How Powerful Are Indians Hitters?

Last week at Beyond the Box Score, I ranked the most powerful players in baseball for 2011 using Power Factor, which essentially is a player’s extra bases-per-hit ratio (or, isolated power divided by batting average). It’s not a perfect metric, but it is a better measure of raw power than slugging percentage or ISO insofar as it removes the latter stats’ bias towards contact hitters:

Let’s take two hypothetical players: Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne. Stark hits .350 with a .550 SLG. Wayne hits .200 with a .400 SLG. Both weigh in at a .200 ISO, suggesting their raw power is roughly equal.

But that’s not right. If Wayne somehow managed to bring his average up 150 points, would all the extra hits be singles? Stark is clearly a better hitter, and they both produced the same amount of extra bases. But if the two players had similar contact skills, Wayne would undoubtedly be a bigger slugger.

How did the Cleveland Indians fare in terms of Power Factor last year? Let’s take a look. First, though, here’s how each Indians position player fared in terms of ISO, the current favorite statistic for measuring power among sabermetricians. For players who were traded to or from Cleveland mid-season these numbers reflect only their time with the Tribe. For some perspective, I’ve also included the percentile ranks each player would have achieved had he had enough plate appearances to qualify (Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana were the only Indians who did).

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Seen this way, the Indians’ bats don’t look particularly intimidating. Jason Kipnis is the only player who might be said to have elite power. Of the 24 position players who appeared in an Indians uniform this year, only three (Kipnis, Santana, and Shelley Duncan) would have cracked the top tercile on the MLB leaderboard, and more than half would have placed in the bottom quintile. Power is but one aspect of hitting and most of the names towards the bottom were benchwarmers, but the numbers are still underwhelming.

Let’s see what happens when we rank them by Power Factor:

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This still isn’t a prodigious group of sluggers, but the Indians definitely look better in this light. Santana becomes the most powerful catcher in baseball. Kipnis, Duncan, and Grady Sizemore slide in ahead of names like Lance Berkman (.816), Matt Kemp (.810), Albert Pujols (.809), Ryan Braun (.796), and David Ortiz (.793). Matt LaPorta would place right between Jeff Francoeur (.673) and Aramis Ramirez (.665). Even Cord Phelps and Lonnie Chisenhall come out as above-average.

But some of the disappointing names still don’t rank as highly as one might think. Asdrubal Cabrera still shows very solid power for a middle infielder, but he comes in behind such names as Ryan Roberts (.717) and Raul Ibanez (.710). Jim Thome and Travis Hafner both rank as below average. And Trevor Crowe and Adam Everett were both on pace to usurp Juan Pierre‘s (.174) title as the least powerful players in baseball had they gotten enough plate appearances to qualify.

Wondering who benefits or loses the most from using Power Factor? Here’s how Tribe hitters ranked in the differences between their percentiles in PF and ISO:

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Phelps, Sizemore, and Santana get the biggest boosts from the unorthodox assessment, with Austin Kearns and Travis Buck also making significant gains. Thome, Hafner, and Jason Donald lose the most switching from ISO to Power Factor. It’s worth noting that the gains the top players made were much larger than the losses at the bottom.

Power Factor is a poor barometer of overall offensive ability because it tries to take factors like contact skills and speed out of the equation. LaPorta may be more powerful hitter than Hafner (emphasis on “may”—this was only one season and it was a pretty small difference, so don’t draw any huge conclusions), but he’s definitely not a better power hitter. Still, I think this is a telling (and pretty accurate) reflection of how hard the Indians were hitting the ball.

All input data courtesy of FanGraphs.

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