The Best First-Pitch Attackers in Baseball

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIJune 8, 2012

The Best First-Pitch Attackers in Baseball

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    Who are the most aggressive hitters right now in baseball, the players that are the best first-pitch attackers in MLB?

    Picture the best hitters in baseball, especially the guys that seem to come up to the plate looking to take a big swing at the first pitch they see. These are the players that are looking to take a hack from the on-deck circle if they could. I can picture Vladamir Guerrero in his prime, hitting pitches that bounce off of the dirt in front of home plate.

    We are talking about the players that didn't go to the Ted Williams school of hitting, who preached that batters should always take the first pitch. In doing research for this project, we came across a research project by J. Eric Bickel and Dean Stotz from the University of Texas entitled "Batting Average by Count and Pitch Type, Fact and Fallacy". 

    Their research included detailed findings that the best hitters average about .70 points higher and slug .130 points more by swinging at the first pitch. Ted Williams is probably rolling over now in his grave.

    This presentation will feature the 15 most aggressive swingers in baseball in 2012. They won't be mistaken for the "Greek God of Walks". At the end, we will include a bonus slide breaking them down into the top-five for a number of categories, including slugging, total bases and batting average.

    To qualify for our list, batters must have registered at least 200 plate appearances this season as of June 5. All stats and averages were current when this was submitted for publication. Stats utilized are courtesy of ESPN.com., and a link to the stats can be found right here.

15) Ichiro Suzuki

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    Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki isn't experiencing a normal "up" year. His numbers are basically down across the board compared to his normal career year, but then again, Suzuki's standards are quite higher than most players in MLB.

    In 2012, Suzuki has been averaging 3.50 pitches per plate appearance. A career .324 hitter, Suzuki is only hitting .261 this season, which represents a rather large drop of .63 points off his batting average. That is significant. He does have three home runs this year, to go along with 27 runs and 19 RBIs.

    But the OPS of .666 and slugging percentage of 374 are both below a typical year for the Mariners' All Star. He has 17 extra base hits so far on the season, with 86 total bases, another aspect of his game that is starting to tail off compared to what we have been accustomed to.

14) Jose Reyes

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    While Melky Cabrera is an example of somebody that joined a new team that has done wonders for his offense in 2012, Jose Reyes is an example of the exact opposite. Although there are some signs that Reyes is starting to break out of his early season funk, the sample size is large enough to realize that Reyes hasn't fallen in love with hitting in the Marlins new park.

    This season Reyes is averaging 3.48 pitches per plate appearance. He has never been that big in taking walks, but his current .278 batting average is below his career average of .291. Reyes still hasn't delivered a home run in 2012, so the power is clearly down. He has driven in only 12 runs, but has scored 25 times. In 243 plate appearances, Reyes has just 15 extra base hits, leading to 77 total bases on the year.

    Reyes seems to be making adjustments as the year rolls along, but the lack of power has to be somewhat of a concern, as that has been one of the plus assets that Reyes had to offer. His current OPS of .720 and slugging percentage of .363 are both at least .50 points below his career norm. Perhaps there is some sort of injury that he is keeping to himself, but with roughly four months to go, there is still time for Reyes to improve.

13) Dee Gordon

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    Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon will probably never be known as a power hitter. He slaps the ball around the diamond, and if he is able to find a gap, Gordon lets his speed take over, as he can literally fly around the bases.

    Being one of the least experienced players on our list, Gordon may need to cut back on being as aggressive as he currently is. His average of 3.47 pitches per plate appearance makes it almost impossible to draw many walks. Since his batting average in 2012 is only .229, the low average with few walks, led the Dodgers to drop him down from leadoff hitter to the No. 8 slot. For his brief career, Gordon has been a .269 hitter.

    With an OPS of only .558 Gordon is going to either need to develop more patience, or learn what are his best pitches to hit, because the lack of offensive production will cost him at bats. In 207 plate appearances this year, Gordon has only eight extra base hits, leading to his sum of 55 total bases. He has one home run, 22 runs scored and 11 RBIs. The slugging percentage of .286 is nothing to write home about.

12) Robinson Cano

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    While the New York Yankees are known for taking a number of pitches, or fouling off pitches that forces the starting pitcher to leave the game earlier than desired, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano marches to the beat of his own drummer. Cano averages just 3.46 pitches per plate appearance this year, and I assure you that he is the only Yankees player that you will see on this list.

    Cano has hit eight home runs this year, to go along with 24 RBIs and scored 36 runs. He is averaging a healthy .284 batting average, even though his career average is .307. Cano's OPS in 2012 is .840 while his slugging percentage is .498.

    With 28 extra base hits and 105 total bases this year, Cano is still one of the premier second basemen in all of baseball.

11) Andre Ethier

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    Even with superstar outfielder Matt Kemp on the DL, Los Angeles outfielder Andre Ethier continues to have a solid season with his aggressive approach at the plate. This year Ethier is averaging only 3.46 pitches per plate appearance.

    By hacking away early, Ethier is the No. 2 RBI man in all of MLB with 46, trailing only Josh Hamilton in the category. Ethier has hit nine home runs already and has scored 29 runs. His OPS of .917 and slugging percentage of 544 bode well for his contract negotiations as a free agent in 2013.

    In 231 plate appearances, Ethier has hit for 111 total bases and has 28 extra base hits. He is averaging .314 this year, which is a healthy .21 point increase over his career mark of .293. It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers are able to keep Ethier in "Dodgers Blue" beyond the 2012 campaign.

10) Erick Aybar

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    Erick Aybar is more important to the Los Angeles Angels for his glove than for the offense he generates. Aybar averages only 3.44 pitches per plate appearance, but that isn't translating to a very good year with the stick. Aybar has a career batting average of .271, but he is all the way down to .222 this year.

    Perhaps the firing of long-time batting coach Mickey Hatcher this year has impacted Aybar in a negative way. Whatever the reason, Aybar needs to make some adjustments at the plate. He only has nine extra base hits out of 200 plate appearances. He has 53 total bases on the year, which is the lowest total of any player on our list of 15 aggressive hitters.

    In 2012, Aybar has an OPS of .538 and a slugging percentage of .280. As you can imagine, both figures are the lowest of anybody in the presentation. As long as Aybar continues to field his position as well as he does, his job is probably safe. But it sure would make life easier on manger Mike Scioscia if Aybar was swinging the bat better.

9) Jose Altuve

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    Jose Altuve, second baseman for the Houston Astros, is having a very solid 2012 season. Altuve is averaging just 3.43 pitches per plate appearance on the season, and his aggressive style is allowing him to crank out a .316 batting average, slightly better than his career average of .296.

    Altuve has scored 33 runs already for Houston, has hit three home runs and driven in 18 runs. He has 20 extra base hits on the season, and 97 total bases. His OPS of .817 and slugging percentage of .458 suggest that the aggressive style is helping his overall hitting approach.

    It will be interesting to see how well Altuve does when the Astros make the move to the American League, and if the AL pitchers pitch him the same way that the NL has.

8) Starlin Castro

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    While Starlin Castro is having a very solid season at the plate, his mental mistakes in the field may result in him sitting the pine in the near term. Being aggressive in the batter's box can only take you so far. You have to be a complete player, and Castro is learning some valuable lessons this week.

    For the year, Castro is averaging 3.43 pitches per plate appearance. He is batting .305 on the year, which is right in line with his .304 career average. Castro has knocked in 32 runs, scored 23 times and hit four home runs.

    He has a OPS of .742 and a slugging percentage of 423. His 93 total bases and 14 extra base hits at the key shortstop position are all part of why the Cubs view him as one of the few players they will refuse to trade away. Now if he could only keep his focus going in the field too, Castro will be a key part of the Cubs for many years to come.

7) Josh Hamilton

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    Is there a sweeter (or hotter) swing in MLB right now than Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton? Hamilton is off to an amazing start to his 2012 season, as he leads all of MLB with 21 home runs, and his total of 57 RBI's in also leading everybody in baseball by a wide margin.

    Hamilton is averaging 3.41 pitches per plate appearance in 2012. His OPS has zoomed off the charts with an amazing 1.124, and his slugging percentage is a very impressive .717. Hamilton has 31 extra base hits on the year, and his 142 total bases leads all of baseball.

    A career .312 hitter, Hamilton is averaging .348 this year. With Paul Konerko batting .366, Hamilton will have to lift the batting average if he wants to pursue the Triple Crown. He has scored 40 runs and continues to amaze everybody with his effortless swing which generates so much power.

6) Melky Cabrera

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    Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants outfielder, is having a career year. The "Melk Man" as he is affectionately called in San Francisco, is currently leading all of MLB with 83 hits on the young season. Cabrera established a new club record last month, with 50 base hits in May.

    The Melk Man is averaging 3.41 pitches per plate appearance. He is batting a whopping .364 this year, which is .83 points above his average. Cabrera is trailing only Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox by .002 percentage points, as Konerko's average of .366 is currently tops in the majors. Cabrera must love his spacious home park to hit in, as he has already scored 40 runs, drove in 27 RBIs and four home runs.

    Cabrera is sporting a slugging percentage of .538 and has a huge OPS of .944. He has 24 extra base hits and 121 total bases already. If you are lucky enough to own Cabrera in your fantasy baseball league (which I do), you might want to consider wearing a T-shirt at your next league's draft, which simply asks, "Got Melk"?

5) Brennan Boesch

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    As we have sighted earlier in the presentation, just because you made this list, it isn't going to guarantee that you are having a banner year. Just check out the year that Brennan Boesch of the Detroit Tigers is dealing with.

    A career .262 hitter, Boesch is currently sporting a .229 batting average, which is .33 points below his career norm. Boesch has five home runs to his credit, along with 19 RBIs and scored 24 runs. With an OPS of .610 and a .346 slugging percentage, Boesch will need to turn his season around, or he will start losing at-bats.

    Maybe Boesch needs to see more pitches, as the current average of 3.40 pitches per plate appearance haven't been very rewarding so far this year. His totals of only 14 extra base hits in 216 plate appearances, and just 71 total bases suggests that Boesch is really struggling in 2012.

4) Michael Young

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    Michael Young of the Texas Rangers is now 32 years old. His bat speed might not be what it was in his prime, which might help to explain how a career .303 hitter, is hitting .288 this year. Trust me, there are many players that would love to bat .288, but hitting over .300 for your career means that you have great discipline and strong habits that allow you to make adjustments through the various slumps.

    Young is averaging 3.38 pitches per plate appearance this season. He has hit just three home runs, but has helped the Rangers by scoring 25 runs and knocking in 23 runs. His slugging percentage is down to .374 and his OPS is .689, more evidence that Young isn't the hitter that he used to be.

    In 2012, Young has 13 extra base hits, and has tallied 83 total bases on the season.

3) Yadier Molina

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    Yadier Molina, catcher of the St. Louis Cardinals, continues to get better with every passing year. A career .277 hitter, Molina is exploding this year with a current average of .328, and is seeing an average of only 3.36 pitches per plate appearance. 

    In 2012, Molina already has eight home runs, 32 RBIs, 26 runs, an impressive OPS of .900 and a slugging percentage of .527.

    Molina's strong 2012 season is helping to carry the World Champion Cardinals offense, which has lost  Albert Pujols in free agency and a number of players to the DL. Molina has 21 extra base hits on the season, and he has totaled 98 total bases already in 2012.

    It seems the more aggressive that Molina is, the better the results.

2) Ian Desmond

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    Ian Desmond, shortstop of the Washington Nationals, is No. 2 on our list, looking at only 3.31 pitches per plate appearance. 

    Desmond has hit eight home runs, scored 28 runs and knocked in 23 RBIs. He is batting .260 this year this year to go along with a .439 slugging percentage and an OPS of .727.

    For his career, Desmond is right at his normal average of .262. This year he has 23 extra base hits and 98 total bases. Another young player that is helping to turn around the Washington Nationals franchise into contenders. 

1) Alex Rios

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    Nobody currently in MLB is looking at fewer pitches per plate appearance than Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox. Rios has logged 215 plate appearances this year, and is averaging just 3.29 pitches per plate appearance.

    Another words, Rios goes up to the plate hacking away. As of now Rios is averaging a respectable .289 on the year. Of note is that Rios and Andre Ethier of the Los Angeles Dodgers have each been hit four times already this year, which is the most of anybody on our list. Apparently it bothers pitchers that hitters have the nerve to swing at the first pitch, so they are thrown at once every so often to keep them relatively honest.

    On the year, Rios has scored 23 runs, driven in 28 runs, and hit five home runs. His slugging percentage is .442 and his OPS is .781. He is batting 14 points this year above his career average of .275. It seems that being aggressive is quite agreeable with Rios.

Bonus Slide

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    From our group of the 15 most aggressive hitters in the majors right now, we broke them down into the following categories, from a top-five perspective.

    Top 5 OPS:  Josh Hamilton (1.124), Melky Cabrera (.944), Andre Ethier (.917), Yadier Molina (.900) and Robinson Cano (.840).

    Top 5 Home Runs: Josh Hamilton (21), Andre Ethier (9), Ian Desmond, Yadier Molina and Robinson Cano (8 each).

    Top 5 Batting Average: Melky Cabrera (.364), Josh Hamilton (.348), Yadier Molina (.328), Jose Altuve (.316) and Andre Ethier (.314).

    Top 5 Runs Scored: Mekly Cabrera and Josh Hamilton (40 each), Robinson Cano (36), Jose Altuve (33) and Andre Ethier (29).

    Top 5 RBIs: Josh Hamilton (57), Andre Ethier (46), Starlin Castro and Yadier Molina (32 each) and Alex Rios (28).

    Top 5 Slugging Percentage: Josh Hamilton (.717), Andre Ethier (.544), Melky Cabrera (.538), Yadier Molina (.527) and Robinson Cano (.498).

    Top 5 Extra Base Hits: Josh Hamilton (31), Andre Ethier and Robinson Cano (28 each), Melky Cabrera (24) and Ian Desmond (23).

    Top 5 Total Bases: Josh Hamilton (142), Melky Cabrera (121), Andre Ethier (111), Robinson Cano (105) and Ian Desmond and Yadier Molina (tied with 98).

    Thanks for checking out the presentation.