Power to all fieldsby Jeff Sackmann
February 04, 2010
Often, the phrases "hits to all fields" and the even-better "power to all fields" serve as an observer's approval of a young hitter. It's something of a proxy for overall hitting ability: If a youngster can hit to all fields, odds are he can handle a variety of pitches and speeds.
We can't watch every minor leaguer every year, but if we take the phrase literally, "power to all fields" is something we can quantify. Since we're talking about "power," we can narrow the focus to extra-base hits, specifically isolated power (ISO), which is calculated as the difference between slugging percentage and batting average.
A player who truly has power to all fields will send many of his extra-base hits to center field and the opposite field. An ideal prospect probably doesn't get exactly one-third of his extra-base hits to each third of the diamond; it makes more sense that a good player would take advantage of his natural ability to pull.
To get a better grasp of who does what and what kind of characteristics match our intuition of "hitting to all fields," let's delve into the numbers.
For each 2009 full-season minor leaguer, I calculated isolated power, as well as his extra-base hits to pull, to center field, and to the opposite field. I then determined what percentage of his isolated power stemmed from hits to each of the three sectors. Those four numbers are displayed in each of the tables below. For example, "Pull%" is the percentage of extra bases that a player amassed hitting to pull.
Who's a balanced hitter?
To start with, let's look at the hitters who were most balanced. It seems reasonable to throw out players whose ISO is below a certain threshold. After all, Cubs farmhand Tony Campana flashed almost identical power to all fields, but in over 400 at-bats last year, he hit for extra bases a grand total of 10 times. He isn't the type of talent we're hunting for.
Setting the ISO minimum at .100 (along with a 350-at-bat standard), here are the most balanced hitters in the minors by this standard:
Player League AB ISO Pull% CF% Opp% Jeremy Moore CAL 500 0.164 31.7% 34.1% 34.1% Trayvon Robinson CAL 472 0.186 34.1% 36.4% 29.5% Bradley Boyer EL 398 0.128 39.2% 29.4% 31.4% Michael Ryan PCL 376 0.178 38.8% 32.8% 28.4% Michael Restovich IL 495 0.214 43.4% 28.3% 28.3% P. J. Phillips CAL 480 0.133 43.8% 28.1% 28.1% Robert Phelps CAR 488 0.102 42.0% 28.0% 30.0% Randy Ruiz PCL 464 0.263 41.0% 27.9% 31.1% Eric Young Jr. PCL 456 0.134 39.3% 27.9% 32.8% Joseph Mahoney SAL 396 0.129 45.1% 27.5% 27.5% Winston Linton CAL 492 0.104 31.4% 27.5% 41.2%Not exactly a who's who of the game's best prospects. As I've already noted, we can't take the "power to all fields" seal of approval too literally: If an ideal player takes advantage of his natural tendency to pull, we might assume that these guys aren't pulling enough. It's a great to avoid a heavy defensive shift, but maybe that's all.
Another characteristic of this list you might have noted is that the California League is heavily represented. Prospect watchers know to tread carefully where Cal League power is concerned. In parks like Rancho Cucamonga (and really, just about all of the other ones), the ball flies, resulting in comical offensive numbers that hitters usually fail to replicate at higher levels.
Indeed, the California League is quirky in its power distribution. Here are the league averages for the 10 full-season minor leagues last year:
League ISO ISO-Pull ISO-CF ISO-Oppo PCL 0.145 59.8% 20.3% 19.9% IL 0.131 61.1% 19.9% 19.0% EL 0.126 61.0% 18.8% 20.3% SL 0.123 62.4% 18.5% 19.1% TEX 0.125 62.4% 17.0% 20.6% FSL 0.109 58.0% 21.6% 20.4% CAR 0.125 60.0% 20.9% 19.2% CAL 0.146 52.3% 27.3% 20.3% MDW 0.116 55.7% 22.8% 21.6% SAL 0.113 56.0% 23.0% 21.0%In the low minors, no league features nearly as much power as the Cal League. Most striking is the amount of power to center field. The low percentage of power to pull isn't because Cal League hitters aren't pulling the ball, it's because they're also racking up extra-base hits to other parts of the park. Thus, we shouldn't expect those "balanced" Cal League hitters from the previous table to exhibit the same characteristics in different environments.
Power to pull
Let's try looking for the opposite and see who turns up. One of the stereotypes of minor league veterans is that they are one-dimensional players, perhaps the kind of guys whose only power is to pull. Here are the minor league hitters who get the most of their extra-base hits to pull:
Player League AB ISO Pull% CF% Opp% Scott Thorman PCL 405 0.198 96.3% 1.3% 2.5% Matthew McBride EL 397 0.176 91.4% 4.3% 4.3% Jorge Jimenez EL 493 0.128 90.5% 4.8% 4.8% Ryan Barba SAL 376 0.069 88.5% 7.7% 3.8% Federico Hernandez SAL 351 0.097 88.2% 2.9% 8.8% Taylor Harbin CAL 531 0.141 88.0% 9.3% 2.7% Salvador Sanchez CAR 452 0.159 87.5% 9.7% 2.8% John Gall PCL 402 0.114 87.0% 4.3% 8.7% Sean Kazmar PCL 366 0.079 86.2% 10.3% 3.4% Brahiam Maldonado FSL 413 0.186 85.7% 10.4% 3.9% Jarrett Hoffpauir PCL 380 0.197 85.3% 8.0% 6.7%Intuition holds up on this one. Not only is the list generally free of prospects, it features three guys—Scott Thorman, John Gall, and Jarrett Hoffpauir—who feed the stereotype of one-dimensional hitters who can't quite make the jump to the bigs.
Of note as well are a couple of players who fall in the next 15. Steven Tolleson, a recent waiver-wire pickup of the A's, had an ISO of only .104, but 83.8 percent of that was to pull. And Adam Heether, a utility man who will fight for a job on the Brewers this spring, got 82.7 percent of his solid (.200 ISO) power to pull.
Up the middle
What about the guys who consistently crush the ball up the middle? Given the league averages we looked at a few moments ago, you might expect that many of the leaders in this department come from the California League. You would be right. In fact, six of the top nine in the entire full-season minors racked up their stats in California. Here are those top six:
Player League AB ISO Pull% CF% Opp% Koby Clemens CAL 432 0.285 30.9% 50.4% 18.7% Kuo-Hui Lo CAL 402 0.206 33.7% 49.4% 16.9% Juan Diaz CAL 352 0.145 19.6% 49.0% 31.4% Felix Carrasco CAL 421 0.140 37.3% 47.5% 15.3% Joey Butler CAL 552 0.134 13.5% 47.3% 39.2% Roger Kieschnick CAL 554 0.229 35.4% 44.1% 20.5%And here are the players who might be more interesting: The leaders in ISO to center field, excluding California Leaguers:
Player League AB ISO Pull% CF% Opp% Jeremy Barfield MDW 415 0.120 34.0% 52.0% 14.0% Gabriel Jacobo MDW 469 0.168 43.0% 48.1% 8.9% Will Middlebrooks SAL 387 0.145 41.1% 46.4% 12.5% Delta Cleary SAL 403 0.119 41.7% 43.8% 14.6% Raul Reyes SAL 372 0.161 50.0% 43.3% 6.7% Matthew West SAL 474 0.103 53.1% 40.8% 6.1% Rebel Ridling MDW 557 0.151 48.8% 40.5% 10.7% Cody Overbeck FSL 357 0.174 58.1% 40.3% 1.6% Tim Fedroff CAR 381 0.105 20.0% 40.0% 40.0% Kyler Burke MDW 480 0.198 44.2% 40.0% 15.8% Benj Copeland PCL 352 0.136 52.1% 39.6% 8.3%Again, we're hardly looking at a pile of blue-chippers here. Of note is that none of these leaders had a particularly high ISO. For instance, Josh Barfield racked up 22 doubles but only eight home runs. Especially in the cold springs of the Midwest League, it's a lot easier to rope doubles to the gaps than it is to crush one over the center field wall.
Hitting to the opposite field
Let's finish the tour with a look at the minor leaguers who made the most out of opposite-field power. If we don't set an ISO threshold, it's one of the most boring and meaningless lists you can imagine: guys with 0.035 ISOs who probably lucked into a handful of line-drive doubles down the right field line.
If we set the threshold at an ISO of .200, we've still got 70 minor leaguers to work with from last year; here are those who got the most of their extra bases to the opposite field:
Player League AB ISO Pull% CF% Opp% Cole Garner TEX 403 0.201 29.6% 14.8% 55.6% Carlos Peguero CAL 528 0.286 14.6% 43.0% 42.4% Allen Craig PCL 476 0.210 50.0% 9.0% 41.0% Collin DeLome TEX 471 0.208 40.8% 18.4% 40.8% Juan Francisco SL 449 0.223 46.0% 17.0% 37.0% Joseph Koshansky PCL 455 0.224 47.1% 16.7% 36.3% Brennan Boesch EL 525 0.238 45.6% 18.4% 36.0% Randy Ruiz PCL 464 0.263 41.0% 27.9% 31.1% Dee Brown PCL 395 0.238 51.1% 19.1% 29.8% Ryan Lavarnway SAL 432 0.252 51.4% 19.3% 29.4% Sean Rodriguez PCL 363 0.320 48.3% 23.3% 28.4% Brendan Katin PCL 455 0.264 50.0% 21.7% 28.3%This might be the list with the most interesting names so far, even if that isn't much of an achievement. Note how quickly the Opp% decreases. We quickly move from a handful of players who somehow got close to half of their extra bases to the opposite field to those who overlap with the "most balanced" that we started with.
What do the prospects do?
Certainly, this first glance at power-to-all-fields numbers isn't yielding a major breakthrough. There aren't any obvious characteristics of this sort that flag certain players as particularly promising. Perhaps we've found a lot of ways to identify unpromising players—when it comes to using the field, any extreme might be a bad thing.
Let's turn the problem around. To get a different sort of grasp on what these numbers mean and what they tell us about prospects, here is a list of some top prospects who amassed at least 350 at-bats at a single level last year:
Player League AB ISO Pull% CF% Opp% Carlos Santana EL 462 0.240 73.0% 20.7% 6.3% Lonnie Chisenhall CAR 389 0.208 75.3% 17.3% 7.4% Jaff Decker MDW 383 0.204 66.7% 24.4% 9.0% Todd Frazier SL 464 0.188 63.2% 20.7% 16.1% Brett Lawrie MDW 376 0.178 61.2% 20.9% 17.9% Mike Moustakas CAR 511 0.176 68.9% 21.1% 10.0% Brett Wallace PCL 426 0.167 46.5% 33.8% 19.7% Desmond Jennings SL 381 0.165 60.3% 23.8% 15.9% Matt Dominguez FSL 386 0.158 60.7% 18.0% 21.3% Reid Brignac IL 419 0.134 66.1% 14.3% 19.6% Alcides Escobar PCL 424 0.113 54.2% 20.8% 25.0% Austin Jackson IL 533 0.105 37.5% 26.8% 35.7% Starlin Castro FSL 360 0.089 53.1% 15.6% 31.3% Ben Revere FSL 484 0.056 55.6% 25.9% 18.5%They're sorted by ISO, and you can see that the way these players use all fields changes depending on their power profile. Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall didn't quite make the cut for the most pull-happy hitters earlier in the article, but they certainly stand out against this bunch.
On average, this group of blue-chippers has about the same power distribution as the minor leagues as a whole. What we may be able to discover is that, at different ISO levels, different distributions are preferable.
To see that Randy Ruiz used all fields en route to a slugging percentage near .600 may tell us that he isn't the sort of player who can do the same in the bigs. Perhaps the hitter-friendly stadium in Las Vegas helped him out even more than the park factor would indicate. On the flip side, a low-power player who hits almost everything to pull doesn't have the sort of game that makes it easy to slot him in as a top-of-the-order hitter.
There's a lot more to do with this data. Whether or not it demonstrates that the blessing of "power to all fields" is really as meaningful as we often take it to be, it will be interesting to evaluate what it does mean.
References and Resources
Thanks to Kent Bonham for some of the ideas behind this piece.
You might note that some of the ISOs aren't exactly right. I don't have hit direction for a handful of extra-base hits, so I excluded those from the tally.
Jeff Sackmann is the creator of MinorLeagueSplits.com. With Kent Bonham, he founded CollegeSplits.com. Jeff and Kent blog about college baseball and the draft, and you can follow them on Twitter for bite-sized snacks of minor league and college stats. Jeff also has an email address.