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Statcast Review: Juan Soto, Yermin Mercedes, Robbie Ray (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Mike Maher | @mikeMaher | Featured Writer
Jun 30, 2021
Robby Ray

We’re now almost halfway through the season, and we’re going to start circling back to some of the metrics we looked at early in the season to see what has changed. This week, we’re going back to everyone’s favorite metric: Hard Hit %.

Throughout this series, we’ll look at different Statcast metrics for batters and pitchers each week. We’ll talk numbers and what they mean, and I’ll provide some player-specific notes after each section. The metrics themselves will change on a weekly basis, and we’ll circle back to some of our favorites every few weeks to see what trends we can identify.

Have something you want me to cover in this space or just want to talk baseball? Feel free to reach out on Twitter @mikeMaher with questions or feedback anytime.

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Hard Hit Numbers

Hard Hit numbers were the first thing I looked at when I started writing this series a few months ago. I was excited to dive back in and see where things stand now, and it was very interesting to find a mix of familiar and new faces atop the leaderboards.

Since we started getting access to Statcast data, the Hard Hit metrics have been among the most popular. We want to know how hard players are hitting the ball, how often they are hitting the ball hard, their average and maximum exit velocity, and how often they are making hard contact when they swing. Below is every batter in Major League Baseball with at least 120 batted ball events (BBE), presented in a chart that also shows their Hard Hit %, the number of hard-hit balls (95 MPH+ EV), and how often these batters are making hard contact when they swing (Hard Hit % per Swing). Statcast defines a “hard-hit ball” as one hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher.

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Hard Hit Numbers (Batters)

Note: This table is two pages (see the button on the top right) and is sortable and searchable, so feel free to look around!

Notes

  • Evan Longoria is on the injured list and is available in approximately 70% of leagues. He's at the top of the list here for Hard Hit %, with 73 hard hits in 50 games. He could be back shortly after the All-Star break and is an intriguing add for fantasy managers, especially in deeper leagues. The catch is that the injury that sent him to the IL is a sprained left shoulder. Will that affect him at the plate for the rest of the season, or will he come back fully healthy at 35 years old and have a strong second half? If he's free on the waiver wire and you have the roster space, it's worth finding out.
  • It's encouraging to see Juan Soto near the top of the Hard Hit % list. If you have looked at his Statcast page recently, that won't surprise you. It's filled with dark red. And while his numbers are still good, they aren't the numbers we expected to see from Soto this season. His Barrel %, while still very good, is down from 2020. But his Hard Hit % is up, and his xWOBA of .420 is significantly higher than his actual wOBA of .360. In 2020, Soto had a .478 wOBA with a .475 xWOBA. His 2020 vs. 2021 SLG and xSLG numbers tell a similar story. Is there such a thing as buying low on a player like Juan Soto? In some leagues, there are probably fantasy managers who are growing impatient and looking to make a move. Make them an offer for Soto and ride what should be a hot second half.

  • When we ran these numbers back at the beginning of May, Giancarlo Stanton led the way with a 65.8 Hard Hit %. He's now at 59.6%, which is good for second behind Longoria, but his Hard Hit % per Swing number is down to 18.5% from May's 21.7%. Does that matter? Not really. We know who Stanton is at this point. He's going to give you big (but streaky) power numbers as long as he stays healthy, which is far from a given.
  • This list is sorted by Hard Hit %, but if you scroll through the "Hard Hit % per Swing" column, you'll see some names that jump out. You can't sort this chart, unfortunately, but here is the Top 10:
  • If you scroll to the bottom of the list, you'll find Yermin Mercedes down there. After that magical start, is the ride officially over? These monthly splits say yes:
    • March/April: .415 AVG, 5 HR, 16 RBI
    • May: .221 AVG, 2 HR, 14 RBI
    • June: .164 AVG, 0 HR, 7 RBI

Hard Hit Numbers (Pitchers)

Note: This table is two pages (see the button on the top right) and is sortable and searchable, so feel free to look around!

Also, note that we want the below numbers to be LOW. Low is good in this case, so don't let the smaller bars on the chart fool you. And pay attention to the total number of Hard Hits compared to the Hard Hit % and the Hard Hit % per Swing. For example, Yarbrough has a lower Hard Hit % than Burnes, but Burnes has significantly fewer hard hits allowed and a lower % per swing.

Notes

  • When we looked at these numbers at the beginning of May, the pitcher allowing the least amount of hard contact was Ryan Yarbrough. Cool. Whatever. Small sample sizes will do that. Now that we're through the first half of the season, the pitcher allowing the least amount of hard contact is...Ryan Yarbrough. What? Yarbrough is 4-3 with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, and he has struck out 70 batters over 86 1/3 innings. He is surviving by continuing to limit hard contact, though he did hit a rough patch in the middle of June where he allowed 10 earned runs over 8 1/3 innings. He is still throwing his cutter more than he did in 2020, though not as often as he was when we checked in May. Opposing batters are hitting .304 against it but with a .257 xBA.
  • No. 2 and No. 4 on the list make perfect sense. Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler are having fantastic starts to the season. But No. 3 is Yusmeiro Petit, who is having one of the stranger starts to the year. Through 38 appearances, Petit is 7-1 with two saves and 12 holds to go with a 3.32 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and just 21 strikeouts over 40 2/3 innings. I wouldn't be in any rush to add Petit outside of deeper formats that also reward for holds, but what an odd stat line. But credit to him: he is limiting hard contact to make up for the lack of strikeouts.

  • Chad Kuhl is not a name I expected to see near the top of this chart. In fact, he's a name I expected to see at the bottom, given his results. He has tossed quality starts in two of his last three trips to the mound but allowed five runs over 3 1/3 innings in the other start. He is limiting hard contact, but I have a hard time getting too excited about Kuhl. The lack of strikeouts combined with the potential for implosion makes me too nervous to add him in most leagues.
  • Garrett Richards is someone we continue to talk about, especially since the league started cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances for grip. Richards has been outspoken about his need to adjust now that he can't use sunscreen, and he has been tinkering with his approach over his last few starts. The results have been mixed but largely not very good. His curveball, which was his best pitch this season, vanished and then came back as something that looked much different. His 53.2% Hard Hit % is second only to Randy Dobnak, and I'm selling or dropping Richards everywhere after I had streamed him for a few weeks.
  • Also near the bottom is, gulp, Robbie Ray. Ray's 49.1% Hard Hit % is the fifth-worst among qualifying pitchers on our list, though his 14.7% Hard Hit % per Swing is in the middle of the pack. Part of the reason for this is likely Ray's new approach in 2021. In past years, Ray has nibbled with his plus stuff and was among the league leaders (in a bad way) in walks, WHIP, and BB/9. He would walk everyone in the ballpark and then allow hard contact while striking out everyone else. Now, he seems to be trusting his stuff, and his 2.28 BB/9 is lower than any number he has posted over a full season over his career. He also has 113 strikeouts over 86 2/3 innings, so the strikeouts are still there. Everyone has kind of been waiting for the Robbie Ray implosion this season, but he continues to pitch well. For him, the key will be continuing to limit the walks. If he starts allowing more baserunners, that Hard Hit % number will become a problem.

That's all for this week, friends. See someone above you'd like to talk more about, or just have a general question? Feel free to reach out on Twitter @mikeMaher anytime.

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Mike Maher is an editor and featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaherand visit his Philadelphia Eagles blogThe Birds Blitz.

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