Boston’s Best Tool 2012: Best Hitter

The 2012 Boston Red Sox will feature three of the top five hitters in the American League last season by wRC+. They have two more hitters in the top 20. As Marc has pointed out on more than one occasion, the 2011 team raked at nearly historic levels. The player who ranks as Boston’s best overall hitter has a good case for best hitter in all of baseball.

Thanks to the advancements begun by Bill James and Pete Palmer and carried on by the fine people at Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus and The Book Blog, we are better at measuring offensive ability now than ever before. Metrics like wRC+, wOBA and True Average have joined the more traditional numbers like batting average, OBP and Slugging and in many respects they have replaced them. Even with these statistics, which weigh the value of each batting event with great accuracy, one number doesn’t tell us everything we need to know. There is still a mix of luck and skill at play. The results need to be weighted equally with the process to determine the best hitter.

Lucky for us, we can take a good look at both results and processes-

2011 Best Hitter Data

Name

PA

ISO

K%

BB%

LD%

BABIP

wOBA

wRC+

O-Swing%

Contact%

SwStr%

Adrian Gonzalez

715

0.210

16.60%

10.30%

21.20%

0.380

0.406

153

35.50%

81.80%

8.40%

David Ortiz

605

0.246

13.70%

12.90%

21.40%

0.321

0.405

153

27.90%

83.30%

7.00%

Jacoby Ellsbury

732

0.230

13.40%

7.10%

22.90%

0.336

0.402

150

27.70%

86.10%

6.00%

Dustin Pedroia

731

0.167

11.60%

11.80%

19.10%

0.325

0.377

134

28.30%

87.40%

5.20%

Kevin Youkilis

517

0.202

19.30%

13.20%

20.00%

0.296

0.366

126

23.60%

81.50%

6.80%

From wOBA to Swinging Strike percentage, we have all the context and results we could want. Incredibly, the 2011 Red Sox had three players with a wOBA over .400. Adrian Gonzalez lead the way, just .001 ahead of Big Papi and .004 beyond Jacoby Ellsbury. Dustin Pedroia was nearly as good, leading the group in swinging strike percentage and contact percentage. Youk was the most selective hitter in the group, walking the most and swinging the least. Even in an injury marred season, Youk was the 20th best hitter in the AL, despite a below average BABIP.

For a reminder of just how good Youk is, here is the same data from 2009-2011-

Name

PA

ISO

K%

BB%

LD%

BABIP

wOBA

wRC+

O-Swing%

Contact%

SwStr%

Kevin Youkilis

1540

0.233

19.00%

13.20%

19.30%

0.328

0.399

144

21.30%

83.10%

6.30%

Adrian Gonzalez

2089

0.231

16.40%

13.70%

21.10%

0.330

0.396

151

30.30%

79.40%

9.10%

David Ortiz

1838

0.242

19.70%

12.70%

18.80%

0.299

0.375

128

25.50%

78.40%

9.20%

Jacoby Ellsbury

1509

0.167

12.00%

7.00%

20.10%

0.326

0.371

124

26.20%

87.40%

5.30%

Dustin Pedroia

1796

0.168

9.40%

11.00%

20.00%

0.307

0.370

124

25.70%

90.10%

4.00%

Even with his off-year in 2011, Youk still has the highest wOBA in a three year sample. Gonzalez has the edge in wRC+ thanks to his time in PetcoPark, however. The Massive Patriarch has an edge in ISO and Pedey still dominates all the contact categories. It’s not surprising Jacoby Ellsbury drops in the rankings here, as 2011 was a major breakout for the leadoff man’s bat.

The other OTM writers were unanimous for A-Gon and it is easy to understand why. I am with them on that pick, but think it is impressive just how close both David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis are. In fact, given the drastic reduction Ortiz made in his strikeout rate and the rise in his contact abilities, I think a great case can be made for Papi. Youkilis took the award last season and could easily be the 2013 winner if he stays healthy and gets some more breaks on his BABIP. That is, unless of course, Jacoby Ellsbury wants to add plus patients to his already impressive list of skills or Dustin Pedroia finds even more ways to fit muscle on his small frame.

Gonzo might have the crown for now, but holding on to it Boston won’t be easy.

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