Pedro Alvarez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Usable Power

With the season now on the threshold of the playoffs, there’s no more logical a thing to consider briefly than — and the public is certainly demanding to know more about — the question of raw power versus usable power and what it looks like at the major-league level.

The concept is important, and perhaps underestimated in its importance, but can also be illustrated rather expediently in the persons of Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez and Toronto first-base/DH-type Edwin Encarnacion. Of Messrs. Alvarez and Encarnacion, one can make three true statements, as follows — namely that (a) both players hit 36 home runs this season, (b) both recorded something not unlike 600 plate appearances, and (c) both hit home runs in just under 6% of their respective plate appearances.

A table, incapable of lying, bears this out:

Name Team PA BB% K% HR HR%
Pedro Alvarez Pirates 614 7.8% 30.3% 36 5.9%
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 621 13.2% 10.0% 36 5.8%

Despite the similarities between the two, what one can also probably say with some certainty — even while ignoring each player’s respective park factor (which, if considered, would favor Alvarez) — is that Alvarez demonstrated substantially more raw power this year, even while the pair exhibited almost precisely the same usable power. For, while both hit 36 home runs, Encarnacion did so while walking or striking out in only 23% of his plate appearances; Alvarez, meanwhile, in 38% of them. As such, Encarnacion had 477 opportunities to hit those 36 home runs (a rate of 7.5%); Alvarez, only 380 (a rate of 9.5%). Alvarez’s mark was fifth among qualified batters; Encarnacion’s, just 12th.

Just as the comparison reveals what might be a relative weakness for Encarnacion as compared to Alvarez (i.e. raw power, as represented by home runs on contact), it also demonstrates how that one tool must be considered within the context of the player’s overall skillset so far as actual major-league production is concerned. Encarnacion’s control of the strike zone allows his usable power to rival Alvarez’s at the major-league level. Alvarez’s issues with contact, on the other hand, mute whatever advantage he might otherwise have had.

By way of illustrating the relationship between walks, strikeouts, and home runs on contact, the author has provided below a number of situations in which one or the other of those rates has been altered.

First, here are the actual figures produced by Alvarez and Encarnacion in 2013. As noted, Alvarez recorded a HRCon% (home-run rate on contact) about two percentage points higher than Encarnacion.

Name PA BB% K% HRCon% HR
Alvarez 614 7.8% 30.3% 9.5% 36
Encarnacion 621 13.2% 10.0% 7.5% 36

*****

Now here’s a comparison between the two, were Encarnacion to have recorded the same home-run rate on contact as Alvarez. Encarnacion hits nine more home runs, or 25% of his 2013 total, in this scenario.

Name PA BB% K% HRCon HR
Alvarez 614 7.8% 30.3% 9.5% 36
Encarnacion 621 13.2% 10.0% 9.5% 45

*****

Here’s a scenario in which Encarnacion walks and strikes out at the same rate as Alvarez. He hits seven fewer home runs in this case.

Name PA BB% K% HRCon HR
Alvarez 614 7.8% 30.3% 9.5% 36
Encarnacion 621 7.8% 30.3% 7.5% 29

*****

Finally, here’s if both players were to have matched Chris Davis‘s league-leading figure of 13.2% this season. Encarnacion has one of the game’s great power seasons in this instance.

Name PA BB% K% HRCon HR
Alvarez 614 7.8% 30.3% 13.2% 50
Encarnacion 621 13.2% 10.0% 13.2% 63

*****

Understanding both (a) a player’s power on contact but also (b) his capacity for putting balls into play is vital to projecting any player’s offensive upside — and particularly important in the analysis of prospects. This was made clear recently by Nathaniel Stoltz in his exhaustive study of Rangers third-base prospect Joey Gallo. The 19-year-old Gallo hit 38 home runs in 446 plate appearances for Class-A Hickory, but also recorded a strikeout rate of 37.0% at that level. One finds, after accounting Gallo’s 10.8% walk rate, that the giant Italian posted a home-run rate on contact of about 16% — i.e. higher than any major leaguer this year. Gallo was, of course, productive in the Sally League this season, but projecting any young player to post the best anything at the major-league level is difficult. Hence, the cause for concern.

The concern isn’t limited to Gallo. Pedro Alvarez was a slightly above-average player this year (3.1 WAR) while posting the fifth-best home-run rate on contact among qualified players — which is to say, Alvarez’s margin for error so far as preserving his raw power is rather small.

Below are five rough versions of Alvarez’s 2013 season — with only his home-run rate on contact altered from one to the next. Remember that Encarnacion’s rate this year was 7.5%. Michael Cuddyer, Josh Donaldson, and Matt Holliday (none of them slouches in this regard) all recorded rates of about 5.0%, the next step down. The fourth figure (3.5%) is approximately league average. That last (0.4%) is the lowest rate produced by a qualified hitter this season, a distinction shared between Marco Scutaro and Eric Young.

PA HRCon% BB% K% BABIP BsR Fld+Pos HR wOBA Off Def Rep WAR
614 9.5% 7.8% 30.3% .276 0.6 1.8 36 0.332 9 2 20 3.1
614 7.5% 7.8% 30.3% .276 0.6 1.8 29 0.310 -3 2 20 2.0
614 5.0% 7.8% 30.3% .276 0.6 1.8 19 0.283 -17 2 20 0.5
614 3.5% 7.8% 30.3% .276 0.6 1.8 13 0.267 -26 2 20 -0.4
614 0.4% 7.8% 30.3% .276 0.6 1.8 2 0.234 -44 2 20 -2.2



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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


28 Responses to “Pedro Alvarez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Usable Power”

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  1. payroll says:

    According to espn’s home run tracker, 36.1% of Alvarez’s home runs were of the “lucky” or “Just enough” variety (including 1 in the park HR). The average distribution HR true distance distribution would have around 27% of the “just enough” luck type. So he may be due to regress.

    FWIW Encarnacion benefited from an above average distribution of “Just enough” homers too, with 1/3 of his fitting into this category.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Pedro’s HR/fly ball rate was almost the same as in 2012. I wouldn’t expect HR regression. He opens 2014 at age 27 and should be entering his power peak.

      The variable with him has been babip, two years over .300, two years around .270 (including 2013). If he can settle in at .300 his whole game takes a step forward.

      At any rate the Bucs will take 3 wins and league average 3B defense.

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  2. Pirates Hurdles says:

    You had me until the last table. Seems kind of obvious that Pedro wouldn’t be in the majors if he didn’t hit HR at a high rate. Further, if he didn’t have the HR skill set he would have never been drafted 2nd overall or touted as a top prospect. So, you wouldn’t really expect his HR rate to drop substantially. Overall, nice work though, something to think about buried beneath 36 HRs.

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    • Bip says:

      Seems kind of obvious that Pedro wouldn’t be in the majors if he didn’t hit HR at a high rate

      And the table clearly shows that if he doesn’t continue to hit homers at a high rate, then he won’t stick in the majors much longer. Your point, however, says nothing towards whether he will continue to have elite usable power. It’s generally unwise to expect a player to continue to be the 5th best in the MLB at something.

      Further, if he didn’t have the HR skill set he would have never been drafted 2nd overall or touted as a top prospect.

      The question for Alvarez, and for all other prospects for that matter, is not “do they have the skills required to succeed in the big leagues?” MLB scouts are very good. All top prospects have those skills. What we don’t know is whether Alvarez will continue to perform up to those skills. Alvarez probably will not lose the raw strength necessary to maintain a HR/Contact rate around 10%, but projecting him to actually accomplish is a much trickier task.

      So, you wouldn’t really expect his HR rate to drop substantially.

      I don’t know the stability of the HR/Contact rate stat in general, but given that Alvarez’s power relies almost entirely on that (as was the point of this article) then Alvarez has a greater chance at seeing his power drop than another player, especially considering regression should affect him more severely, as he is farther from the mean. If he cuts down his strikeouts he can mitigate these risks, and increasing his walk rate can give him another source of offensive production should his home run rate dip.

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  3. DBA says:

    Since I put it together for my own interest anyway, here’s the top of the list:

    Chris Davis 12.5%
    Adam Dunn 9.3%
    Miguel Cabrera 9.1%
    Pedro Alvarez 9.1%
    Brandon Moss 9.1%
    Chris Carter 8.8%
    Giancarlo Stanton 7.7%
    Alfonso Soriano 7.7%
    Mark Trumbo 7.5%
    Edwin Encarnacion 7.4%
    Paul Goldschmidt 7.4%
    Jose Bautista 7.3%
    Dan Uggla 7.0%

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  4. robertobeers says:

    I am concerned you are glancing over a potential side effect of reduced HRCon% in the final table. When you reduce the %, you will doing so by increasing another type of ball-in-play, namely fly-balls. The BABIP on fly-balls is significantly lower than that of the other types of BIP and should be accounted for in the BABIP column. For each successive reduction in HRCon%, there should be a corresponding reduction in BABIP.

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    • Bip says:

      It’s a quick estimate. His BABIP this year is lower than his career average and the MLB average, so we might also adjust it upwards if we were doing a full projection.

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  5. Hathorian says:

    So, striking out is a good thing because it means you have more raw power? That doesn’t make any sense. Why not look at HR/FB % if you want to look at raw power. Why are you including ground balls in the calculation for raw power? I don’t care how much power you have if you hit a ground ball your chances at a HR are pretty slim and it has very little reflection on how much power you have.

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    • Bip says:

      No it’s a bad thing because it means your raw power translates into less usable power.

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      • Hathorian says:

        But if a higher percentage of your outs are strikeouts, all else being equal, it means you have more raw power according to this stat.

        100 PA, 99Ks, 1 HR = 100% HRCon%. This is a god of raw power.
        100 PA, 50 outs, 0 Ks, 50 HR, 50% HR%Con%. Incredible, but only half of the raw power of the first example.

        This doesn’t make any sense to me.

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        • Bip says:

          Striking out more doesn’t mean a player has more raw power, because to conclude that, you’re assuming that if that player struck out less, none of those additional balls in play would go for homers. Do you think that if Pedro Alvarez had the same strikeout rate as EE, he would still have only hit 36 homers? He probably would have hit quite a few more.

          In your example, yes, player #1 would have incredible raw power according to this calculation, because any player who truly hits 100% of his balls in play for homers would have god-like raw power. However, we’re dealing with a sample of 1 ball in play. That is completely meaningless. Strikeouts didn’t give him more power than player 2, it reduced his chances to hit a ball in play that wasn’t a homer. Raw power, like batting average, is a rate stat.

          The idea here is a strikeout shouldn’t count against your raw power, because the question is “how hard do you hit the ball” and a strikeout does not represent a hit ball that we can use as data. Pedro Alvarez has more raw power because when he hit the ball in play, it went for a homer.

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    • siggian says:

      It’s the other way around: raw power is more likely to lead to strikeouts. I believe that there is a general correlation between power and Ks. Edwin is an unusual power hitter in that he hits many bombs without striking out very much.

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      • Hathorian says:

        I’m not sure how this answers my question(s). Can you please explain? Are you saying that Edwin breaks the model?

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      • Bip says:

        This is not the point. This example shows that Edwin probably does’t actually have as much power as Pedro, but since he’s good at making contact, then he gets more chances to drive the ball, which means more homers.

        I could be the strongest man in the world, but if I can’t square up a baseball, I can’t hit a homer. This data suggests that PA is stronger but EE is better at hitting baseballs, which comes out to about the same home run rate.

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        • Hathorian says:

          Or it could just mean that when Pedro did make contact this year he made better contact more often?

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  6. Hathorian says:

    I think HR/PA or HR/AB are more worthwhile stats than HRCon%.

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  7. Hathorian says:

    But if a higher percentage of your outs are strikeouts, all else being equal, it means you have more raw power according to this stat.

    100 PA, 99Ks, 1 HR = 100% HRCon%. This is a god of raw power.
    100 PA, 50 outs, 0 Ks, 50 HR, 50% HR%Con%. Incredible, but only half of the raw power of the first example.

    This doesn’t make any sense to me.

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    • Guest says:

      This should be addressed by the author

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    • Bip says:

      You’re confusing yourself with math. Strikeouts are not part of the raw power calculation. Therefore the real comparison is this:

      Player 1: 1 ball in play, 1 homer, 100% HR/Con
      Player 2: 100 balls in play, 50 homers, 50% HR/Con

      Player 1 doesn’t have more power because he strikes out more. He just has more plate appearances that don’t result in balls in play, and therefore have no bearing on our measurement of raw power. A sample of 1 is useless, so once player 1 puts 99 more balls in play, we’ll be able to compare him on equal ground with player 2.

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      • Hathorian says:

        Isn’t the HRCon% supposed to convey raw power though? Player 1 has a higher HRCon% so he has more raw power? You can’t use a sample of 1 as an argument because it is easy to come up with any number of scenarios that don’t make sense.

        Player 1: 700 PA, 640K, 30 outs on balls in play, 30 HR, 50% HRCon%
        Player 2: 700 PA, 50 Ks, 550 outs on balls in play, 100 HR, 15.4% HRCon%

        A HR is a matter of making good contact with a baseball with enough power. A strikeout means you didn’t make good contact. So does hitting a ground ball. I don’t know why you would differentiate the two in trying to measure power.

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        • Bip says:

          I could be the strongest man in the world, but have terrible hand-eye coordination. I’m going to swing and miss constantly, but when I hit the ball it will go crazy far. We know I have tons of raw power – I’m the strongest man in the world – so we shouldn’t let my horrible coordination/plate discipline confound things.

          That’s why we’re separating strikeouts. The point of raw power is to measure the tool without letting other baseball skills affect the measurement.

          I don’t know why you’re asking for a reason to differentiate between raw and usable power. Did you read the article? I read the article and learned that, by differentiating between raw and usable power, we can conclude Alvarez needs hit the ball hard a lot more consistently than Encarnacion in order to maintain the same HR rate. Alvarez in that sense has less room to regress.

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        • Bip says:

          I could see the argument that hr/fb might be a better measure of raw power than hr/contact. You do see why that would measure raw power more accurately than hr/pa though right?

          Raw power is a tool, like speed. Speed doesn’t imply a good stolen base percentage though. There are other baseball skills involved.

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      • Sierra says:

        I feel like the concept of approach at the plate is being overlooked here. PA with his high strike out rate is more likely to being going to the plate with a more free swinging plan where he accepts the risk of increased whiffs in a trade off for a better chance of hitting a home run when he does make more contact.

        Whats to say that if EE starts going to the plate and being less selective of pitch type and takes more home run swings and leading to both an increased K rate similar to PA but in turn hits an additional 20 home runs. In this case EE’s contact rate would increase and thus now be determined to have more “raw power” as you quantify it. To me this argument of raw power vs usable power, seems instrinsically flawed unless you consider the batters approach at the plate

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  8. Hathorian says:

    yeah, I think average FB distance or HR/FB would be a better measure of raw power. If you remove Ks from the equation shouldn’t you also remove ground balls from the equation? If you don’t the stat will be skewed towards people who hit more FBs vs GBs and that doesn’t really say a lot about raw power.

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