better because at a certain angle the line drives and fly balls turn pop-ups. Right now though, Ohtani is hitting a lot of low angle balls and he’ll want to pick that up. It’ll be a season full of adjustments for Ohtani, and one of them appears to be trying to get underneath the ball a little bit more.
Yoan Moncada (2B, Chicago White Sox)– For those who took a value dart throw at Moncada based on last year’s struggles, you’re likely very disappointed so far as his .176/.282/.324 line so far leaves a lot to be desired. So why am I featuring him here? Because Moncada is absolutely mashing the ball to the tune of the 5th highest avg EV (96.3 MPH) thus far. Based on that, we can expect some of these numbers to improve. He currently ranks in the top 50 in xAVG-AVG, with an xAVG of .257 according to baseball savant. xStats is less kind, with an xAVG of .210. He’s still sporting a 7.7 VH% so there’s a lot to like in his batted ball data. It’s hard to get past that near 36% strikeout rate though and until he starts cutting down on the Ks, not enough of his ABs will end up with balls in play for him to hit for a high average. As long as he’s hitting the ball hard though, he’s going to start putting up big numbers.
Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)– One of the criticisms of Martinez’s batted ball data from last year is the fact that he ranked among the league leaders in EV on ground balls, but not as well on line drives and fly balls. Martinez is out to prove doubters wrong this year, ranking 9th in avg EV on line drives and fly balls (100.3 MPH). He’s picked up right where he left off last year, this time in a full-time role. If you’re interested in reading more about Martinez, you can check out my article on him here.
Robinson Chirinos (C, Texas Rangers)– If you know me, you’ll know I was huge on Robinson Chirinos entering this year, and I still am. However, he’s not making me look good in the early going. His avg EV has dropped from 87.2 in 2017 to an 80.9 mark that sits 12th worst in baseball. It helps explain why he’s not getting on more often. xStats likes him a little more than his current numbers, but only marginally. He’s gotta start barreling up some balls for him to return to preseason value.
Ian Happ (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs)– Just like Chirinos, Happ’s avg EV has fallen significantly from 2017 numbers- from 88.1 to 80.5. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that Happ has struggled this year since his first pitch of the season homer. The scary thing is xStats says he’s actually gotten somewhat lucky so far. There are better days ahead for the youngster.
Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)– Turner qualifies for this list with an avg EV of 86.3 MPH thus far, good for 218th of 288 batters with at least 10 PAs. Normally, I’m not worried at all about speedsters with low EV, but Turner is billed as more than just a speedster. You took him in the first round hoping for 15-20 HR power and I’m not saying he can’t provide it, but he hasn’t been hitting it like someone with that kind of power should. On his liners and fly balls, he ranks of 249th of 291 with an average exit velocity of 88.5 MPH vs. 93.9 last year and 92.7 in 2016. I want to see that 2018 number higher if he’s going to hit for the power of a top 5 pick, and I think it’ll get there. It’s a long season and the ball should fly a lot more once the weather warms up.
Exit velocity isn’t everything and it’s only been 10ish games so every statistic mentioned here has to be taken with a grain of salt. That said, it’s worth noting the players who have started 2018 on the right foot and those who haven’t.