Cano among those who could fare better next season when hitting the ball 100 mph or harder
By Andrew Simon
If a batter hits the ball really hard, he should be rewarded. Seems fair, right?
But as we know, baseball isn't always fair, especially not in small sample sizes. Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) already has shown some players benefit from good fortune in a given year, while others suffer the whims of the Baseball Gods.
Now Statcast™ allows us to dig deeper into this phenomenon.
During the 2015 season, the system tracked every batted ball. Not surprisingly, hitting a pitch hard correlates well with success at the plate, though other factors also play a role, such as angle off the bat. For example, on all balls in play with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph -- collectively an average of 104.2 mph -- batters hit .619 with a 1.260 slugging percentage. That's pretty good.
But not every hitter produced at that level when generating triple-digit exit velocity. Here is a look at five who appear to have experienced some bad luck in those situations, and therefore could be good bets to rebound in 2016.
Robinson Cano, Mariners
His second season in Seattle was a disappointing one by his standards, as he hit .287/.334/.446 with a 118 OPS+ that was his lowest since 2008. Much of the trouble came in the first three months, when Cano batted a meager .238/.277/.344.
Part of the issue for Cano was that he hit into an out 67 times on balls that had an exit velocity of 100-plus mph, tied with Manny Machado for most in the Majors. While Cano's .571 average and 1.051 slugging percentage in those situations look gaudy, they were both solidly below the norm, despite an above-average exit velocity (104.8 mph). In fact, out of the 100 hitters with the most 100-plus mph outs, those numbers rank 74th and 79th, respectively. However, one factor that might have worked against Cano was his below-average 6.2-degree launch angle on those plays. Generally, launch angles below 10 degrees produce grounders, which are less likely to do damage than well struck liners or fly balls.
Still, there may have been some bad luck involved for Cano. Take this play at Tampa Bay on May 26, when Cano slashed a line drive off the Rays' Alex Colome at 107.0 mph, only to have Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Kevin Kiermaier race over and make a highlight-reel diving grab.
Logan Morrison, Rays
Cano's teammate in Seattle the past two years was traded to Tampa Bay in November after managing only a .225/.302/.383 line for the Mariners in 2015 -- not exactly ideal production at first base. But the left-handed slugger, who entered the season with a .282 career BABIP, batted just .238 on balls in play, fourth-lowest among qualifiers.
Also consider that only 12 players hit into more outs than Morrison (54) on balls struck at 100 mph or harder. Meanwhile, out of the top 100 in that category, Morrison ranked last in average on triple-digit contact (.439) and 93rd in slugging percentage (.918). One other factor to take into account is the effect of infield shifts on Morrison, who pulled the ball roughly 42 percent of the time, hitting a mere .239 when he did so. (The graphic below shows where the defense was positioned against Morrison this year -- notice all of the blue dots in shallow right field courtesy of the shift.) So it could be the shift, not bad luck, hurting Morrison. That said, the Rays are a team known for deep-dive analytics, and you wonder if they were looking at his performance on hard-hit balls when they acquired him. In fact, in the same deal, Tampa Bay also received Brad Miller, who had 42 triple-digit outs himself.
Brandon Moss, Cardinals
He hit better after a July trade from Cleveland to St. Louis but still finished with an overall line of .226/.304/.407. That gave Moss a 90 OPS+ after he posted a 135 over the previous three seasons. Now part of a crowded first base/corner outfield situation in St. Louis, can he rebound in 2016?
Moss suffered 34 outs of 100-plus mph this past season, which is relatively few compared with the others on this list. On the other hand, only five hitters among the top 100 in that category topped his 17.7 average launch angle when reaching a triple-digit exit velocity. That's relevant because angles between 10-25 degrees tend to create line drives, which in turn tend to create good outcomes. Despite that, Moss' .580 batting average and 1.239 slugging percentage in these situations were modest in the context of the league average.
Wilson Ramos, Nationals
Ramos finally stayed healthy in 2015 but hit a mere .229/.258/.358, sagging to a .543 OPS after the All-Star break. In his age-27 campaign, he set a career high with 128 games -- including 123 starts behind the plate -- but gave Washington the second-lowest OPS+ (64) among qualifiers.
While Ramos also had the eighth-lowest BABIP (.256), he likely can blame that in part on a high ground-ball rate, which isn't ideal for a slow-footed catcher. Similarly, his launch angle was below average (7.5 degrees). Still, Ramos saw 49 of his 100-mph balls in play turn into outs, ranking 82nd in average and 87th in slugging among the top 100. Exhibit A: Ramos smashed a 110.5 mph liner -- his eighth-best exit velocity of the season -- off Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke on July 24, only to have second baseman Neil Walker lay out for a diving grab.
Carlos Santana, Indians
As always, the switch-hitter drew a ton of walks, but at age 29 produced career lows in slugging (.395) and OPS+ (103). Santana also played no games at catcher for the first time, putting more pressure on his offensive production as a first baseman/designated hitter.
Santana hit into 49 outs when generating triple-digit exit velocity, coming up empty on eight of his 19 hardest-struck balls in play. Among the 100 players with the most 100-mph contact, Santana sat in the middle of the pack in both average exit velocity (53rd) and launch angle (57th) but fared a bit worst in batting average (75th) and slugging (63rd).
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.