The Unique Power-Speed Combos of Braun, Pence and Jones

Of the positive events for hitters, home runs and infield hits are polar opposites, and not just in terms of impact. The home run is the realm of the beefed-up slugger, the lumberers. The infield hit is reserved for the wisps, the sprinters, the scrawny slap hitters. Unsurprisingly, there is a weak negative correlation between home runs and infield hits on a per-plate appearance basis — I found a minus-0.45 correlation coefficient between the two for all hitters with at least 1000 plate appearances between 2008 and 2012.

Hitters who are able to both beat out dribblers and blast fly balls out of the park, then, are quite rare. Looking at the last five years, three players stand out from the pack:

ifhhr

With over 100 home runs and infield hits since 2008 — 20 per season of each — Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Hunter Pence find themselves in a class of their own.

Although most fans should be somewhat aware of the speed of this trio, their star power — as with most hitters — comes from their power. Braun, Jones and Pence make up three of the 56 players to hit 100 home runs over the past five seasons. Of their 15 individual seasons, only twice — Jones in both 2008 and 2009 — has any of these players failed to hit 20 home runs. Consistent power, even without secondary skills, is usually enough to get people to take notice.

Add speed, and the player becomes a spectacle. Only thrice has a player in this trio failed to steal 10 bases in a season — Jones in 2010, Pence in 2011 and 2012. Still, we generally don’t expect to see players with that kind of power atop the infield hit leaderboards. Consider those who join them in the top ten over the past five years: Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Bourn, Alexei Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre. These players, particularly Ichiro, Bourn and Pierre, are much more typical examples of who I expect to see legging out infield hits.

Unlike most power hitters, none of the Braun-Pence-Jones trio can be classified as a fly ball hitter. Only Braun in 2008 posted a GB/FB under 1.0, and although this may limit their power output, their speed allows them to post higher batting averages (helping their on-base ability) than most power hitters. Pence owns a .313 BABIP, Jones owns a .316 mark and Braun checks in at a stratospheric .337. Ground balls already go for hits more often than fly balls by nearly a two-to-one margin (.238 to .131 in 2012); adding on 20 infield hits per season only exaggerates the disparity. Of the 56 100-homer hitters over the past five years, just 20 notched a BABIP above .310; Braun’s .337 BABIP trailed just Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp and Joey Votto.

The speed half of the combo hasn’t necessarily manifested itself in defense. Braun has improved since shifting to left field, to his credit, but is still just a roughly average corner outfielder. Pence’s coordination issues have similarly limited him to an average corner outfielder. Although Adam Jones passes the eye test for me (and others) in center field, his game hasn’t been appreciated by the metrics.

Still, these three players have combined for nine all-star berths and 60.6 WAR (over 12 per year) since 2008. It shows the extreme value players who contain multiple skillsets — especially skillsets that are seemingly diametrically opposed — can offer a team, and few players demonstrate it better than Braun, Pence and Jones.




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46 Responses to “The Unique Power-Speed Combos of Braun, Pence and Jones”

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  1. max says:

    Would love to know 5-10 others in the top right quadrant!

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  2. chandler says:

    the story of that graph, to me, is: holy shit, ichiro

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  3. David says:

    Who’s that with over 200 infield hits?

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  4. Persona non grata says:

    “Ground balls already go for hits more often than fly balls by nearly a two-to-one margin (.238 to .131 in 2012)”

    The ground balls are obviously BABIP-bound, but are the fly balls also BABIP-bound? I ask because home runs are most certainly hits, but would show up in this comparison if we’re only looking at BABIP.

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  5. TKDC says:

    What really made those three stand out to me were the text boxes with the arrows pointing to them. Without those, I don’t think Jones’ would stand out any more than the one to the left and above his that appears to be just as far out as his (although slightly closer to other dots).

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    Be interesting to see “where” these guys get their IFH from.

    Are the weak toppers that the playing-back IF’s can’t get to, or are they rockets in the hole that the IF’s knock down? Grounders up the middle? Down the 3B line? Dribblers? All?

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  7. AWS says:

    Extrapolate Richie Weeks’ 2009 to 600 PA and he checks in at 117 HR, 105 IFH.

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    • David says:

      Who is Richie Weeks? is he related to Jemile and Rickie?

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      • David says:

        also, just checked the homer extrapolation, and it comes out to 33.3 (9 in 162 PAs) Dont know what math you were using, but can you teach me? (this is assuming you meant Rickie Weeks, I did not consider the option that there might actually be a Richie Weeks who hit a lot of home runs in not a lot of PAs)

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  8. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Seems likely that Hunter Pence won’t hit 20 hrs this year.

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  9. Dogfish pride, bro says:

    A good, old-school, way of ranking and defining “ballplayers.”

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  10. BurleighGrimes says:

    Man, Ichiro.

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  11. Craig says:

    Braun also clocks in with 111 SB’s over that time, giving the super unique 100/100/100+ HR/IF/SB. He also has a ho hum .933 OPS since 2008. How about we just say Ryan Braun is a damn good all around baseball player (offensively)…cue steroids chant.

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    • Bip says:

      It’s only really great players who people care about when steroids rumors come up. It’s flattering to Braun in a way how much people have jumped on him for the PED stuff.

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    • TKDC says:

      Yeah, it really irks me too that this thread is filled with comments about Braun and steroids. Wait a second…

      /trolled

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    • enhanced performance says:

      I honestly do not understand how anyone can evaluate Ryan Braun and ignore the elephant in the room. These drugs increase strength, endurance, speed and are without a doubt partially responsible for his being a splendid baseball player. Do you really expect anyone to believe that being faster, stronger and returning quicker from injury or exercise is not a tremendous advantage?
      If you don’t belabor the point that he is cheating you are being naive at best. At worst the constant posts about his greatness are encouraging cheating and that is frankly pitiful.

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  12. BJsWorld says:

    Be interesting to see how guys like Trout and Harper do over the next few years as it relates to this chart.

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    • MrMan says:

      My first thought was Trout. As a Rangers fan I can tell you he’s just dangerous in every way….can blast the ball, beat out the grounder, steal a base (or two) once he’s one….and track down every freakin’ flyball hit to the center of the park.

      Praying his rookie season was the best he has and that he will inevitably regress cuz he was the best all-around player I’ve seen play since I don’t know when.

      His neck is awfully thick for such a young kid. Doncha think?

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    • TKDC says:

      Trout yes, Harper no.

      The only way a lefty makes the IFH list is if he is a slap hitter like Ichiro or Bourn. Notice that Jones, Braun, and Pence are righties, as well as Jeter (and Victorino is a switch hitter), who you could fairly call non-slap hitters.

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  13. Bip says:

    Still, these three players have combined for nine all-star berths and 60.6 WAR (over 12 per year) since 2008. It shows the extreme value players who contain multiple skillsets — especially skillsets that are seemingly diametrically opposed — can offer a team, and few players demonstrate it better than Braun, Pence and Jones.

    And Braun has been responsible for half of that, and the Jones and Pence each for about half of the remaining half. So, another thing that demonstrates is how good you can make players look by grouping them with elite players and then examining their combined stats.

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  14. Mitch says:

    Adam Jones does a fair amount of bunting. Would be curious to see power-hitting bunters examined, too.

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  15. Ben says:

    Just based on my lyin’ eyes, after coming to the Giants Hunter Pence was amazing at flailing at balls out of the strike zone and occasionally making weak contact, leading to slow choppers that he’d beat out since the infielders were playing him back. There was a period there where it seemed like this was the only way he ever got on base.

    Obviously I saw him during maybe the worst stretch of hitting in his career, so It’d be interesting if he has always gotten his infield hits this way, or if this was just a function of him being such a mess offensively with the Giants.

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  16. walt526 says:

    Probably the most surprising finding in this analysis is that all three hitters are righties. I would have thought that left-handed hitters would have an advantage on infield basehits.

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    • TKDC says:

      From a distance to first perspective, yes, but I wasn’t surprised at all. Most guys, particularly power hitters, don’t hit very many opposite field ground balls.

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  17. CFG250 says:

    Braun is a poor man’s Bonds in the early to mid 90s.

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  18. kollegah says:

    I’d expect to be Victorino to be up there even though he hasn’t above average power but still hits like 12-15 bombs a year

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  19. chris p says:

    they’re all right handed power hitters … think how deep the 3b and ss want to play them, and how long that throw to first becomes. would love to see the breakdown of where in the infield their infield hits were.

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  20. astrostl says:

    Holliday?

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  21. Zac says:

    Like others, I was interested to know who other top guys would be in this metric. Below are the HR and Infield Hits by each player since 2008 (clearly the author was not using B-R’s Infield Hits, because they’re different, but it’s all I had to use). Players are sorted by the harmonic mean of the two numbers, because that seemed like the best way to balance the two numbers. I think the author would agree given the top 3 names.
    Name HR IFH Harmonic Mean
    Ryan Braun 168 128 145
    Hunter Pence 121 155 136
    Adam Jones 104 130 116
    Hanley Ramirez 112 103 107
    Matt Kemp 134 89 107
    Matt Holliday 126 90 105
    Dan Uggla 151 80 105
    Corey Hart 119 86 100
    Albert Pujols 193 67 99
    Ryan Zimmerman 109 89 98
    Robinson Cano 129 77 96
    Vernon Wells 102 89 95
    Justin Upton 106 85 94
    Alex Rodriguez 129 70 91
    Mark Teixeira 168 62 91
    J.J. Hardy 93 87 90
    Brandon Phillips 95 85 90
    Rickie Weeks 93 86 89
    Andre Ethier 105 77 89
    Troy Tulowitzki 105 77 89
    Aaron Hill 98 79 87
    Alex Rios 91 81 86
    Ian Kinsler 109 70 85
    Curtis Granderson 160 58 85
    Carlos Pena 145 60 85
    Adrian Beltre 129 62 84
    David Wright 107 67 82
    Evan Longoria 130 60 82
    Torii Hunter 105 67 82
    Carlos Gonzalez 99 69 81

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