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Who was the most powerful hitter in 2014?

Now that the year is over, let's review the most powerful hitters and see how they fared in the second half of the season.

George Springer
George Springer
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the mid-season version of the statistic, this final update should appease fans looking for an exciting superstar to follow in 2015. Juan Francisco captured the title back in early July, but he now settles back into fourth place and relinquishes the top spot to George Springer. Springer occupied ninth place earlier in the year and didn't even boost his own stock much in the second half, seeing as how he was on the shelf with a quadricep injury. What did happen though, was that most everyone else regressed, and (because he did not play too often) Springer did not.

George Springer first captured attention way back in high school, where he was drafted in the now defunct 48th round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He chose not to sign and instead went on to the University of Connecticut. In three seasons at UConn, Springer blasted 46 home runs and dominated all of his competition, leading to him being drafted eleventh overall by the Houston Astros in 2011.

His minor league career more or less began in 2012 at the age of 22 in High A+ Lancaster. Springer showcased his trademark power but proved vulnerable to certain pitches. He struck out a combined 335 times in 1081 at-bats during his entire tenure in the minors; however, he began to see slight improvement entering 2014. This past season, he started off at AAA Oklahoma City and briefly played 13 games in the Pacific Coast League while the Astros delayed his service clock by a year. Springer was subsequently called up and debuted on April 16th.

In a sense, Springer is leading the charge that is the Astros' rebuilding process. He represents the first big prospect to appear on the major league team and provide a stable presence in the lineup. Other top tier prospects will debut soon but Springer has a leg up on them, even though he still has some issues to iron out. He needs to make more contact with the ball so that he can fully bring his enormous power to light, without which, it seems like Springer's strikeouts will catch up to him. Over the course of 2014, he hit 20 home runs in only 295 at-bats, and even more persuasively, he led the league in home run to flyball percentage. Among batters with over 150 plate appearances, Springer placed first with a 27.8% HR/FB, meaning that for every ten flyballs he hit, almost three of them were home runs. This extreme rate is unlikely to hold, but if he can maintain something above 15% he will be in good shape.

I'll recap the statistical process involved in determining the most powerful hitters here but for a full explanation, refer back to the original article. I based the whole equation around fly ball distance mainly because it lacks any arbitrary endpoints. A would-be home run could stay in play under numerous different circumstances. A strong gust of wind, altitude difference, over-the-wall home run saving catch, stadium dimensions, and so on could all change the fate of a ball hit in the air. If home run distance was the sole statistic in the equation, it would to fail to account for these random events and factors.

Home run distance was also taken into account in both forms. When I say that, I mean that both true home run distance (the actual distance the ball would have landed had it been unimpeded back to ground level) and standard home run distance (true home run distance except the conditions are adjusted to remove all weather and park related variables) are used because they again, remove arbitrary endpoints from certain ballparks and conditions.

The rate at which home runs were hit was another factor. I recorded how many batted balls the player hit that became home runs. Lastly, the most subjective part of the process was quantifying the "extra" power applied to balls that were home runs. The "Tracker Number" uses HitTracker's definition of the three types of home runs: "No-Doubters", "Plenty", and "Just Enough". Each category had a different score attached to their type in order to create the final piece of the puzzle.

Below is the chart with every qualified batter (per BaseballHeatMaps).

(For the full spreadsheet of calculations, click here)

This visualization below offers a better look at the spread of power around the MLB. The statistic generally decreases at a linear rate but tends to be exponential at the two opposite poles. Springer, Chris Carter, Giancarlo Stanton, and Nori Aoki all stand out because of where they rank compared to everyone else.

Let's take a look at some interesting players and patterns:

  • Chris Carter surged up the list in the second half of the season, improving from being ranked 25th all the way to second. He managed to hit .252 with improved plate discipline and a stronger swing in the second half. If he can keep those kinds of numbers up over a whole season, be prepared for massive home run numbers.
  • Jose Abreu had some strange 2014 splits that seem to point to a change in swing preference. In the first half of the season, Abreu hit .292 with 22 walks to 82 strikeouts and a whopping 29 home runs. In the second half, his hit tool took off but his power almost disappeared, hence his move to #15. Since that switch, Abreu hit .350 with 29 walks to 49 strikeouts and only 7 home runs.
  • The Power Number itself can be roughly translated to the 20-80 power scouting scale.
  • Scouting Scale Power #
    80 1900+
    75 1850-1900
    70 1800-1850
    65 1700-1800
    60 1600-1700
    55 1500-1600
    50 1400-1500
    45 1300-1400
    40 1200-1300
    35 1100-1200
    30 1050-1100
    25 1000-1050
    20 1000-

  • Few improved more in the second half of the season than Matt Kemp. The former Dodger's outfielder hit 17 home runs in only 236 at-bats after the All-Star Break. He had only hit 8 home runs in 305 at-bats in the first half. Other big improvements came from Luis Valbuena, Matt Holliday, and Oswaldo Arcia.
  • Ben Revere somehow hit two home runs this season after going through all of 2013, 2012, and 2011 without hitting a single one in the majors. For that reason, he's ranked 288th out of 294.
  • The usual disclaimer goes that the Power Number is a descriptive statistic not designed to necessarily predict any type of future performance.
  • Billy Butler may still have some potent offense in him. He ranked fourth in true home run distance, eighth in standard home run distance, and hit four "No-Doubter's" to zero "Just-Enough" homers. If the problem doesn't lie in his power, it may lie in the angle of his swing. Hopefully the Athletics can repair him.
  • Coors Field clearly messes with power. In fact, when the difference is calculated between the average true HR distance and the average standard HR distance, seven of the top ten players are Rockies. They consist of Nolan Arenado, Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, Wilin Rosario, Troy Tulowitzki, and Brandon Barnes.
Thanks for taking a look at a quantified take on power. There are some really interesting results in these data and I hope you take the time to explore the player rankings.

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All statistics courtesy of HitTracker OnlineBaseballHeatMapsFangraphs, and Baseball-Reference.

Justin Perline is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and The Wild Pitch. You can follow him on Twitter at @jperline.