It was the fourth-highest scoring season of all time with more home runs than ever before. And the league-wide slugging percentage was the third highest it’s ever been.
Yep, 2019 was a fantastic year for hitters.
We had late-career resurgences from players like Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz and Howie Kendrick. We saw young talents like Ronald Acuna Jr., Pete Alonso and Juan Soto blossom into stars. And, of course, we got to witness another year of Mike Trout being Mike Trout.
Stats Perform’s 2019 Hitting Awards honor the top sluggers of this historic season. With the help of our proprietary advanced analytics, we’ve made our picks for the top hitters in the American and National Leagues at each position. Here’s a rundown of some metrics we’ll be using to perform our analysis:
BIP+: A measure of the quality of balls put in play by a hitter.
Contact+: A measure of a hitter’s ability to make contact with the ball.
Discipline+: A measure of a hitter’s ability to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone and swing at pitches inside the zone.
Raw Value: A cumulative value that aims to holistically measure a hitter’s performance by combining Stats Perform’s other advanced metrics.
For each of BIP+, Contact+ and Discipline+, an average rating is 100. Any rating above 100 is above average and vice versa for those scores below 100.
AL: Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins
NL: Yasmani Grandal, Milwaukee Brewers
Grandal’s season was no surprise. He’s been one of the top hitting catchers for several years now. With a rating of 117 in both Discipline+ and BIP+, this was business as usual for Grandal.
However, Garver’s breakout season for the Twins was anything but business as usual. After hitting just seven homers in 103 games last year, Garver slugged 31 in 93 games in 2019, boosting his BIP+ to 168 – 23rd among all qualified players. He was able to achieve this value through his knack for extra-base hits. Garver had the ninth highest percentage of doubles (8.6%) and the 11th highest percentage of home runs (11.3%), while somehow achieving the lowest percentage of singles (15.4%) in the league (all calculated as a percentage of total balls in play).
Garver’s only opposition for the AL award was the New York Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, who brought big power through a BIP+ of 188 but was below average in Discipline+ (83) and Contact+ (98). Grandal was only (distantly) challenged by the Philadelphia Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto, who was slightly above average in each of our metrics.
AL: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
NL: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Santana walked his way to another brilliant season, tying for fifth in the league with 108 bases on balls. Most of Santana’s advanced metric value comes from this plate discipline as he finished 18th in the league with a Discipline+ of 122. This year, though, he also recaptured that penchant for power that he has flashed in the past with 34 home runs.
In the NL, there was some pretty tough competition at first base with veterans like Freeman and Anthony Rizzo continuing their production and new stars like Alonso and Josh Bell bursting onto the scene. By our metrics, however, Freeman rose slightly above the rest, scoring positively in BIP+ (150) to overcome average ratings in Discipline+ (99) and Command+ (99). Perhaps these metrics even understate his value, as Freeman finished 12th in the entire league in raw value – a testament to his consistent, quality output.
As mentioned, the majority of the contenders for this award came from the NL. Alonso of the New York Mets put together a brilliant season – he was eighth in BIP+ (183) across all positions. Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates also impressed with a BIP+ of 142, while Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs did his damage with good measures in both BIP+ (124) and Contact+ (107).
AL: DJ LeMahieu, Yankees
NL: Ozzie Albies, Braves
LeMahieu went from a relatively unheralded free agent signing to a certified star for one of the league’s best teams. He finished above average in Discipline+ (102) and BIP+ (128) and was especially impressive in Contact+, with a rating of 109 – good for 22nd in the league. This one was a no-brainer.
On the NL side, things were much murkier. Players like Ketel Marte, Kendrick and Jeff McNeil provided tremendous value, but played a minority of their games at second base. Thus, we’ve opted to give the award to Albies, who played 158 games at second base and led the NL in at bats and hits. He actually scored well below average in Discipline+ at just 87, but his above-average ratings in Contact+ (103) and BIP+ (103), as well as his immense workload, meant that he still added significant value.
One strong AL contender at second base was the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve, who finished another impressive season with a Contact+ of 108 and BIP+ of 106. Those numbers weren’t enough to challenge LeMahieu, but are impressive nonetheless.
AL: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
NL: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Bogaerts was in a tight competition with Marcus Semien of the Oakland A’s for this award, but he distinguished himself with a well-rounded effort. He scored above-average in Discipline+ (104), Contact+ (106) and BIP+ (124) and finished 16th across all positions in Raw Value.
In the NL, Story put together an impressive season to the tune of 35 home runs and a 142 BIP+. He just edged out the Nationals’ Trea Turner, who didn’t pack the same punch as Story, but delivered an impressive Discipline+ of 112.
It’s worth mentioning that Semien recorded a Discipline+ of 131, tied for second in the league with Trout and Bregman – not bad company.
AL: Alex Bregman, Astros
NL: Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
These selections were fairly cut-and-dry in both leagues. Rendon and Bregman were two of the game’s most dominant offensive players in 2019. Rendon will surely be an MVP candidate and Bregman would be a strong contender in the AL if not for the Angels’ Trout.
Rendon finished with the second highest Raw Value in the league (behind, you guessed it, Trout). He featured a balanced approach at the plate, with top-15 finishes in Discipline+ (124) and Contact+ (110) in addition to a BIP+ of 151. Bregman wasn’t far behind, accumulating the 10th highest Raw Value in the league on the back of an outstanding Discipline+ of 131 (tied for 2nd in the league).
One thing that Rendon and Bregman shared was an excellent ability to pick their pitches and put the bat on the ball. They both finished top-15 in plate appearances per strikeout, swinging and missing on pitches just 5.6% and 5.0% of the time, respectively.
Other third basemen that excelled in our metrics included Donaldson, Rafael Devers, Eugenio Suarez and Yoan Moncada. Suarez and Moncada finished 21st and 19th in BIP+, respectively, while Donaldson recorded an impressive Discipline+ of 115 and Devers added value through his proficiency for extra base hits.
AL: Trout, Angels; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
NL: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers; Christian Yelich, Brewers; Soto, Nationals
First, the obvious choices – Trout and Bellinger are two of the top MVP candidates and finished first and third in Raw Value as determined by our metrics. Trout finished fifth in BIP+ (199) and tied for second in Discipline+ (131), to go along with an MLB-best 10.44 at-bats per home run ratio. Bellinger was a step behind Trout, recording a (still very impressive) BIP+ of 165. He was also one of just four players to record a BIP+ of 165 or greater and a Discipline+ and Contact+ of 100 or greater. The others – Marcel Ozuna, J.D. Martinez and, duh, Trout.
Yelich is another easy choice. His total output lags slightly due to his season-ending injury in early September, but his performance on our advanced metrics was still phenomenal. Yelich finished 13th in the league with a BIP+ of 180, which he combined with a solid performance in Discipline+ (104).
Soto, who will turn 21 years old on the day Game 3 of the World Series is scheduled, rounds out our NL selections. He was able to replicate his rookie-year success over a much larger sample size. Soto shows an impressive eye for his age, with a Discipline+ of 129 – fifth in the league. He also demonstrated above-average pop, recording a BIP+ of 150.
The final two AL picks were tight – we opted for Betts and Soler, but the award could have gone to any number of players. Betts was very solid across each of our three metrics, scoring 119, 109 and 130 across Discipline+, Contact+ and BIP+, respectively, and accumulated the fourth highest Raw Value. Meanwhile, Soler, who led the AL with 48 home runs, was sixth in the league in BIP+ with a remarkable score of 193. He wasn’t too shabby with his approach either, receiving a Discipline+ rating of 111.
Other contenders included J.D. Martinez and Cruz in the AL and Acuna Jr. and Ozuna in the NL. Martinez and Cruz had impressive output as designated hitters, but didn’t play enough games (or any games in Cruz’s case) in the outfield. Acuna and Ozuna were undeniably impressive – they were both top-15 in Raw Value – but always faced an uphill battle with the strength of the NL’s top three outfielders. Astros rookie Yordan Alvarez is also worthy of mention, finishing third in BIP+ at 221 and 22nd in Raw Value. However, he spent most of the year as a DH and lacked the at-bats to truly challenge for an award.
Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Stats Perform’s Lucas Haupt