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The 25 Best 'Pure Hitters' in the Game Today

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2017

The 25 Best 'Pure Hitters' in the Game Today

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    MLB fans, both casual and obsessive, pay to see the game's purest hitters. Equipped with smooth, consistent and forceful swings, these players command our attention just by stepping up to the plate.

    We aren't trying to identify the best all-around offensive contributors. The emphasis is on contact ability and power, and players who have exhibited both in recent seasons—Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, etc.—occupy the highest rungs in this slideshow.

    Batting average, obviously, had a major influence on the rankings. Moreover, strikeout percentage (SO%) was also particularly relevant, so you'll see that statistic on each slide. To calculate it, divide strikeouts by total plate appearances (league average was 19.8 percent last season).

    Isolated Power (ISO) quantifies power without being influenced by the amount of hits a player gets. Just subtract batting average from slugging percentage.

    That wasn't always part of the purity equation. Several decades ago, Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith were the quintessential "pure hitters," even though they seldom blasted balls over the fence.

    But we realize today that occasionally whiffing is acceptable if it ensures that you do extra damage when connecting. Therefore, heavy hitters like Jose Bautista and Matt Holliday—neither of whom consistently post .300 batting averages—earned inclusion alongside the usual suspects mentioned above.  

    With only a few weeks of the 2013 season complete, we needed to take the past into consideration. Data from Opening Day 2010 through the present has much more significance.

     

    *Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and accurate as of April 15, 2013.

25. Starlin Castro (Chicago Cubs)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .297/.335/.428

    2010-2013 ISO: .131

    2010-2013 SO%: 14.0%

    The Chicago Cubs committed to Starlin Castro with a seven-year contract extension because they see him developing into an elite offensive shortstop.

    He shined brightly as a rookie in 2010 with a .300/.347/.408 batting line and only 71 strikeouts. Castro's power has steadily improved since then.

    Wrigley Field suits the 23-year-old, whose gap-hitting ability has already led to 18 career triples at the ballpark.

24. Victor Martinez (Detroit Tigers)

3 of 26

    2010-2013 batting line: .310/.362/.468

    2010-2013 ISO: .158

    2010-2013 SO%: 9.1%

    During his past two full seasons (2010 and 2011), Victor Martinez was as pure as anybody. He was an extra-base-hit threat who seldom failed to make solid contact.

    But the designated hitter has dropped toward the bottom of this top-25 list, as he's still searching for consistency coming off a torn ACL (Martinez missed all of 2012 with the injury).

    As of April 15, his batting line this season was an anemic .146/.265/.146.

23. Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels)

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    2011-2013 batting line: .305/.375/.527

    2011-2013 ISO: .222

    2011-2013 SO%: 21.9%

    Using the aforementioned criteria, Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez were clones.

    CarGo's batting line over the past three-plus campaigns (.313/.372/.549) practically mirrors what Trout has done in the majors so far. Despite lots of hits, both lost serious "purity points" for their ugly strikeout rates.

    Ultimately, the 2012 American League MVP runner-up gets the nod due to the nature of his whiffs. While Gonzalez has a high swinging strike percentage in recent years (20 percent of his total strikes since 2010 have come on swings without contact), Trout's is only 13 percent.

    For our purposes, hesitating to bring the bat head through the zone is a more acceptable weakness than irregular mechanics.

    It's also important to note that Gonzalez reaps statistical benefits from playing half his contests in the hitter's haven of Coors Field.

22. Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco Giants)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .287/.340/.463

    2010-2013 ISO: .176

    2010-2013 SO%: 13.0%

    Pablo Sandoval is the epitome of purity in odd-numbered years but very pedestrian otherwise. Dramatic fluctuations in batting average and slugging percentage made him tricky to rank.

    Staying in shape has frequently been an issue for Kung Fu Panda, as it was this past spring training, writes Jeff Passan.

    How can we expect him to enjoy a career year in 2013 with poor conditioning? We can't.

    Regardless, Sandoval contributes above-average power for the San Francisco Giants, which would be apparent if AT&T Park had more reasonable dimensions.

21. Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .301/.382/.526

    2010-2013 ISO: .225

    2010-2013 SO%: 15.1%

    Though a perennial AL All-Star, 37-year-old Paul Konerko is gradually declining. If his 2013 results thus far are any indication, he'll drop in each of the triple-slash categories for a third straight season.

    The Chicago White Sox captain could wind up with the best batting average on the team and two dozen home runs.

    However, Konerko isn't quite as pure as he used to be.

20. Billy Butler (Kansas City Royals)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .306/.375/.480

    2010-2013 ISO: .173

    2010-2013 SO%: 13.9%

    The long-overlooked Billy Butler finally joined Paul Konerko at the Midsummer Classic in 2012.

    He grabbed the baseball world's attention with a career-best 29 round-trippers. At the same time, his strikeout rate swelled.

    Butler is particularly effective with runners in scoring position, and he deserves extra credit for succeeding through the years with minimal protection from his Kansas City Royals teammates.

19. Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .290/.375/.487

    2010-2013 ISO: .197

    2010-2013 SO%: 17.3%

    Andrew McCutchen's breakout season—.327/.400/.553 with 32 HR—vaults him up this list.

    His strength is legitimate, though there's very little chance of him replicating his otherworldly BABIP from that campaign. Consequently, expect his overall batting average to normalize around .300.

    Like Billy Butler (and unlike Paul McCartney), he gets by with very little help from his friends.

18. Jose Bautista (Toronto Blue Jays)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .269/.397/.590

    2010-2013 ISO: .321

    2010-2013 SO%: 16.8%

    Sabermetrics like Wins Above Replacement think very highly of Jose Bautista and his influence on the Toronto Blue Jays.

    But we couldn't care less about that for the purposes of this article.

    Yes, he possesses otherworldly power, arguably as much as any active player. That understandably earned him an inclusion on this list.

    Working against Bautista, however, is the fact that he has finished only one season with a batting average above .260.

17. Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .301/.385/.515

    2010-2013 ISO: .214

    2010-2013 SO%: 16.8%

    Pure hitting takes awhile to fade, which is why the St. Louis Cardinals felt confident inking Matt Holliday to a long-term contract in Jan. 2010.

    He's been worth the $120 million investment.

    Holliday won't be confused for an MVP candidate now that he's removed from the Colorado Rockies and their high altitude. And although he whiffs on too many hittable pitches, his line-drive swing and steady contributions deserve recognition.

16. David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .296/.391/.558

    2010-2013 ISO: .262

    2010-2013 SO%: 17.5%

    David Ortiz got off to painfully slow starts in 2009 and 2010. The struggles caused some to question his true age and how much longer he could last as an everyday player.

    Of course, Big Papi silenced the skeptics last summer with a .318/.415/.611 batting line and more walks (56) than strikeouts (51).

    He's scheduled to make his 2013 debut this week, so we're wondering if he can be the same offensive stud.

15. Aramis Ramirez (Milwaukee Brewers)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .286/.343/.505

    2010-2013 ISO: .219

    2010-2013 SO%: 13.8%

    Injuries to the hands and fingers obviously hinder a hitter's ability to produce.

    No wonder Aramis Ramirez slumped through the first couple months of the 2010 season. He was playing with a bruised thumb before succumbing to the disabled list in June.

    The third baseman is currently sidelined with a knee sprain, but in the interim, he dominated. Ramirez owned a 12.7 percent strikeout rate between the injuries, which is excellent when you consider all his extra-base hits.

    With his 35th birthday approaching, the Dominican hasn't shown any signs of decline.

14. Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .314/.382/.503

    2010-2013 ISO: .189

    2010-2013 SO%: 14.7%

    Regression is inevitable for Buster Posey following an epic 2012 campaign. The BABIP gods will punish he and Andrew McCutchen with equal ferocity.

    With that said, the San Francisco Giants' centerpiece has the potential to be elite for the next decade. He batted better than .300 in each of his previous full seasons.

    Posey can hit with power to all fields. Of his 46 lifetime long balls, 14 of them have been to right or right-center.

13. Jose Reyes (Toronto Blue Jays)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .303/.353/.452

    2010-2013 ISO: .149

    2010-2013 SO%: 8.4%

    Only Jeff Keppinger, Juan Pierre and a few others strike out less often than Jose Reyes. And none of them possess comparable talent to the sidelined shortstop.

    Reyes entered April 16 with the fourth-highest batting average among AL qualifiers (.395). Unfortunately, a severe ankle sprain all but ensures that he'll be ineligible for the 2013 batting title.

    Nobody exploits outfield gaps quite like him.

12. Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .297/.370/.465

    2010-2013 ISO: .168

    2010-2013 SO%: 10.9%

    As was the case with Aramis Ramirez, a nagging thumb injury is probably to blame for the uncharacteristic season that skews Dustin Pedroia's 2010-13 stats.

    The Boston Red Sox star dealt with the pain early in 2012. Michael Barr of FanGraphs presents data that suggests he was affected.

    When completely healthy, Pedroia flaunts surprising power and flirts with the 200-hit milestone.

11. Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .316/.398/.442

    2010-2013 ISO: .126

    2010-2013 SO%: 11.8%

    If baseball experts were surveyed in the fall of 2009, Joe Mauer would have been their unanimous selection as baseball's purest hitter.

    He led the American League the previous season in each of the triple-slash categories. Moreover, Mauer struck out in merely 10.4 percent of all plate appearances.

    The latter affirmed his reputation as an outstanding contact hitter, which he continues to be.

    Still, limited isolated power prior to that historic performance and during recent years locks him out of the top 10.

10. Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .294/.350/.439

    2010-2013 ISO: .145

    2010-2013 SO%: 9.4%

    Yadier Molina spent his first handful of MLB seasons as an offensive liability.

    But even then, hidden at the bottom of the St. Louis Cardinals lineup, he showed promise. Since adjusting his mechanics to get more "oomph" in his swing, Molina has become very dangerous.

    The backstop shattered all his personal records in 2012. The odds of that happening again seem unlikely, but 20-plus home runs and more of the usual contact hitting would keep him in exclusive company.

9. Adrian Gonzalez (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .314/.385/.510

    2010-2013 ISO: .196

    2010-2013 SO%: 16.2%

    Entering 2013, Adrian Gonzalez has an embarrassing streak of seven straight 100-strikeout seasons. Then again, that should be expected of anyone with his durability (159.6 games/year since 2006).

    Since Opening Day 2010, just Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera have higher hit totals (via FanGraphs).

    Gonzalez should bounce back after launching 18 home runs this past season.

8. Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .318/.385/.564

    2010-2013 ISO: .246

    2010-2013 SO%: 16.6%

    Ryan Braun is disliked in most places outside the state of Wisconsin. Fans take exception to the performance-enhancing drug rumors, but it's really opposing pitchers who can't stand the sight of him.

    In his "worst" season (2010), the University of Miami alum batted .304/.365/.501 with 25 long balls.

    Braun is close behind Adrian Gonzalez on the aforementioned list of this decade's hits leaders. He ranks ahead of the first baseman in terms of purity because his power numbers have steadily risen.

7. Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .305/.374/.547

    2010-2013 ISO: .242

    2010-2013 SO%: 13.1%

    It took 10 long months for Troy Tulowitzki to make his next regular-season appearance after suffering a groin injury last May.

    He doesn't seem rusty at all. The 28-year-old has four multi-hit games so far in 2013, not to mention three home runs.

    Of course, working for the Colorado Rockies has its perks. Despite the stats, both Ryan Braun and Adrian Gonzalez have better odds of going deep in a neutral environment.

    Tulo's superior contact-hitting ability explains why he leapfrogs them on this list.

6. Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .320/.437/.562

    2010-2013 ISO: .241

    2010-2013 SO%: 18.4%

    Joey Votto's .337 batting average last season would have been good enough to win the National League batting title had he totaled a few dozen more plate appearances. Unfortunately, arthroscopic knee surgeries kept him off the field for too long.

    Remember, strikeout rate can be misleading. Only 16 percent of Votto's total strikes since 2010 have been the result of swings-and-misses.

    ESPN's Buster Olney goes into further detail about what makes this slugger special (ESPN Insider subscription required).

5. Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .311/.351/.552

    2010-2013 ISO: .241

    2010-2013 SO%: 11.9%

    The third baseman has legitimately become a Hall of Fame candidate by posting gaudy offensive numbers since leaving the Seattle Mariners.

    Adrian Beltre has batted .290 or higher in five of his MLB seasons, including each of the past three.

    Haters will claim that the warm conditions at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington artificially boost Beltre's power numbers. In reality, since signing with the Texas Rangers in 2011, more than 40 percent of his home runs have come on the road.

4. Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .311/.370/.540

    2010-2013 ISO: .229

    2010-2013 SO%: 13.0%

    In recent years, Robinson Cano has been so consistent at the plate.

    He is the only MLB player with 40-plus doubles and at least 25 home runs in each of the past four seasons. The second baseman has always batted above .300 in that span. Maintaining his current 2013 pace would culminate in unprecedented production, even by his own lofty standards.

    As the consensus top threat in the New York Yankees lineup, Cano doesn't see many attractive pitches. He continues to excel, regardless.

3. Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .294/.412/.529

    2010-2013 ISO: .234

    2010-2013 SO%: 15.6%

    It's been a tiny sample, but Prince Fielder is baseball's best pure hitter of the 2013 season. Though Chris Davis and Justin Upton rival or outrank him by certain measures, none of them put the ball in play as much. 

    Despite a violent swing, Fielder rarely comes away empty, and even decent contact off his boomstick has a chance of leaving the ballpark.

    He has gradually improved as an offensive player since abandoning that silly vegetarian experiment (via Adam McCalvy, MLB.com).

2. Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .298/.377/.550

    2010-2013 ISO: .252

    2010-2013 SO%: 10.3%

    Let's slow down before ruling that Albert Pujols' days of MVP contention have passed.

    Did anyone else notice his .332/.399/.658 batting line between May 24 and the end of August? How about his current streak of 10 consecutive games without striking out?!

    At age 33, he is a unique freak of nature with the ideal mix of strength, hand-eye coordination and baseball intelligence.

1. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)

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    2010-2013 batting line: .334/.420/.600

    2010-2013 ISO: .267

    2010-2013 SO%: 13.8%

    Denying Miguel Cabrera the "purest hitter" distinction would be indefensible.

    For starters, he just became the sport's first Triple Crown winner in generations. Now re-assess his 2010 and 2011 seasons, which didn't earn him any hardware but were equally as awesome from the standpoints we've spent 25 slides looking at.

    Though Miggy hasn't separated himself from Albert Pujols or teammate Prince Fielder by a wide margin, he has done so, nonetheless.

     

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