Boston’s Best Tools 2012: Best Power

For all the team’s faults in 2011, hitting the ball hard was not among them. The 2011 Boston Red Sox were first in the game in slugging percentage, tied for first in isolated power and third in home runs. While hitters like Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz (number one and two in my ranking and in the OTM reader poll in last year’s series) continued to crush the ball, the Sox also got some added power from a few less than expected sources. Jacoby Ellsbury, typically known for his speed, showed that he could go deep with the best of them (and do just about everything else) on route to second place in the MVP voting. Just as surprising was catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. While Salty didn’t quite put everything together at the plate, he did manage 16 home runs in 387 plate appearances, going deep more frequently per at bat than Adrian Gonzalez.

Looking to find which player has the Best Power on the team, I considered several key points of data that all relate to a hitter’s power. I started the search for candidates with the players 2011 isolated power, or ISO. ISO is a perfect starting point because it separates extra base hits from contact ability by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. Once I eliminate the player’s with only a handful of plate appearances (sorry, John Lackey, your .333 ISO doesn’t count), I have a pretty good list of candidates for this award.

And so with out further ado, the nominees are-

Name

PA

HR

ISO

BABIP

SLG

HR/FB

AVG HR

True Distance

AVG Speed

Off Bat

David Ortiz

605

29

0.246

0.321

0.554

17.5

400.3

103.6

Jacoby Ellsbury

732

32

0.230

0.336

0.552

16.7

398

103.2

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

386

16

0.215

0.304

0.450

14.3

398.9

101.9

Adrian Gonzalez

715

27

0.210

0.380

0.548

16.4

395.5

103.1

Kevin Youkilis

517

17

0.202

0.296

0.459

13.3

391.1

101.7

I should mention Jason Varitek here as well. It remains unclear whether he will return and in 2011, the Captain only got 250 plate appearences last season, so we have pretty small sample for him. However in that small sample he posted a .203 ISO just a hair above Kevin Youkilis. To the end, Tek could use that long smooth upper cut to make pitchers pay for their mistakes.

Not surprisingly, David Ortiz leads the field here. In polling my fellow Over the Monsters writers, they were unanimous in their support for Ortiz. After his 2008-2009 struggles, David Ortiz proved he was still a force in 2010, but his 2011 season was something even more impressive. Not only did Ortiz avoid his typical early spring slump, he reinvented himself, cutting his strikeout rate down from his career average of 18.4 to just 13.7 while not missing a beat with his walk rate. His ISO actually went down some as a result of this change, but he hit from the second highest average of his career, which helped him to his highest slugging percentage since 2007. As if that was not enough, according to ESPN’s Hit Tracker Online, he had both the highest average speed of the bat on his home runs as well as the longest average "true distance" (which is a calculation of the distance independent of wind and temperature).

Looking at a three year sample of the same data seals the deal. Ortiz has been crushing the ball his entire career, but now, years away from the 2007 wrist injury and with his more contact heavy approach, he take the crown by a fair margin over last year’s winner Adrian Gonzalez and the ever looming Kevin Youkilis.

Name

PA

HR

ISO

BABIP

SLG

HR/FB

AVG HR True Distance

AVG Speed off Bat

David Ortiz

1838

89

0.242

0.299

0.515

16.4

401.8

103.8

Kevin Youkilis

1540

63

0.233

0.328

0.523

14.6

394.95

102.8

Adrian Gonzalez

2089

98

0.231

0.304

0.536

18.4

396.1

102.8

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

729

25

0.197

0.306

411

12.6

398.6

103.7

Jacoby Ellsbury

1509

40

0.167

0.326

0.471

10.2

393.9

104

A-Gon is interesting in his own right. He has just completed his first season in the friendly confines of FenwayPark and it was an excellent campaign. The Sox first baseman hit .338/.410/.548, but his home run total was lower than many expected. During the 2010 season, Gonzalez had a shoulder injury which forced him to modify his swing. He had surgery following the season and while he certainly did not suffer for it, he did suggest that he had some discomfort throughout last season. Consider what Gonzalez did in the cavernous Petco park before the shoulder issues forced a change in his approach, there is reason to believe that we have not seen all he is capable of in the power department. If, like Ortiz and his wrist injury, time heals the residual wounds plaguing A-Gon, he might just take this title back by next off-season. I doubt anyone would complain if he merely repeats his 2011 performance, however.

Researching these pieces would hardly be worth the effort if it did not occasionally produce its share of surprises. Like the other writers here, I would have picked Ortiz with out much digging through the numbers and, not surprisingly, the data agrees. However, if I didn’t bother with this approach, I would have almost certainly never know that Jacoby Ellsbury added nearly 10 feet to his average home run distance in 2011 and had the second highest speed off his bat of anyone here. Does this mean his incredible 2011 power surge will be sustainable? I am not really sure, but is surprising and encouraging. Ellsbury also had a higher percentage of his fly balls go out then anyone but David Ortiz. If it were not for the relative lack of power prior to 2011, Ellsbury would be an easy runner up here. It will interesting to see if he can keep up with the team’s other sluggers next season.

No player represents the value in looking through the data better than Jarrod Saltalmacchia. I doubt anyone here would go so far as to say that Salty has the Best Power on the 2012 Red Sox team, but it is incredible how well he stacks up by this methodology. Last season, Salty had a higher ISO than Gonzalez and Youkilis and his average home run distance was second only to David Ortiz. Salty may have a long way to go before he is a complete hitter but his 2011 power is probably not a fluke.

Going into 2012, the Red Sox will sports some serious power. Big Papi is king once again, but as 2011 showed us, you can never be sure where the power will come from next.

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