Speedy outfielder's contact ability, ground-ball approach, lack of pop make him an outlier
By Andrew Simon
The Nationals likely found their new center fielder and leadoff man last week when they acquired Ben Revere in a deal that sent reliever Drew Storen to Toronto.
In Revere, Washington added a player who has been roughly average overall but pretty extreme in a more micro sense. With the Phillies and Blue Jays last year, Revere's 98 weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) fell just below the league average of 100, while his 1.9 wins above replacement (WAR) ranked 120th out of 211 hitters with at least 400 plate appearances, according to FanGraphs.com.
The unconventional way Revere got to that point is what makes him an interesting case. At the plate, the 27-year-old employs his speed, contact ability and grounder-heavy approach to make up for the absence of pop in his bat. In the field, that fleet-footedness counters an arm that doesn't threaten many baserunners.
Here is a look at some of the ways Revere stands out from the crowd.
He gets by without power
When Revere finally hit his first career home run, off Rockies lefty Boone Logan on May 27, 2014, it came in his 1,566th plate appearance. Since then, he's gone on a binge -- relatively speaking -- hitting one more that season and two more in 2015 (coincidentally, two of those four homers came against the Nationals).
Revere has 2,660 plate appearances in the Major Leagues. Among active players with 2,000 or more, nobody else is in single digits in homers, with Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (10) the closest to him.
Statcast™ provides another way of looking at the lack of thump in Revere's bat. In 2015, here were the five lowest average exit velocities, out of 372 hitters who had at least 100 balls in play tracked.
Revere cleared 100 mph just 13 times, or 69 fewer times than Giancarlo Stanton, who had about half as many plate appearances. Meanwhile, Revere also produced the lowest average generated velocity (-6.7 mph) -- which subtracts exit velocity from pitch velocity -- the sixth-shortest average distance (174 feet) and the ninth-lowest average height (21 feet). Here is a look at how Revere's batting average compares to other hitters with a negative generated exit velocity. As you can see, he's an outlier.
He puts the ball in play -- but keeps it low
Revere has hit either .305 or .306 in each of the past three seasons, joining Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera as the only players to top .300 each year (minimum 300 plate appearances). So how exactly does he fit in with that select company without the benefit of power?
Out of 141 qualified hitters in 2015, Revere's 90.1-percent contact rate was fourth, and his 96.7-percent rate on pitches within the strike zone was second only to fellow Nats offseason acquisition Daniel Murphy. Revere also ranked fourth in lowest swinging-strike rate and seventh in lowest strikeout rate (Murphy was second and first, respectively, and it's likely no coincidence that Washington snagged both players).
Considering Revere's lack of pop, it's important that when he makes contact, it's contact that lets him put his legs to good use. In 2015, the left-handed batter hit .276 on non-bunt ground balls, compared with .120 on fly balls (and .604 on line drives). Revere took advantage of his skill set, finishing seventh among qualifiers in line-drive rate (26.4 percent), ninth in ground-ball rate (54.7 percent), third in lowest fly-ball rate (18.9 percent) and fourth in ratio of grounders to fly balls (2.9) -- though that still was far below his career level. Check out the highest GB/FB ratios in the Majors since 2011 (minimum 1,500 plate appearances):
Once the ball is on the ground, Revere can turn on the jets. Despite a modest four bunt hits, his 33 infield hits were the fourth-most in the Majors in 2015, and only Ichiro has more than his 131 since 2011.
Contrast Revere with another speedster, Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton, who despite his tools hit only .226 last season. Hamilton made less contact (83.4 percent), struck out at a significantly higher rate (16.5 percent) and hit the ball on the ground only a bit more often than he put it in the air (1.13 GB/FB). Because of that, Revere was able to get more out of his skill set.
He doesn't walk, but not because he's a hacker
Revere's 5.0-percent walk rate last year ranked 114th among 141 qualifiers, and he owns the 13th-lowest mark in the Majors since 2011. From that, one might assume he is an undisciplined hitter, but as stated, Revere rarely swings and misses or strikes out.
So why isn't Revere racking up free passes? It's likely because pitchers know there is little chance he will burn them for an extra-base hit and are willing to challenge him in the zone. While Revere finished roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of rate of pitches seen in the strike zone, he saw the third-highest percentage of fastballs (66.4 percent).
His arm limits his defensive impact
It would follow that an outfielder with plus speed would be an asset defensively, but different advanced metrics have pegged Revere somewhere between below average and a bit above during his career, which he has split between center field (372 starts), left (112) and right (96).
Take the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric, which has Revere at 19 runs below average. The culprit is a throwing arm that has been 17 runs below average, fourth lowest among all outfielders since 2011.
Statcast™ data has a smaller sample size. But in 2015, Revere's average throw velocity from center was third lowest among 44 players who had at least 50 throws tracked, while his velocity from left was third lowest among 22 players with 50-plus throws.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.