Power to all fields

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 & 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.

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Comments

  1. Gilbert said...

    “For instance, Josh Barfield racked up 22 doubles but only eight home runs”
    Looks like it is Jeremy Barfield.  Fortunately the wave of J baby names has already crested so the chance of siblings with the same first initial should be on its way down.

  2. Jeff Sackmann said...

    Carlos Peguero is in the “opposite field”-heavy list but he shouldn’t be.  I have him in my database as a righty, but he bats lefthanded.

  3. Peter D said...

    It would be interesting to see this same analysis done on minor league players from 10 years ago.  This way we would see which group produced the most successfull major leaguers.

  4. J.P. McIntyre said...

    There is an article in Ron Shandler’s annual this year about using power to opposite fields to predict breakout seasons. It only scratches the surface, but it worth checking out.

  5. John said...

    I wonder if a similar study done on major leaguers would yield anything interesting?  It seems to me that without a context to compare things to these numbers do not have much meaning (at least to me personally).  In my opinion this study has alot of potential but I find it hard to understand the meaning of all the numbers without context.  Also if someone compared previous seasons or the previous minor league numbers of some good major league hitters it might give a good context.

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