This week I was curious to look at what I call surprisingly high sluggers. No, I’m not talking about Geovany Soto. These are players who have at least a .500 slugging this year and fewer than 20 home runs. In order to try to limit some of the outliers, I only looked at players who had at least 300 plate appearances this year. They are listed from highest to lowest slugging.
Joey Votto – Too bad he had to miss a month and a half due to injuries. He was well on his way an extremely productive season, since he posted the highest OPS of his career in 2012. Earlier in the year I talked about how his walk rate was improving and he’s managed to maintain that improvement for the entire year. Just look at his walk rate by year: 12.9% in 2009, 14.0% in 2010, 15.3% in 2011, and 19.2% in 2012. This has helped him to attain a ridiculous .474 on base percentage, which is insanely better than the .415 OBP that David Ortiz has (aka the next best OBP in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances).
The significance of his presence atop this list means that he has a very high slugging rate despite not hitting many home runs. This is nothing new for Votto, who has always had a high line drive rate and low fly ball rate, suggesting that he’s likely to get a lot of hits, just not many homers. This year he’s further increased his line drives and decreased his fly balls, likely contributing to his success when coupled with his OBP. Injuries aside, it’s really hard to see him falling apart in the next couple years. It isn’t surprising that I expect him to continue to remain an elite OPS player and potentially league leader in OBP.
Carlos Ruiz – It’s fair to say that nobody expected a .940 OPS from him. He’s always had a nice OBP, with a career .360 mark, but his slugging has never been near the .544 he’s had this year. This is largely due to an elevated home run to fly ball rate, but it appears that he is trying to be more aggressive instead of this being a completely random change in his production. For example, he is swinging at more pitches, including those outside the strike zone, and is walking a lot less as a result. He has improved the frequency of line drives he’s hitting, a sign of improvement, but I can’t see him hitting home runs at this rate next year.
Justin Ruggiano – This 30-year-old finally received a chance at playing full-time and excelled with a .900 OPS, although his season was cut short by injury. I think his upside next year is an .800 OPS because this season he’s been propelled by a .400 BABIP.
Tyler Colvin – Matthew Berry, quite contrary. No, he’s probably never going to hit 40 home runs like Mr. Berry predicted he would last year (when he hit 6). Although, now he’s playing in Coors and should have no trouble reaching 20 homers next year. His high slugging is partially related to his BABIP, but some of this may be sustainable since he is playing half his games in Coors.
Matt Kemp – Somehow I don’t think I’ve mentioned him all year, but that’s probably because everybody already knows he’s a top player. It is important to note that after his crazy April he really hasn’t been all that good. I don’t know how much of this is related to his injury, but he’s not hitting many homers, although his first month balances this out to still be a nice year. I’m curious to see where he’s drafted next year to see how much the memory of his epic April comes into play.
Scott Hairston – What he lacks in OBP he makes up for in slugging. He only makes this list due to his low number of plate appearances, as he would have hit closer to 30 home runs with a full season’s time.
Melky Cabrera – Not to cry over spilled melk, but his stats seemed a bit strange this year. To be fair, the slugging wasn’t a ton higher than 2011, but his .390 OBP was absurd, considering that he hadn’t had an OBP above .340 since 2006.
Carlos Quentin – He moved to Petco and posted his highest OPS in years. His line drive rate was the highest of his career, which kept him productive. If only he could stay healthy for a full season…
Todd Frazier – I actually like him quite a bit for next year. His BABIP might decrease, but his home run to fly ball rate could increase, resulting in a similar slugging. He should again have an OPS above .800.
Jonathan Lucroy – His strikeouts are much lower this year and, although his BABIP is a little high, he should continue to be a solid player going forward.