MLB Power Rankings: The Top 20 Fastball Hitters by the Numbers

Steven Simon@@baseballchatterContributor IIMarch 23, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: The Top 20 Fastball Hitters by the Numbers

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    If you've read some of my other articles, you may know that I'm a big numbers guy; I love sabermetrics and I love breaking down stats to analyze players. 

    When I set out to determine the best fastball hitters in baseball, I was immediately confronted with a choice; since players' stats on individual pitches were not counted before 2002, I had to decide whether to build this list based on numbers or reputation.

    Being the numbers guy that I am, I decided to go strictly by the numbers (and thus this list is only from 2002 onwards). 

    Because I created this list by the numbers I am not saying that these are the best fastball hitters ever, but rather I am saying, statistically, these are the hitters that have been able to produce the most offensive production from a fastball since 2002.

    Furthermore, this list is an overview since 2002 and so some players on the list may be on the decline, while other players who are absent from the list may be on the rise.  

    In order to fully determine a player's ability to handle a fastball, I've looked at three stat categories: Runs Above Average produced via a fastball pitched, Percentage of Fastballs seen, and the Average Velocity of all the fastballs thrown to the hitter. 

    Without further ado...

20. Chase Utley

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    Recognizing and reacting to a fastball is the key to hitting the pitch; however, being able to drive a fastball into the gaps is also reliant upon the hitter keeping good mechanics. 

    Chase Utley has had so much success hitting the fastball because of the great mechanics in his swing.

    In the video above, there are three important things to take notice of in regard to Utley's form: his straight front leg (indicating a strong stance), his strong back leg that has bent, which is natural, but has not collapsed (meaning he will get the most power from his hips he can), and his head, which is down and focused on the spot where his bat is meeting the ball. 

    Truly some great mechanics. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    150.3 60.5 90.4

19. David Wright

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    David Wright has had a lot of success handling a fastball, whether it is on the inside or the outside part of the plate.

    One of the things that makes Wright so dangerous is his ability to do a lot of different things with a fastball; from going with the pitch to inside-outing a pitch, pitchers have had a tough time getting Wright out with a fastball.

    The video above shows Wright punishing a pitcher for leaving a fastball down the middle of the plate.

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    151.9 60.4 90.4

    Changing pace a little bit, I should add that it would not surprise me to see Wright fall off this list in a few years as his mechanics have been getting worse and his inability to hit a high fastball has been becoming more apparent.

    Even in this video, we can see Wright's mechanics off a bit; if you look at his feet, you may notice that both his front and back foot hop back a little bit.

    This not only causes him to lose some power from his hips but it suggests he is opening up to help get around on a fastball middle-in. 

18. Paul Konerko

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    Paul Konerko has had a fantastic career, and it's hard to have as much success as Konerko has had without being able to hit a fastball, and well.

    One of the really important things the video above shows is Konerko bringing his hands to the ball, which was thrown low, rather than dropping his back shoulder.

    This is the difference between the line-drive, which the video shows Konerko hitting, and a pop-up, which would have happened if he would have dropped his shoulder. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    155.7 57.5 90.5

17. Miguel Cabrera

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    Miguel Cabrera has had his fair share of personal problems, but it's hard to argue with the success he has had on the baseball diamond.

    Cabrera is one of the purest hitters in the game; he has a career .313 batting average.

    One interesting thing we can see in the video above is that Cabrera's back foot actually lifts off the ground when he is making contact with the ball; this not only limits his ability to balance, but it also takes away a lot of power from his hips and makes him rely a lot more on the arms to drive the ball.

    Don't think of this as the typical for Cabrera's swing, this is definitely not the norm. Plus, it's hard to suggest one of the best hitters in baseball is doing something wrong, isn't it?

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    160.6 59.1 90.9

16. Carlos Delgado

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    Carlos Delgado is notorious for keeping his 'book,' which keeps track of every single at-bat he's had. In the book, Delgado would write what pitches he saw and what happened in the at-bat; he's a true student of the game. 

    Unfortunately, the video isn't in slow motion, but if you look closely enough, you can see Delgado's timing mechanism (also known as his trigger). Delgado is very well known for this, because he was also in position by the time the ball got to the plate. 

    When trying to find his 'trigger' in the video, notice his leg lift and elbow flinch and then how the leg comes down to the ground and the back elbow ends up up right before his swing. This gives Delgado great balance and maximum power when he is taking a swing. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    161.2 59.9 90

15. Carlos Beltran

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    Learning how to hit the fastball well from just one side of the plate is hard enough, but doing it well on both sides of the plate is a real rarity.

    Nonetheless, No. 15 on our list has learned to do just that as Carlos Beltran is one of the premier switch-hitters in baseball (when he's healthy, of course). 

    I'm a huge fan of Beltran's mechanics, I think he has one of the sweetest swings in baseball.

    An interesting thing to note from the video above is Beltran's front knee; it dips just a bit as the ball comes in, which enables him to swing level rather than having to dip his hands a little bit. This results in the solid line-drive off the bat.

    This is not something most hitters can do and certainly not something any coach will ever teach a hitter.

    That said, Beltran is one of the rare talents who can see a ball so well, and has such a great reaction time, that he can do well with this approach in certain times.

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    162 60.1 90.2

14. Ryan Howard

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    When you combine a high-velocity fastball with a swing produced by a powerful hitter like Ryan Howard, what do you get? The ball traveling a very long distance. 

    When Howard first came into the league, pitchers tried to blow fastballs by him and they quickly learned that it just wasn't possible.

    Howard's batting average dropped a little bit as pitchers started to realize he was struggling with off-speed pitches. Unfortunately for pitchers, that is no longer the case. 

    Nonetheless, Howard still does not see many fastballs because it is only adding fuel to a fire; why supply even more power when Howard is already capable of supplying plenty of that?

    It's the reason he sees the least amount of fastballs of anyone on this list at a rate of 50.6. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    172.4 50.6 90.8

13. Alfonso Soriano

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    Alfonso Soriano may not be performing as well as he used to, but his ability to turn on even the best pitcher's fastball is what gave him all of those great seasons. 

    Soriano's fast bat-speed is one of the biggest reasons why he has had so much success against the fastball. In the video above, this is demonstrated.   

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    192.4 52.6 90.3

12. Todd Helton

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Todd Helton is one of those hitters who won't hit the the ball five miles, but he will make great contact and drive the ball into the gaps. A .324 career batting average definitely backs that up.

    Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a good video of Helton batting, but Helton's stance has two unique features: a higher-than-normal leg kick and his hands held high and close to his helmet.

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    193.8 64.6 90.1

11. Derrek Lee

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    Another great fastball hitter who also has a higher leg kick is Derrek Lee.

    He's another hitter who can just as easily hit the ball to right-center as he can to left-center.

    It is this command with his bat that makes him such a tough hitter to get out. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    195.3 61.3 90.5

10. Chipper Jones

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    Arguably the best switch-hitter to play the game of baseball, it's hard to argue that Chipper Jones isn't a great hitter of any pitch (let alone the fastball).

    How many pitchers can say they tried to set Chipper up with a the off-speed stuff to try and blow their heater by him? And how many of these stories end with Chipper parking it? A lot. 

    Chipper, in his prime, had an exceptional ability to recognize pitches early; this is one of the reasons it was so hard to get a fastball by him.

    Adding to the challenge for the pitchers was the fact that Chipper was a complete hitter, meaning he had few spots in the strike zone that caused him problems. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    202.4 61.4 90.5

9. Mark Teixeira

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    The great switch-hitters just keep on coming as Mark Teixeira checks in at No. 9 on our list.

    Teixeira has the unorthodox wide-open stance at the plate, but it seems to be working just fine for him.

    Some in baseball will argue that pitchers try and save their best stuff for when they face the opposing team's best hitters, and that may be the case with Teixeira; the average velocity of a fastball against Teixeira is 90.7, one of the higher velocities we will find on this list.

    Of course, as we discussed with Ryan Howard, the harder a pitcher throws it, the less power the hitter needs to supply to hit the ball far.

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    204.1 58.4 90.7

8. Lance Berkman

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    Our fourth switch-hitter and the third in a row, Lance Berkman is another extremely talented hitter.

    Some guys have long swings and others have short swings; Berkman is the latter.

    The video above provides a great shot for us to break down Berkman's mechanics and really understand some of the things he does that help make him such a great hitter.

    For starters, Berkman has already shifted his weight back; before even starting the video, we can see Berkman is putting more weight on his back foot.

    As the pitch comes, we can see Berkman move his hands from being close to farther out and his elbow goes from low to high.

    Finally, his front foot comes down from his leg-lift and he is now in the perfect form to attack a pitch, especially a fastball.

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    210.6 63.2 90.8

7. Jim Thome

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    Jim Thome has been turning on fastballs for his entire career.

    Regardless of his age, Thome still seems able to get around on the best fastball pitchers have to offer; and with power like he has when he hits the ball, it is going to go a long way. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    224.4 58 90.5

6. David Ortiz

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    Much like Jim Thome, David Ortiz is another left-handed hitter who has some unbelievable power.

    Ortiz is also another candidate to prove that pitchers try to save their best stuff, or throw a little harder, for the best hitters on the opposite team; the average velocity of a fastball Ortiz has seen since 2002 is 90.9, which ties for the highest velocity on this list. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    226.9 57.2 90.9

5. Manny Ramirez

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    Well we're in the top five now, and who more appropriate to get the top five best fastball hitters since 2002 started than Manny Ramirez?

    Ramirez is a shadow of his former self, but we all remember how amazing he was in his Red Sox years; there wasn't a fastball that you could throw by him.

    And why did pitchers continue to challenge him with inside heat? There are examples on top of examples that show Manny turning on an inside fastball and hitting it over the Green Monster. 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velcoty
    234.3 63.4 90.9

4. Adam Dunn

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    This list obviously has a lot of great power hitters but I don't think any player hits more 'no doubters' than Adam Dunn. When he gets a hold of a pitch, especially a fastball, you know it's going a long way. 

    One of the reasons Dunn is such a successful hitter is because of his fantastic eye. Dunn is a tough hitter to get chasing pitches out of the zone.

    This causes problems for pitchers because often a pitcher will try to get a power hitter, like Dunn, to chase breaking ball pitches out of the zone; when Dunn doesn't chase, the pitcher falls behind in the count and is forced to throw a fastball in the zone. I think you know how this ends (if not...see video above).

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    236 58.7 90.4

3. Bobby Abreu

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    No. 3 on the list is Bobby Abreu. Much like Adam Dunn, Abreu has a fantastic eye and is not afraid to work the count and, again, this will often put Abreu in a good count to see a fastball and drive it. 

    Unfortunately, I couldn't find a quality video but, even from the photo, we can see how good Abreu's mechanics are: his weight is shifted back, ready to explode, his hands are high, and his elbow is up.

    Abreu is a good hitter for young kids to model themselves after, because he has such good mechanics.

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    239.6 62.9 90.5

2. Alex Rodriguez

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    The second-best fastball hitter since 2002 is, of course, Alex Rodriguez. Time and time again, we've seen A-Rod torch a pitcher's best fastball.

    We know that pitchers and their managers continue to try to throw fastball by A-Rod, or at least set him up with a blazing fastball, because his average velocity is tied at the highest mark on this list.

    For a frame of reference, guys like David Eckstein will see fastballs at a velocity in the 89-mph range.  

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    289.2 60.3 90.9

1. Albert Pujols

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    Who else would be the best fastball hitter in baseball since 2002? Of course, it's Albert Pujols. I'm not sure there is a more appropriate nickname in baseball than Albert's: "The Machine."

    Pujols does so much damage when pitchers throw him a fastball that you can combine....COMBINE...the Runs Above Average of some of the guys on this list and still not equal Pujols'!

    He's a clear choice as the best player in baseball right now and, in my opinion, if Pujols can stay healthy and productive we'll be talking about him as possibly the best player to ever play the game.

    It'll be hard to take that title from Babe Ruth, but Pujols' name will certainly be right up there with the Bambino's if he keeps this up. 

    (Also, in the video above, Pujols' home run came off of a slider; still, the moment is such a memorable one that I had to use it for this article). 

    Runs Above Average FB% FB Velocity
    338.7 57.8 90.8