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Player Development Case Study: Slap Hitters

Posted By Mark Smith On September 5, 2013 @ 2:00 pm In Daily Graphings | 19 Comments

Most statistical research is done by looking at large populations and immense data sets to find trends and patterns, but case studies can also be very useful when one wants to look at a particular context. That’s what I would like to do here. Instead of looking at minor league players in general, I would like to use certain scouting profiles to examine current major-league players and how they performed in the minors to see if there are patterns we can find that will help us highlight prospects. Today, I’ll take a look at slap hitters.

When we talk about slap hitters, we generally mean smaller (in height) and/or slighter (in build) players who prefer to use their speed to get on base. What this usually means is sacrificing power by using less torque and a line-drive swing to put the ball on the ground and spray line drives. The hope is that the player posts a higher BA and OBP while making an impact on the bases by stealing and taking the extra base to offset the presumed lack of power. Let’s look at some examples.

Jose Reyes – 107 career wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2000 17 APPY Rk 49 159 .250 .359 .318 23% 13% .068 .347
2001 18 SALL A 108 435 .307 .337 .472 16% 4% .165 .363
2002 19 2 Lgs A+-AA 134 622 .288 .343 .444 12% 7% .156 .322
2002 19 FLOR A+ 69 327 .288 .353 .462 11% 9% .174 .312
2002 19 EL AA 65 295 .287 .331 .425 14% 5% .138 .333
2003 20 IL AAA 42 181 .269 .333 .356 14% 8% .087 .319

Jose Reyes is up first. The switch-hitting shortstop moved through the minors quickly and as a very young man. He was able to maintain batting averages in the .280-.300 range by making a lot of contact and sustaining BABIPs in the .310-.330 range. Unlike many of the other players on this list, Reyes was already beginning to show signs of power, but he was also unable to draw many walks – something that plagued him early in his career.

Brett Gardner – 100 wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2005 21 NYPL A- 73 335 .284 .377 .376 15% 12% .092 .329
2006 22 2 Lgs A+-AA 118 529 .298 .395 .370 17% 13% .072 .373
2006 22 FLOR A+ 63 278 .323 .433 .418 18% 15% .095 .414
2006 22 EL AA 55 251 .272 .352 .318 16% 11% .046 .331
2007 23 2 Lgs AA-AAA 99 448 .281 .369 .378 17% 12% .097 .347
2007 23 EL AA 54 241 .300 .392 .419 13% 14% .119 .357
2007 23 IL AAA 45 207 .260 .343 .331 21% 10% .071 .336
2008 24 IL AAA 94 426 .296 .414 .422 18% 16% .126 .374

Next up is Mr. Gardner. Gardner struck out a bit more than Reyes, but he was also able to obtain BABIPs in a higher range – generally .330-.375. Continuing with the contrast, the lefty outfielder couldn’t hit for the power of Reyes, but he did a much better job of drawing walks, which has become one of Gardner’s greatest offensive assets. While there aren’t too many similarities between Gardner and Reyes, they held fairly low K%, didn’t have K% that worsened as they moved up, and maintained high BABIPs.

Michael Bourn – 92 wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2003 20 NYPL A- 35 153 .280 .404 .296 18% 15% .016 .361
2004 21 SALL A 109 510 .315 .431 .467 17% 17% .152 .391
2005 22 EL AA 135 614 .268 .348 .364 20% 10% .096 .337
2006 23 2 Lgs AA-AAA 118 535 .277 .356 .385 19% 10% .108 .342
2006 23 EL AA 80 361 .274 .350 .365 19% 10% .091 .336
2006 23 IL AAA 38 174 .283 .368 .428 19% 11% .145 .356

Bourn looks a bit more like Gardner – higher walk rates, low ISO, and very high BABIPs. The speed that these hitters typically display will help with the BABIPs – that makes sense given that guys who just slap the ball around without any speed would probably just hit into a lot of groundouts. Bourn was hitting for a bit more power than Gardner, but Gardner was striking out less and walking a bit more.

Gregor Blanco – 90 wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2002 18 SALL A 132 570 .271 .392 .385 21% 15% .114 .352
2003 19 CARL A+ 126 527 .271 .357 .375 22% 10% .104 .351
2004 20 CARL A+ 119 495 .266 .339 .401 23% 9% .135 .344
2005 21 SOUL AA 123 486 .252 .367 .384 26% 15% .132 .351
2006 22 2 Lgs AAA-AA 139 629 .290 .403 .360 17% 15% .070 .368
2006 22 SOUL AA 66 302 .287 .397 .375 19% 14% .088 .371
2006 22 IL AAA 73 327 .294 .408 .346 16% 16% .052 .366
2007 23 IL AAA 124 545 .282 .369 .362 16% 12% .080 .340

Blanco is an interesting case. You’ll notice high K rates and more power in the lower levels and his first trip to AA, but he rapidly changes the next season, sacrificing significant power for a much better contact rate. At that point, Greg White begins to start fitting the Bourn/Gardner mold of the .280 batting average with a high walk rate and relatively high strikeout rate, though his rates were finally below 20%.  Those BABIPs get really high as well – .340-.370.

Juan Pierre – 85 wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
1998 20 NORW A- 64 290 .352 .399 .402 4% 7% .050 .368
1999 21 SALL A 140 648 .320 .366 .390 6% 6% .070 .340
2000 22 2 Lgs AA-AAA 111 506 .331 .380 .388 5% 7% .057 .351
2000 22 SOUL AA 107 489 .326 .376 .380 5% 7% .054 .346
2000 22 PCL AAA 4 17 .471 .471 .588 0% 0% .117 .471

Pierre and Ben Revere, who is up next, share more in common with each other than the rest of the group. The elder lefty outfielder almost never struck out, and he walked little but more than he struck out. Pierre, however, demonstrated zero power with ISOs frequently in the .050s, but he had his excellent contact rates and high BABIPs – again in the .340-.360 range – to fall back on.

Ben Revere – 81 wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2007 19 GULF Rk 50 216 .325 .388 .461 9% 6% .136 .363
2008 20 MIDW A 83 374 .379 .433 .497 8% 7% .118 .416
2009 21 FLOR A+ 121 517 .311 .372 .369 7% 8% .058 .333
2010 22 EL AA 94 406 .305 .371 .363 10% 8% .058 .342
2011 23 IL AAA 32 141 .303 .338 .364 8% 4% .061 .325
2012 24 IL AAA 23 101 .330 .360 .340 6% 4% .010 .352

The Man With Zero Career Major-League Home Runs also had excellent contact rates while not walking a lot or hitting for much power. Once Revere made it to the upper minors, those ISOs fell to around .060, but he still had BABIPs in the .320-.350 range.

Emilio Bonifacio – 79 wRC+

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2003 18 PION Rk 54 172 .199 .298 .219 25% 10% .020 .282
2004 19 MIDW A 120 450 .260 .306 .319 27% 6% .059 .368
2005 20 MIDW A 127 591 .270 .341 .330 15% 9% .060 .325
2006 21 CALL A+ 130 608 .321 .375 .449 17% 7% .128 .386
2007 22 SOUL AA 132 596 .285 .333 .352 18% 6% .067 .349
2008 23 2 Lgs AAA 93 438 .314 .361 .397 16% 7% .083 .377
2008 23 PCL AAA 85 402 .302 .348 .387 16% 7% .085 .364
2008 23 IL AAA 8 36 .452 .500 .516 11% 11% .064 .519

Bonifacio is about the point where a player becomes offensively inept enough that even his speed, baserunning, and defense make people wonder whether he’s worth giving significant at-bats to. With Bonifacio, you see the upper bounds of this group’s K rates – around 16-18% – and the lower bounds of the walk rates – 6-8% – along with poor power numbers – ISOs in the .060-.080 range. Boni’s speed, however, gave him high enough BABIPs to remain viable.

Prospect Focus: Billy Hamilton

Year Age Lg Lev G PA BA OBP SLG K% BB% ISO BABIP
2009 18 GULF Rk 43 180 .205 .253 .277 26% 6% .072 .286
2010 19 PION Rk 69 316 .318 .383 .456 18% 9% .138 .391
2011 20 MIDW A 135 610 .278 .340 .360 22% 9% .082 .362
2012 21 2 Lgs A+-AA 132 605 .311 .410 .420 19% 14% .109 .395
2012 21 CALL A+ 82 392 .323 .413 .439 18% 13% .116 .406
2012 21 SOUL AA 50 213 .286 .406 .383 20% 17% .097 .374
2013 22 IL AAA 123 547 .256 .308 .343 19% 7% .087 .311

Billy Hamilton is easily the most notable “slap hitter” of the prospect world, and his hitting is in question. How does he compare to the group? Looking first at his age, he’s arriving at the right age (22) – every member of this group makes it by 24, and most make it by 23 – so that’s a positive first step as age is one of the most important qualities of prospects. Hamilton’s K rate range of 18-20% is a little high for this group, and while he had a couple really high walk rates last season, the other walk rates of 7-9% are toward the lower end of the group. Despite the concerns about his power, Hamilton’s ISOs aren’t dissimilar to others in the group, and you’ll note his BABIPs of .360-.400 are definitely in the upper range of the group, which is not surprising given the hubbub about his speed.

My concern here remains the high strikeout rate because the others with high strikeout rates add higher walk rates or power rates, and his BABIP took a nasty dive this season to .311 and took his BA and OBP down with it. Looking strictly at the numbers here, Hamilton appears most like Emilio Bonifacio. Bonifacio has mostly been a 1-win player over the course of a season, and given my belief that Hamilton can add above-average to better defense in center to slightly to significantly more value on the bases than Bonifacio, Hamilton might find himself a 2-win player with the chance for more with some BABIP/HR fluctuation.


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