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Hitter Comparisons using StatCast

Digging DeepWith the public availability of StatCast data, the baseball fan is now able to do deeper dives into players using information that was never before accessible. A fun thing I like to do is to compare players’ underlying peripherals to see which players have similar hitting profiles to each other.

When thinking about what makes up a hitter’s profile, the following characteristics come to mind:

  • K rate
  • BB rate
  • Exit Velocity (how hard the ball comes off the bat)
  • Launch angle
  • Groundball rate (of balls in play)

To me, these are the primary attributes. We can look at Home Runs, for example, (or HRs per Plate Appearance to get a “rate”) but if you think about it, the combination of Launch Angle + Exit Velocity should generally correlate to HR rate. One could argue that Groundball rate, then, is redundant if we already have Launch Angle but someone could have an average Launch Angle of 10° by 100% of the time hitting line drives at an angle 10°, or they could be hitting 50% fly balls at an angle of 40° and 50% groundballs at an angle of -30°. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification but you can see that groundballs add an additional meaningful component to Launch Angle to give more detail about the nature of the Launch Angle.

From MLB’s baseball savant database, I took every hitter from 2018 and calculated z-scores for each of the above characteristics. I then compared the top hitters (by ADP) and to the rest of the league to find out who had the most similar hitting profiles to them, using the smallest sum of (squared) z-score differences. (Note that I weighted groundballs and Launch Angle each at 50% of the power of the other characteristics so that the ‘pair’ ends up with equal importance for the comparison as the other characteristics).

Now for the fun part: the comparisons.

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Mike Trout 19.6% 15.3% 90.3 18.5 14.5%
Max Muncy 26.9% 15.0% 89.3 19.0 16.2%

How difficult is it to find a hitter who has a similar profile to the incomparable Mike Trout? Difficult, as you can imagine. In fact, the hitter with the closest profile isn’t even all that close – as their K% is 26.9% (compared to Trout’s 19.6%). But, interestingly enough, it’s Max Muncy. He walks at the same rate and makes contact in the same manner. Obviously, he won’t steal bases like Mike Trout – and his lack of speed will impact his BABIP – but everyone expecting Muncy to regress substantially in 2019 may be disappointed.

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Mookie Betts 14.6% 11.7% 91.7 18.4 16.6%
Max Kepler 15.7% 11.3% 88.4 16.1 16.4%

Does Rich need even more reason to love Max Kepler? Unfortunately, it seems like more fuel will be added to Rich’s love fire because the hitter with the closest match to Mookie Betts’ profile is the Twins outfielder. Keep in mind that Betts too suffers from a unique hitting profile for which he has no close peer. But still, Kepler has essentially identical K/BB/GB rates to Betts and, although Kepler hits the ball slightly less hard and at a lower average angle, per StatCast, balls that are hit at Max Kepler’s average angle and velocity result in a BA of 0.906. In other words, it is not a liability to hit them the way Kepler does.

Spray Chart Max Kepler

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Jose Ramirez 11.3% 12.8% 87.6 18.8 16.8%
Alex Bregman 11.9% 13.2% 88.7 16.9 17.8%

The best comparable hitting profile to the Cleveland 3B belongs to another 3B: Alex Bregman. This saves me having to make another table (because Alex Bregman’s closest comp also happens to be Jose Ramirez).

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
J.D. Martinez 21.8% 8.8% 92.1 10.6 22.0%
Matt Chapman 23.7% 9.3% 92.2 14.6 21.0%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 25.5% 8.1% 91.4 12.0 20.8%

Another Jackie Bradley Jr sighting on another sleeper list of Rich’s? No more words are needed to elevate JBJ’s sleeper status (who, ironically, was mentored by JD Martinez last year) so instead, I will focus on Matt Chapman, the young Oakland 3B who has the closest hitting profile to the Boston slugger(s). Those expecting sophomore regression may be surprised to see growth this year instead – as the hitting profile suggests the defensive wizard’s bat may get even better. He actually hits the ball harder than the Boston slugger – and he had a bum wrist by the end of the year too.

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Trea Turner 17.8% 8.9% 86.5 8.3 23.6%
Matt Duffy 16.6% 8.2% 85.6 4.5 25.2%

Hmmm, the best comparable to Trea Turner is Tampa Bay Ray 3B Matt Duffy. I don’t know if this is damning for Turner or praiseworthy for Duffy. Either way, let’s move on.

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Christian Yelich 20.7% 10.1% 91.4 4.8 23.6%
Tommy Pham 24.5% 11.4% 91.8 6.7 22.4%

Christian Yelich had one of the strangest hitting seasons in 2018 whilst earning the NL MVP honors. As Rich has previously discussed, the Brewer OF has always had a high groundball rate and his unexpected 36 home runs were powered by a shockingly unsustainable 35% HR/FB rate. It’s not an exaggeration to say that when he didn’t hit groundballs, he basically hit them out of the park. All this to say, that the closest comparable to Yelich is another outfielder, Tommy Pham, has a very similar hitting profile. Does the former Cardinal have an MVP season lurking in his bat?

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Ronald Acuna Jr. 25.2% 8.8% 90.3 12.9 20.8%
Jackie Bradley Jr. 25.5% 8.1% 91.4 12.0 20.8%

JBJ? Come on!

Name K% BB% EV [mph] Angle[°] GB%
Nolan Arenado 18.0% 9.3% 89.0 15.3 18.3%
Tyler White 20.0% 8.3% 88.3 16.7 18.4%

I cheated a bit here. The best comparables to Arenado were actually Freddie Freeman and Joc Pederson, but Tyler White was right behind the pair. And, unlike the other two hitters, he is also a right-handed batter like Nolan Arenado. With the welcoming Crawford Boxes in Houston, White definitely has some intrigue. Unfortunately, Astros’ Manager A.J. Hinch indicated that White would likely not be getting the bulk of DH AB’s. Even with only 400 ABs in 2019, though, if he can put up Arenado’s (non-Coors) production per AB, he may still be worth drafting.

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