In my Carlos Pena profile the other day, I mentioned how Pena couldn’t afford to be as extreme of a flyball hitter as he was due to his lofty strikeout rates; with fewer balls in play to begin with, Pena was hurting himself by hitting so many flyballs since they are the least likely route to a high BABIP. He seems to have rectified the situation somewhat this year by hitting far more grounders than is normal for him to bring up his batting average while retaining his powerful stroke on the flyballs he does hit. This works for Pena, but as I stated, a player like Adam Dunn can get away with hitting as many flyballs as he does despite his strikeout rates thanks to his incredible power. I figured I’d throw another example out there by discussing Alex Rios and his season so far.
Rios is a different type of hitter than either Dunn or Pena; he doesn’t strike out overly often–just 19.8% in 2006 and an impressive 13% this year–and isn’t the same type of patient, disciplined hitter as the other two–just 7.2% and 8% walk rates for the past two years. He takes a solid number of pitches though; Rios’s approach is to wait for his pitch, and then to send that pitch to its far away, run producing end. He’s taken the opposite approach to his batted-balls than Pena has; whereas Pena started out as a flyball guy turned into more of a groundball hitter with power, Rios has switched from groundball hitter with some pop to a flyball machine who rarely hits the ball on the ground.
Rios’s flyball percentage is currently 50.8%, just a tad on the extreme side. He’s also hit 18% of his batted-balls for line drives, which goes to show you how little he hits balls on the ground. For Pena, such an extreme groundball rate is problematic due to the strikeout rates, but Rios hits so many flyballs–and strikes out so much less often–that it’s actually a positive for him. Although his HR/F% is so much lower than Pena’s–31.3% versus just 12.9%–their AB/HR totals are much closer, 12.0 versus 17.25. Rios gets as many homers and doubles as he does thanks to simply pelting the opposition with continual flyballs, which is the type of hitting that got Pena into trouble at the major league level.
Rios has not only increased his flyball rate, but has also increased the average distance of his homers as well. According to Hit Tracker, Rios had an Average True Distance of 389.1 feet on his 17 2006 home runs, with an average speed off the bat of 106.6 mph. In 2007, Rios is at 401 ft. and 109.6 mph for those respective stats. He’s hit some serious bombs this year, including a 443 foot shot off of Daniel Cabrera (came off the bat at 116.1 mph) and another bomb off of Tyler Clippard that landed 434 feet away (115.2 mph).
Some of this could be due to how well he is squaring up on the ball; his average apex–the highest point the ball travels while in the air–is down six feet on average. It also helps Rios that he has excellent pull power, which is a positive at the Rogers Centre. It’s just 328 feet to the shortest point in left, and 375 in left center. Rios is more than capable of clearing that on his better flyballs, which ups his slugging numbers at home. He’s a capable power hitter on the road as well–.309/.364/.491 so far in 2007–but the advantage is certainly at home.
Thanks to the release of batted-ball data in the minor leagues by Jeff Sackmann and the nifty home run information kept by Greg Rybarczyk at Hit Tracker, I have plenty of toys to play with this year in regards to hitters, like the ones in this post. Once we’re a little further along in the season, you’ll see some of these more often. I have some thoughts for pitchers as well that I’m working on, but more on that at a later time. For now, keep on sending in profile suggestions, or players you would like me to take a second look at via Unfiltered.