B/R's 2021 MLB Skill Rankings: Aaron Judge and Baseball's Top 25 Power Hitters

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2021

B/R's 2021 MLB Skill Rankings: Aaron Judge and Baseball's Top 25 Power Hitters

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The task is simple: Name the 25 best power hitters in baseball.

    However, rather than simply looking at home run totals or biceps size, I decided to take a more analytical approach to compile my list.

    The first step was to decide which advanced metrics best quantify power.

    After some digging and debating, I landed on these four metrics:

    • Average Exit Velocity: The average velocity off the bat of all balls in play.
    • Max Exit Velocity: The maximum velocity on a ball put in play.
    • Barrel Percentage: How frequently a ball in play is squared up by the hitter.
    • Hard-Hit Percentage: How frequently a ball in play travels 90 mph or more off the bat.

    The question was how to use those statistics to best demonstrate the difference between Player A and Player B in terms of pure power.

    On the following slide, I've outlined my methodology and scoring system, and I encourage you to give that a read before diving into the article.

Methodology

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    To narrow the list of candidates for inclusion, I started by trimming the field to only players who met the following benchmarks since the start of the 2019 season:

    • 100-plus plate appearances
    • .220 or better ISO
    • 90 mph or better average exit velocity (EV)
    • 110 mph or better max exit velocity (maxEV)
    • 10 percent or better barrel percentage (Barrel%)
    • 40 percent or better hard-hit percentage (Hard-Hit%)

    The result was a neat and tidy list of 43 sluggers.

    From there, a point system was implemented that awarded points as follows:

    • 1 point for every 0.1 mph above the 90 mph benchmark in EV
    • 1 point for every 0.1 mph above the 110 mph benchmark in maxEV
    • 1 point for every 0.1 percent above the 10 percent benchmark in Barrel%
    • 1 point for every 0.1 percent above the 40 percent benchmark in HardHit%
    • In case of a tie for total points, the tiebreaker went to the player with a higher maxEV

    No bias. No preconceived notions. Just a set of statistical parameters and a straightforward point system to determine the 25 best current power hitters in baseball.

    The full data can be found here.

    Now, let's kick things off with a rundown of the 18 players who didn't make the cut.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ronald Acuna Jr.
    Ronald Acuna Jr.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    These players fulfilled the initial criteria for inclusion but came up just short of earning a spot inside the top 25:

    • C.J. Cron, Free Agent (152 points)
    • Josh Bell, Washington Nationals (151 points)
    • Pete Alonso, New York Mets (149 points)
    • Brad Miller, Free Agent (129 points)
    • Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (123 points)
    • Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays (120 points)
    • J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox (108 points)
    • Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (106 points)
    • Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (102 points)
    • Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics (102 points)
    • Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays (97 points)
    • Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers (89 points)
    • Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs (87 points)
    • Joc Pederson, Free Agent (84 points)
    • Tom Murphy, Seattle Mariners (74 points)
    • Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers (74 points)
    • Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros (72 points)
    • Wil Myers, San Diego Padres (67 points)

    Note: Tyler Austin, Jung-Ho Kang and David Freese fit the parameters but were excluded from consideration since they are no longer active MLB players.

Nos. 25-21

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    Ronald Acuna Jr.
    Ronald Acuna Jr.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    25. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays (157 points)

    Metrics: 90.9 EV, 114.3 maxEV, 15.6 Barrel%, 44.9 HardHit%

    A surprise inclusion at first glance, Lowe has yet to show what he can do over a full season in terms of power production. He's slugged 31 home runs in 138 games the past two years, so a 30-homer season over a full 162-game slate is well within reach.

            

    24. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals (167 points)

    Metrics: 92.0 EV, 113.3 maxEV, 12.7 Barrel%, 48.7 HardHit%

    A well-rounded and extremely disciplined hitter, Soto had a 32-double, 34-homer season at age 20. He doesn't sell out for power, though he could probably hit even more home runs if he did. As it stands, he should be a perennial 30-homer guy who is consistently in the mix for batting titles.

              

    23. Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays (169 points)

    Metrics: 91.8 EV, 115.9 maxEV, 13.5 Barrel%, 45.7 HardHit%

    Hernandez laid the groundwork for his breakout season when he posted a .939 OPS with 18 home runs in 62 games after the All-Star break in 2019. Acquired in a minor deal that sent Francisco Liriano to the Houston Astros at the 2017 trade deadline, he now looks like a long-term piece in Toronto.

            

    22. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (173 points)

    Metrics: 92.6 EV, 112.5 maxEV, 13.8 Barrel%, 48.4 HardHit%

    Olson hit a dreadful .195 with a 31.4 percent strikeout rate in 2020, but he still clubbed 14 home runs while maintaining a strong 92.3 mph average exit velocity. He has homered once every 14.4 at-bats over the course of his five-year career, and he's just now entering his prime at age 26.

           

    21. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves (192 points)

    Metrics: 90.9 EV, 115.9 maxEV, 13.5 Barrel%, 48.9 HardHit%

    It's a bit surprising Acuna doesn't rank higher, but a quick look at his 2020 metrics shows a player trending in the right direction. His exit velocity (90.6 to 92.4 mph), barrel rate (15.0 to 16.0 percent) and hard-hit rate (47.4 to 57.0 percent) all jumped significantly during the abridged campaign, so expect him to move into the top 10 in short order if he can maintain those gains in 2021.

Nos. 20-16

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    Eloy Jimenez
    Eloy JimenezCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    20. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies (194 points)

    Metrics: 92.0 EV, 116.4 maxEV, 14.6 Barrel%, 46.4 HardHit%

    Harper will forever be under a microscope, more so than perhaps any other player in baseball, and that has led to unfair expectations. His 157 OPS+ last season was the second-highest of his career, and he slugged 13 home runs while tallying more walks (49) than strikeouts (43). He just turned 28, and he's one of the game's best even if he never lives up to that $330 million contract.

             

    19. Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox (196 points)

    Metrics: 91.5 EV, 114.1 maxEV, 13.6 Barrel%, 50.4 HardHit%

    Another young player who made significant strides in 2020, Jimenez should steadily climb these rankings in the years to come. He raised his average exit velocity (91.2 to 92.4 mph), barrel rate (12.8 to 16.5 percent) and hard-hit rate (47.9 to 55.7 percent) relative to his rookie season, and his raw power was viewed as elite throughout his time as a prospect.

             

    18. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics (196 points)

    Metrics: 92.9 EV, 115.9 maxEV, 12.1 Barrel%, 48.7 HardHit%

    While top-notch defense at third base is his calling card, Chapman is also a prolific slugger who tallied 10 home runs in 2020 after a career-high 36 long balls the year before. He may never hit better than .250, but his on-base ability and plus power more than make up for that.

                   

    17. Marcell Ozuna, Free Agent (206 points)

    Metrics: 92.2 EV, 115.6 maxEV, 12.9 Barrel%, 49.9 HardHit%

    After a down season in 2019, Ozuna returned to elite-level production with a 1.067 OPS and 18 home runs to finish sixth in National League MVP voting. It's no surprise to see him on this list, but how will he fit into a baseball world without the universal DH?

           

    16. Franmil Reyes, Cleveland (212 points)

    Metrics: 93.0 EV, 115.0 maxEV, 14.0 Barrel%, 49.2 HardHit%

    With an imposing 6'5", 265-pound frame, Reyes certainly looks the part of a slugger. He mashed 37 home runs while splitting the 2019 season between Cleveland and the San Diego Padres, and he should have plenty more 30-homer campaigns in the tank as he enters his age-25 season.

Nos. 15-11

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    Mike Trout
    Mike TroutAssociated Press

    15. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (216 points)

    Metrics: 91.2 EV, 118.3 maxEV, 18.1 Barrel%, 44.0 HardHit%

    Amid all his struggles the past few seasons, both offensively and defensively, Sanchez has still hit the ball a long way with regularity. That's probably the only reason he has managed to hold onto the starting job for the Yankees, though that could change in 2021 after he was benched in favor of Kyle Higashioka in the postseason.

            

    14. Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins (221 points)

    Metrics: 92.9 EV, 114.2 maxEV, 14.1 Barrel%, 50.9 HardHit%

    Donaldson played just 28 games in the first season of his four-year, $92 million contract, and he turned 35 years old in December. But he can still swing it. Case in point, his 92.8 mph average exit velocity in 2020 was actually higher than the 92.5 mph mark he posted in 2015 when he won American League MVP honors.

              

    13. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (222 points)

    Metrics: 91.7 EV, 116.6 maxEV, 16.8 Barrel%, 47.1 HardHit%

    This is sure to ruffle a few feathers, so keep in mind these are objective rankings based on hard data. Trout lags behind some of the top finishers on this list in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, and that no doubt stems from pitchers working around him. He sees one or two pitches per game he can really do anything with, and he rarely misses them. The rest of the time, he's balancing patience and aggressiveness.

            

    12. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox (224 points)

    Metrics: 92.3 EV, 117.9 maxEV, 12.6 Barrel%, 49.6 HardHit%

    Abreu has been raking since he burst onto the scene with a 36-homer, 107-RBI season in 2014 to win AL Rookie of the Year honors. He set a career high in slugging percentage (.617) while launching 19 home runs and tallying 60 RBI over 60 games in 2020 to win AL MVP.

            

    11. Kyle Schwarber, Washington Nationals (243 points)

    Metrics: 93.4 EV, 117.6 maxEV, 13.3 Barrel%, 50.0 HardHit%

    The embodiment of a one-tool player, Schwarber was worth $10 million to the Washington Nationals on a one-year deal after he was cut loose by the Chicago Cubs. He has homered once every 14.9 at-bats in his career, and his 49 home runs since the start of 2019 are tied for 13th among all players.

10. Edwin Rios, Los Angeles Dodgers (245 Points)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Metrics: 92.6 EV, 112.5 maxEV, 17.6 Barrel%, 51.8 HardHit%

    I figured going in that the low threshold of 100 plate appearances might mean an unexpected player with a small sample size of success could sneak into the rankings.

    Edwin Rios is that guy.

    The 26-year-old has hit 12 home runs in 139 plate appearances at the MLB level the past two seasons, and he wore out Triple-A pitching in 2019 to the tune of a .915 OPS and 31 home runs in 104 games.

    Depending on how things play out with Justin Turner and DJ LeMahieu on the free-agent market, he could be the in-house answer to fill the void at third base. Regular playing time over a full season could make him awfully fun to watch.

9. Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals (247 Points)

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Metrics: 92.5 EV, 115.7 maxEV, 16.7 Barrel%, 49.8 HardHit%

    A hyped Cuban defector, Jorge Soler never quite lived up to lofty expectations in his three seasons with the Chicago Cubs and was ultimately traded to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for closer Wade Davis.

    Injuries limited him to 96 games in his first two seasons in Kansas City before everything clicked in 2019. He set a franchise record with an AL-leading 48 home runs.

    Despite middling numbers overall, he actually improved his barrel rate (16.3 to 18.5 percent) and hard-hit rate (49.8 to 50.0 percent) in 2020, so another prodigious home run total could be forthcoming.

8. Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros (252 Points)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Metrics: 92.4 EV, 117.9 maxEV, 15.8 Barrel%, 49.1 HardHit%

    After missing the start of the season with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Yordan Alvarez played just two games for the Houston Astros before he was sidelined again with a knee injury that required season-ending surgery.

    Despite being a non-factor last year, his production during his AL Rookie of the Year-winning season in 2019 was still enough to vault him into the top 10.

    Between the 56 games he played at Triple-A and the 87 games he played in the majors, Alvarez launched 50 home runs over 143 games in 2019. That is a total he's more than capable of reaching over a full season at the MLB level.

7. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (259 Points)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Metrics: 92.7 EV, 115.9 maxEV, 15.6 Barrel%, 51.7 HardHit%

    There's not much Fernando Tatis Jr. doesn't do well on a baseball field, and that includes hitting the ball extremely hard.

    He led all qualified hitters in average exit velocity (95.9 mph) and hard-hit rate (62.2 percent) in 2020, and he has already tallied 39 home runs in 143 games during his brief MLB career.

    His elite athleticism, blazing speed and highlight-reel defense give him a profile different than that of the traditional slugger, but he passes the metrics test with flying colors.

6. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers (267 Points)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Metrics: 93.5 EV, 117.9 maxEV, 14.9 Barrel%, 50.4 HardHit%

    The 2020 season was a trying one for Christian Yelich, but there is plenty of reason to believe he'll bounce back to his previous MVP form this coming year.

    His hard-hit rate (55.6 percent) and average exit velocity (94.0 mph) both remained elite and actually represented improvements over his 2019 marks, and his ugly batting average was largely the result of some bad luck, as indicated by his .259 BABIP.

    The 29-year-old is just a year removed from a 44-homer season, and all signs point to a return to elite offensive production with a fresh start and a more traditional ramp-up to the season.

5. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers (273 Points)

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    Mike Stone/Associated Press

    Metrics: 93.1 EV, 115.4 maxEV, 20.2 Barrel%, 48.6 HardHit%

    Joey Gallo finishing outside the top five in these rankings would have severely undercut their legitimacy. There is little doubt by either the eye test or advanced statistics that he is one of the game's premier sluggers.

    After back-to-back 40-homer seasons in 2017 and 2018 while profiling largely as an all-or-nothing slugger, he appeared to take a step forward with his overall approach in 2019, raising his walk rate (12.8 to 17.5 percent) and seeing his average climb (.206 to .253) while slugging another 22 long balls in 70 games before suffering a season-ending injury.

    He was back to being a three-true-outcomes guy this past season, so it remains to be seen if he'll ever take his game to that next level. But there's no question he belongs near the top of this power-driven list.

4. Nelson Cruz, Free Agent (277 Points)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Metrics: 93.1 EV, 117.0 maxEV, 17.6 Barrel%, 50.0 HardHit%

    Father Time catches up to everyone, but Nelson Cruz has been able to evade his grasp so far.

    He averaged 41 home runs in the six seasons prior to the shortened 2020 campaign, during which he tallied 16 long balls in 53 games to finish sixth in AL MVP voting.

    The 40-year-old is now a free agent, and he'll likely have to settle for a short-term deal as a result of his age. But there's nothing under the hood to suggest he's headed for any sort of significant regression just yet.

    He needs 83 more homers to join the 500 club. Even though he's on the other side of 40, that seems plenty likely.

3. Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (327 Points)

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Metrics: 91.7 EV, 121.3 maxEV, 20.9 Barrel%, 48.8 HardHit%

    Giancarlo Stanton has played a grand total of 41 games the past two seasons, and his 166 plate appearances during that span were just enough to qualify for this article.

    That said, he's obviously one of the game's best sluggers.

    Few players are capable of sending the ball soaring out of the ballpark the way the 6'6", 245-pound Stanton is when he's at 100 percent, and his 121.3 max EV is easily the top mark among all players over the last two years.

    After homering six times in seven games during the 2020 playoffs, can he stay healthy enough to make another run at 60 in 2021?

2. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (355 Points)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Metrics: 95.2 EV, 118.1 maxEV, 17.8 Barrel%, 54.4 HardHit%

    At this point, you're no doubt asking: "Who in the world is No. 1?"

    The hulking 6'7", 282-pound Aaron Judge has been demolishing baseballs since his record-breaking 52-homer rookie season in 2017. Well, he has been when he's been healthy enough to take the field.

    The 28-year-old has played in roughly 63 percent of the New York Yankees' games since the start of the 2018 season, and his ability to rank among the game's elite sluggers is contingent only on his availability to be penciled into the lineup.

1. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins (388 Points)

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    Tom Olmscheid/Associated Press

    Metrics: 94.7 EV, 115.8 maxEV, 21.1 Barrel%, 57.2 HardHit%

    Surprised? Me too.

    That said, the numbers are pretty eye-opening in the context of these other great sluggers.

    Since the start of 2019, Miguel Sano leads all hitters with at least 100 plate appearances in barrel rate and hard-hit rate, and he has an advantage of nearly 3 percent over Aaron Judge in that second category.

    The 27-year-old hit just .204 and struck out a staggering 90 times over 205 plate appearances in 2020, which is why he's not talked about in the same category as some of the other players in the top 10.

    His ability to make adjustments to his approach over the next few years will determine if he's the next great middle-of-the-order producer or the next Wily Mo Pena.

               

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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