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MLB: Baseball's Top 15 Hitters and Their Hitting Havens

Jason HeimCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

MLB: Baseball's Top 15 Hitters and Their Hitting Havens

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    Coors Field, in spite of the Humidor, is still everyone's favorite place to hit.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's no secret that not every ballpark in Major League Baseball is created equal.  At some, opposing players can't wait to visit, while at others, they know that a satisfying homer or gap double is hard to come by.

    With a recent wave of beautiful new parks have come unexpected hitting characteristics: New York's Citi Field seems impossible to leave via the long ball, and Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark for a hitter to touch 'em all.

    Based on certain hitter traits, some parks are more suitable for certain hitters than others.  As opposed to more traditional and conventional ways of evaluating whether to acquire a particular hitter or not, teams would be smart to begin tailoring their personnel decisions to getting specific hitters who would thrive in their stadiums.

    Here, I will do some of the legwork for them.

    Check out the optimal hitting park for each of MLB's top 15 sluggers.     

15. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Howard's power lefty stroke deserves a short right field porch.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    This guy can launch rockets with the best of them.  A below-average contact hitter, Howard is your prototypical all-or-nothing slugger. 

    However, his hitting stats are trending toward becoming a more balanced hitter.  He had a disturbing drop off in homers last season, collecting only 31 after four straight seasons reaching at least 45.

    Further, his batting average was a respectable .276 in 2010 and .279 the year before, which, coupled with his decrease in strikeouts by 30, marks a rise in contact hitting.  Is Ryan Howard starting to hit for average instead of power?

    Still the big lefty is, and always will be, considered one of the utmost home run hitters in baseball.

    Ideal park: Yankee Stadium, New York

    The new monolithic park is a boon for left-handed power.  With that short porch in right field, there is no park better suited for Howard's game than Yankee Stadium.  

    Don't get ahead of yourself: he hits just fine in Philly at Citizens Bank Park, but advanced metrics from the Bill James' Handbook indicate that right-handers fare significantly better in that park in comparison to left-handers. 

14. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox

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    Gonzalez's versatility makes him an easy fit in many parks.Elsa/Getty Images

    The new Red Sox first baseman is ecstatic to get out of Petco Park in San Diego, popularly regarded as the worst park for hitters.  The fact that he exchanges Petco for Boston's Fenway Park should have the lefty's head in the clouds even more.  

    Gonzalez's defining characteristic is power hitting, but the definition isn't as clear as with Howard. Gonzalez is among the most well-rounded and versatile hitters in baseball, usually hitting above .280, approaching 200 hits a year, 30+ HR, around 100 RBI, and plenty of doubles.

    While Fenway (and the Red Sox lineup) will undoubtedly have a positive effect on most of his numbers, it might not be the park best suited for his home run hitting.

    Lefties routinely have their shots vacuumed up by the field's spacious right-center gap, while going oppo over the 37-foot tall Green Monster isn't easy, either.  This park ranks in the bottom five in MLB in home run rate, so there are definitely better parks for Gonzalez, although not many.

    Ideal park: Rogers Centre, Toronto

    A curious choice at first glance, perhaps, but makes sense when you dig deeper.  I mentioned Adrian's balance and versatility.  Well, as one of baseball's few remaining symmetrical parks, this guy can go to all fields equally, as he is so deft at doing.  

    With deep gaps in left- and right-center, Gonzalez has plenty of chances to rack up 35+ doubles with his below-average speed.  Rogers Centre ranks sixth in extra-base hits and ninth in home runs, a picture of balance that matches Gonzalez's strengths.      

13. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Holliday can hit for power, but that isn't his best asset as a hitter.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Holliday has always been slightly underrated as a hitter.  People wrote him off as a product of Coors Field after racking up three stellar seasons in Colorado.  Citing his poor splits away from Coors, the pundits predicted that his numbers would plummet after departing the Rockies.  

    Well, it turns out that this guy can hit, and he can do it all.  Although not among baseball's elite power hitters, Holliday's 25 home runs a year make him enough of a threat that pitchers will work around him in the lineup (although that's hard to do when you just pitched around Albert Pujols before Holliday).  His walk and on-base rates are exceptional, as is his contact (.317 career hitter).

    What stands out in Holliday's game is his penchant for extra-base hits.  He's always around 40 doubles a season, and even collected 50 in his MVP-caliber 2007 season.

    It is clear that Holliday would thrive in a park where the fences are a little farther back, leaving plenty of open space in the outfield for him to operate.

    This guy could hit for All-Star numbers in any ballpark, but he needs a yard with big gaps and deep fences.

    Ideal park: Fenway Park, Boston

    The No. 1 stadium for doubles and triples, Fenway is right for Holliday's high contact bat and good wheels.  He could reach his 25 homers easily, while knocking in droves of runners in front of him.  

12. Ichiro, Seattle Mariners

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    Ichiro has been one of the best hitters in baseball for his entire 10 years.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Ichiro is unique on this list because he does not hit for any kind of power, but is well-deserving.

    Safeco Field, the home of his Mariners, is one of the worst hitter's parks in baseball, especially for speedsters, gap hitters, and sluggers.  

    Ichiro is such a good hitter, though, that he has managed a career .331 average and scored over 100 runs in all but three seasons at Safeco.  Ichiro is predominantly a singles hitter, and ballparks don't exactly differentiate themselves statistically on singles.  

    We know what Ichiro is (an unrivaled contact hitter with speed) and what he's not (a power hitter), so his might be a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." A .331 career average and 200 hits in every season: how can a better ballpark improve that?

    Ideal park: Safeco Field, Seattle 

11. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    CarGo erupted into the scene of baseball's best hitters.Scott Boehm/Getty Images

    We've only seen it for one full season, but Gonzalez filled up the hitter's stat line better than anyone in 2010.  He went for 34 doubles, nine triples, 34 HR, 111 R, 117 RBI, 26 SB, .336 average on his way to a top 3 finish in the NL MVP race.  

    Because he is so young (25 years old) and has only one full year of numbers, it is difficult to project out on his career or what exactly the Coors Effect is on him. 

    This is a no-brainer based on stadium metrics.  Coors is tops in runs, hits, and batting average on balls in play (BABIP), fourth in doubles and triples, and sixth in home runs.  

    Coors can do it all, and so can CarGo, which is why he will stay there for the next several years.

    Ideal park: Coors Field, Colorado

10. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Longoria had a down year, but still put up strong hitting numbers.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Longoria has prodigious power already, but it doesn't always translate to round-trippers. It isn't always the case, but many times, a hitter's doubles count is a good measure of his power.  

    Think about what doubles are: squarely hit line drives/fly balls that approach or carom off the wall.  Often times, the difference between a 400-foot homer and a double in the gap is centimeters on the angle of bat contact.

    Longoria finished second in baseball in doubles with 46.  He tripled five times and homered 22 times. That's a lot of extra-base hits, which would seem to fit best in a stadium with large gaps and deep fences.

    Tropicana Field, where the Rays play their home games, shows pretty neutral averages in terms of pitcher/hitter breakdown.  There are many parks that would fit this guy's sweet stroke better.

    Ideal park: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas

    A high left-field wall, deep left-center gap, and the humid air make this field a strong fit for Longoria's extra-base hit proclivity.  It ranks just behind Coors in many categories as the second-most friendly park for hitters.    

9. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

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    Teixeira, the only switch-hitter on this list, swings it much better from the left side.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    There is no doubt that Tex's stats get a little bump as a result of being in the middle of the vaunted Yankee lineup, but his chops as a hitter are elite nonetheless.

    His biggest shortcoming in recent years has been his ability to make consistent contact and maintain a .300 average, and that's me being picky about one season under .290.  Teixeira is not fleet of foot, but still manages almost 40 doubles a year in addition to his 35 home runs.

    It's hard to argue with Yankee Stadium for this left-dominant slugger, but another park suits his gap power better for run producing and average.

    Ideal park: Chase Field, Arizona

    Chase Field trails only Fenway in extra-base hits and only Coors in hits and runs.  The cavernous right-center field dimension and high center field wall are made for a left-handed power hitter. 

8. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Braun's strength and sweet swing equal some serious power numbers.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In a down year for him, Braun experienced a serious downturn in his power numbers in 2010.  It would appear that a lot of his career-high 46 doubles just missed being home runs in how they were struck.

    Braun's run production was steady, so the home run drop/double increase seem to be isolated and related. Perhaps Braun's home run numbers from his first three years were a little inflated and that he's actually more a 28-home run hitter than a 35-home run hitter.

    At any rate, his doubles numbers are strong and only getting stronger.  His speed and ability to take the extra base might suggest that a smaller ballpark more conducive for home run hitting is right for him.  

    Miller Park's friendliness to lefties and pitchers might be catching up with him in the home run category. Personally, I don't buy that; guys like Braun can hit for power anywhere.

    I think this is the beginning of a career trend that leads Braun more into the doubles category and out of home runs while maintaining his run production.  

    It's time to get him out of Miller Park and into a doubles-heavy haven where home runs are still feasible.

     

    Ideal park: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City

    The Royals' park rates third worst in home run average, but is surprisingly second in BABIP and third in doubles and triples.  Braun could settle in here and rope doubles and triples all over the wide alleys while still hitting his 30 bombs.   

7. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

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    Ramirez isn't a power hitter, but is so well-rounded that he easily manages 20 homers a year.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    We already established that Carlos Gonzalez filled up every category better than any hitter in baseball, but Hanley was the only one who came close to matching him.  The ability to hit for power, doubles, contact, and RBI is startling.  

    Because of his blazing speed, Ramirez doesn't need huge gaps to get his doubles and triples, but he doesn't need short fences, either to hit his home runs.  No other leadoff hitter could launch over 20 home runs in very neutral Sun Life Stadium like Ramirez does.

    Sun Life clearly isn't the best park for a hitter to be in, so let's find an alternative that really allows runs, doubles,and triples well.  

    Ideal park: PNC Park, Pittsburgh

    This isn't exactly ideal, but I'm running out of ballparks here.  PNC ranks in the top seven in each of hits, doubles/triples, and BABIP while slouching in runs and home runs.  

    Not to worry, Hanley is the best run scorer in baseball, which will compensate for the difficulty of scoring there.  

6. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

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    Cano provides some serious (and rare) power from second base.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Forget being an elite hitter at his position, this guy is at the top of the list in all of baseball.

    His game has always been great contact and line drives to the gaps, but his now the power is starting to surface with back-to-back 25+ homer seasons.  His .320 average over the last two years is stellar, and he seems to keep rounding out his game while maintaining his numbers in his strengths.  

    Again, the Yankee stat bump is in play as with Teixeira, and the stadium is ideal for those who play in it.

    However, home run numbers in Yankee Stadium were shockingly low relative to other parks, so, to accommodate Robby's rising power numbers, we're going to set him up in a more power-geared yard.

    Ideal park: Camden Yards, Baltimore

    He is elite in terms of runs, doubles/triples, and BABIP, so the below-average numbers for those categories at Camden Yards are neutralized.  He'll get his in those categories. This yard is optimized for moon shots, averaging the fifth-most home runs of any park.  

    As Cano hones that part of his game, he'll sure appreciate the lift that Camden Yards gives him. 

5. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    Mauer's batting eye is unmatched.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Mauer's 2010 was a far cry from his MVP season in 2009.  After belting 28 home runs in 2009, Mauer swatted only nine last season.  The latest home run total is much closer to his career average than the 2009 total, so there is reason to believe that the 28 home runs was an extreme outlier.  

    Having never reached 100 runs or RBI, Mauer is less concerned with power and more about setting his teammates up to drive him in.  He experienced almost a 33 percent spike in doubles last year, which mirrors the pattern of Ryan Braun's numbers (fewer homers, more doubles).  

    Target Field is too young to have enough data to make generalizations about its characteristics, but let's assume that Mauer could fare better elsewhere.

    Ideal park: Wrigley Field, Chicago

    The Friendly Confines are optimal for high batting averages, runs, and doubles, ranking ninth or better in each.  Wrigley is 11th for home run hitters, so we won't tempt Mauer with the long ball and let him focus on his batting average and doubles. 

4. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    Miggy has enjoyed his transition to the American League, but would like to find himself in a better park than Comerica.Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Cabrera has stood every test thrown at him.  Many thought his numbers would be significantly higher in the AL than in the NL as happens with most players.  Aside from home runs, they didn't.  

    People thought that going to Comerica would hurt his power numbers.  It didn't.  In fact, his home runs have risen and stabilized around 35 on average.  

    It seems like the park doesn't matter at all and that this guy will put up the same numbers no matter what field he's hitting on.  That said, Comerica Park has actually reversed its averages, essentially becoming a hitter's park when it was previously thought otherwise.

    Once again, it's foolish to mess with something that's going great, so we'll leave Miggy in this borderline hitter's park.

     

    Ideal park: Comerica Park, Detroit 

3. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    Votto's MVP season took the NL Central by storm.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The reigning NL MVP might have been the most valuable last season, but it's going to take more than one season of excellence to pass up No. 1 on this list.

    Votto's across-the-board numbers are fantastic, logging scores of doubles, homers, runs, RBI, and average, while leading baseball in on-base percentage.  

    Tough to beat Great American Ballpark in Cincy for a power/average hitter like Votto, but since he's so good in other categories to compensate for low park averages, I'm going to send him to a different NL Central venue:

    Ideal park: Miller Park, Milwaukee

    Ranking in baseball's bottom third in every category except home runs and doubles, this park works just right for Votto.  

    Miller Park shows slight favor toward left-handed sluggers like Prince Fielder and already has the 13th-best home run average.  Among the remaining options, this is the right one for Votto.

     

2. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    Hamilton's MVP season was a long time coming for the resurrected star.Elsa/Getty Images

    The fact that he beat out Miguel Cabrera for the MVP was based solely on team success, which I have no problem with.  Cabrera had better overall numbers than Hamilton, but Josh clearly was the heart and soul of a team that went to the World Series for the first time ever.  

    Even at 30 years old, Hamilton's swing and natural ability to play baseball are probably the best in the majors.  Everything he does looks so effortless, which is why a migration to a new park wouldn't be any trouble for him.  

    Like every other guy in the top 8, you could stick Hamilton at any dish in any park and he'd light up the scoreboard like a firework on the Fourth of July.

    Hamilton loves hitting in Arlington, but he doesn't need the extra advantages of hitting in that park.  He loves another park that he often gets to visit:

    Ideal park: Angel Stadium, Anaheim

    Ranking bottom-half in only one category, Angel Stadium is very comfortable for Hamilton. With the short wall at the right field pole, Hamilton can easily take his short swing over it on the line drive, as well as go out anywhere else.  

    But beware powering up at night: the Southern California marine layer knocks the ball down significantly, which contributes to the below-average home run rate. 

1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Albert's eye and swing equate to success in any park, even Yellowstone.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    No surprise here.  Pujols is and has been the best hitter in baseball for nearly a decade.  He has it all. Anything you can ask for in a hitter, he does it, and better than almost all.

    There's really not much to say here that hasn't been said already.  This page that shows his season and career totals should do the trick.  A couple things to note: his consistency, durability, and balance. 

    The fact that he does what he does in Busch Stadium, the second-worst park for hitters, is mind-boggling. As transcendent as he is at the plate, it looks like he could actually be significantly better in the right ballpark...which is why I saved him one in the top 5 of all hitter's parks.  

    This park ranks eighth in both hits and runs, fourth in home runs, 13th in doubles and triples, and 14th in BABIP.  

    Those are marked improvements over the rankings at Busch, so if you ever see Albert sign with the Phillies, look for records to fall very soon.

    Ideal park: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

Notable Omissions

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    Notably absent (for good reason): new Red Sox Carl Crawford.Elsa/Getty Images

    Yes, you've reached the end.  And yes, I know there are some seriously great hitters missing.  All-Stars even.  This is the page where I tell you that I had to make the cutoff somewhere and that not everybody could make the list.  

    If they made the list, there were good reasons.  If they didn't, ditto.  So take a deep breath, save your words for the comment board, and read these names:

    Prince Fielder

    Ryan Zimmerman

    Chase Utley

    Carl Crawford

    David Wright

    Alex Rodriguez

    Vladimir Guerrero

    Justin Morneau

    Brandon Phillips

     

    There are probably some more that you'd want me to put on there.  The fact is, this list could change year by year and anybody's evaluation of the top 15 could be correct.  I'm just grateful that there are so many great hitters to watch in baseball today.

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