B/R's 2022 MLB Skill Rankings: Shohei Ohtani and Baseball's Top 25 Power HittersJanuary 8, 2022
B/R's 2022 MLB Skill Rankings: Shohei Ohtani and Baseball's Top 25 Power Hitters
The question is simple enough: Who was baseball's best power hitter in 2021?
However, rather than simply looking at home run totals, I decided to take a more analytical approach to compiling my list of the sport's most prolific sluggers.
The first step was to decide what combination of statistics best quantify power.
After some digging and debating, I landed on these four:
- Average Exit Velocity (EV): The average velocity off the bat of all balls in play.
- Hard-Hit Percentage (HardHit%): The frequency with which balls in play travel 90 mph or faster.
- Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG): Per MLB.com: "Expected Slugging Percentage is more indicative of a player's skill than regular slugging percentage, as xSLG removes defense from the equation."
- Home Run Total (HR): Since on-field production should still count for something, each player's 2021 home run total was also part of the equation.
The question then became how to best use those statistics to best demonstrate the difference between Player A and Player B in terms of overall power.
My methodology and scoring system is outlined on the following slide.
For those of you who read our Skill Rankings series last year, we've tweaked things quite a bit from the 2021 version.
First off, the only factor used to narrow the list of candidates was that a player simply had to have at least 100 batted ball events in 2021. That resulted in 404 eligible players, which cast a much wider net than last year's version.
The scoring system was also tweaked, with xSLG replacing Barrel Rate, and home run total factored into the equation this time around.
The scoring system breaks down as follows:
- 0.1 point for every 0.1 mph of average exit velocity
- 0.1 point for every 0.1% of hard-hit rate
- 0.1 point for every .001 of expected slugging
- 1 point for every 2021 home run
No bias. No preconceived notions. Just a set of statistical parameters and a straightforward point system to determine the current 25 best power hitters in baseball.
The full data can be found here.
Let's kick things off with a rundown of the 25 players who fell just outside our rankings and make up our honorable mention list.
These 25 players came up just short of earning a spot in our rankings:
- Nick Castellanos, FA (224.2 points)
- Mike Zunino, TB (223.7 points)
- Miguel Sano, MIN (222.9 points)
- Mitch Haniger, SEA (222.8 points)
- J.D. Martinez, BOS (222.8 points)
- Adam Duvall, ATL (221.6 points)
- Joey Gallo, NYY (221.4 points)
- Franmil Reyes, CLE (221.4 points)
- Marcus Semien, TEX (221.3 points)
- Brandon Lowe, TB (221.3 points)
- Rhys Hoskins, PHI (220.9 points)
- Yasmani Grandal, CWS (219.9 points)
- Josh Bell, WAS (219.7 points)
- Austin Riley, ATL (219.6 points)
- Jose Ramirez, CLE (218.8 points)
- Bobby Dalbec, BOS (217.7 points)
- Avisail Garcia, MIA (216.9 points)
- Bo Bichette, TOR (216.8 points)
- Jose Abreu, CWS (216.5 points)
- Patrick Wisdom, CHC (216.3 points)
- Hunter Renfroe, MIL (215.8 points)
- Brandon Belt, SF (215.6 points)
- Darin Ruf, SF (214.7 points)
- Jesse Winker, CIN (213.8 points)
- Mitch Garver, MIN (213.5 points)
25. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins (225.8 points)
Metrics: 92.5 EV, 51.2 HardHit%, .611 xSLG, 19 HR
With only 173 batted-ball events, Buxton narrowly qualified for inclusion. He played in just 61 games but did a staggering amount of damage in that limited action with 42 extra-base hits in 254 plate appearances. That helped him post a .611 xSLG that trailed only Fernando Tatis Jr. (.618) and Shohei Ohtani (.612) among players who qualified. Where would he have ranked with a full season's worth of production?
24. Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays (225.9 points)
Metrics: 91.8 EV, 48.8 HardHit%, .533 xSLG, 32 HR
Hernandez proved his breakout performance during the shortened 2020 season was the real deal by hitting .296/.346/.524 for a 133 OPS+ with career-highs in home runs (32) and RBI (116) en route to starting the All-Star Game. He sometimes gets lost in the shadow of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but he's a rising star in his own right.
23. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres (226.1 points)
Metrics: 93.1 EV, 52.0 HardHit%, .530 xSLG, 28 HR
Despite falling just short of his sixth career 30-homer season, Machado still posted terrific power-hitting metrics across the board. His .530 xSLG was well ahead of his actual .489 slugging percentage, and he did a good chunk of his damage during a ridiculous month of July, when he hit .371/.448/.742 with eight home runs.
22. Freddie Freeman, free agent (226.3 points)
Metrics: 91.4 EV, 45.7 HardHit%, .582 xSLG, 31 HR
Freeman is a more well-rounded player than the traditional all-or-nothing slugger who has often occupied the first base position over the years. The emergence of Austin Riley helped provide him with some needed protection in the batting order after Ronald Acuna Jr. was lost for the year, and he turned in the third 30-homer season of his career.
21. Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros (226.4 points)
Metrics: 91.4 EV, 47.0 HardHit%, .580 xSLG, 30 HR
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Tucker has always had tremendous power potential with a smooth left-handed swing and a long-limbed 6'4" frame. The 2021 season was his first full year in the majors—not counting the abridged 2020 campaign—and he responded with a 147 OPS+ that ranked ninth among all qualified hitters.
20. Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins (226.9 points)
Metrics: 94.1 EV, 52.7 HardHit%, .541 xSLG, 26 HR
Only Aaron Judge (95.8 mph), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (95.1 mph) and Giancarlo Stanton (95.1 mph) had a higher average exit velocity than Donaldson among the 404 hitters who qualified for inclusion in these rankings. The 36-year-old stayed healthy enough to play 135 games in the second season of his four-year, $92 million deal.
19. Nelson Cruz, free agent (228.3 points)
Metrics: 92.9 EV, 52.0 HardHit%, .514 xSLG, 32 HR
Despite turning 41 years old in July, Cruz continues to be one of baseball's most feared sluggers. His 449 career home runs are behind only Albert Pujols (679) and Miguel Cabrera (502) among active players, and unlike that duo, he is still producing at an elite level. His 32 homers in 2021 gave him the eighth 30-homer season of his career.
18. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals (228.8 points)
Metrics: 93.0 EV, 52.4 HardHit%, .544 xSLG, 29 HR
With a league-leading 145 walks and .465 on-base percentage, Soto might sit atop the plate discipline rankings, and a lot of that stems from pitchers giving him nothing to hit in the middle of an underperforming lineup. He hit just 11 home runs before the All-Star break but picked up the pace during the second half. He doesn't sell out for power, or he could make a serious push for the No. 1 spot.
17. Pete Alonso, New York Mets (229.4 points)
Metrics: 91.0 EV, 47.3 HardHit%, .541 xSLG, 37 HR
Alonso leads all hitters with 106 home runs over the past three seasons, and that includes a rookie-record 53 long balls in 2019. The Mets used 12 different players in the No. 5 spot in the batting order last year, while Alonso hit primarily cleanup. Finding more consistent protection for him could pave the way for another 50-homer season.
16. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (229.6)
Metrics: 91.6 EV, 48.4 HardHit%, .506 xSLG, 39 HR
After hitting just .195 with a 103 OPS+ during the 2020 season, Olson bounced back in a big way to finish eighth in AL MVP voting. The 27-year-old set full-season career highs in almost every notable offensive category, including home runs (39), RBI (111), OPS+ (153) and total bases (305). With the A's willing to listen to trade offers for their entire roster this winter, will he be playing elsewhere in 2022?
15. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals (231.2 points)
Metrics: 92.6 EV, 50.2 HardHit%, .574 xSLG, 31 HR
The Cardinals used a red-hot second half to sneak into the postseason, and Goldschmidt was at the center of it all with a .330/.402/.618 line and 18 home runs in 70 games after the All-Star break. His .521 career slugging percentage ranks 10th among active players and 66th on the all-time list, and he has six 30-homer seasons to his credit in 11 years.
14. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers (231.6 points)
Metrics: 91.2 EV, 46.3 HardHit%, .581 xSLG, 36 HR
A late-bloomer who didn't break out until his age-27 season, Muncy has quietly been one of baseball's most consistent power sources over the last four years. After tallying 35 homers each in 2018 and 2019, he launched a career-high 36 long balls this past season. His mix of power, on-base ability and defensive versatility make him a uniquely valuable player.
13. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves (232.2 points)
Metrics: 93.8 EV, 53.9 HardHit%, .605 xSLG, 24 HR
Acuna was at the forefront of the NL MVP conversation when a torn ACL brought his season to an abrupt halt on July 10. The lack of counting stats is the only reason he doesn't rank higher on this list, and he has the highest ranking among players with fewer than 30 homers. He'll challenge for a top-five spot in 2022 with a clean bill of health.
12. Kyle Schwarber, free agent (232.9 points)
Metrics: 92.3 EV, 52.2 HardHit%, .564 xSLG, 32 HR
Schwarber hit 12 home runs during a 10-game stretch at the end of June, batting .390 with a 1.713 OPS during a truly next-level hot streak. The 28-year-old does not yet have the requisite 3,000 career plate appearances to qualify for inclusion, but his 14.41 at-bats per home run would currently rank eighth on the all-time list.
11. Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (235.1 points)
Metrics: 95.1 EV, 55.6 HardHit%, .494 xSLG, 35 HR
Limited to 41 combined games in 2019 and 2020, Stanton was healthy and productive for just the second time in his Yankees career in 2021. Over the final two months of the regular season, he logged a .969 OPS with 19 home runs and 51 RBI in 56 games. His 13.95 at-bats per home run is good for fifth on the all-time list behind Mark McGwire (10.61), Babe Ruth (11.76), Barry Bonds (12.92) and Jim Thome (13.76).
10. Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros (237.4 Points)
Metrics: 93.2 EV, 54.2 HardHit%, .570 xSLG, 33 HR
After a lost 2020 season, Yordan Alvarez picked up right where he left off following his 2019 AL Rookie of the Year performance, back when he posted a 173 OPS+ and launched 27 home runs in 87 games.
With an imposing 6'5", 225-pound frame and a smooth left-handed swing, he led the AL pennant-winning Houston Astros in home runs (33) and RBI (104), and he was equally productive against right-handed pitching (.874 OPS, 20 HR) and left-handed pitching (.881 OPS, 13 HR).
The 24-year-old continued to rake during the postseason, winning ALCS MVP honors while going 12-for-23 with five extra-base hits against the Boston Red Sox.
9. Tyler O'Neill, St. Louis Cardinals (237.5 Points)
Metrics: 93.0 EV, 52.2 HardHit%, .583 xSLG, 34 HR
Tyler O'Neill has always had tantalizing raw power potential, dating back to his time in the Seattle Mariners farm system.
He had a 32-homer season at High-A in 2015 and a 31-homer season at Triple-A in 2017, but he was still searching for anything remotely resembling that level of production entering the 2021 season. The 26-year-old was a career .229/.291/.422 hitter with 21 home runs in 171 games entering the year, and he hit just .173 with a 70 OPS+ in 2020.
Like much of the St. Louis Cardinals roster, he caught fire in September, hitting .328/.377/.731 with 13 home runs and 30 RBI in 32 games. That was the perfect cherry on top of a breakout year.
8. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies (237.7 Points)
Metrics: 92.5 EV, 49.2 HardHit%, .610 xSLG, 35 HR
Bryce Harper won NL MVP honors for the second time in his career in 2021, hitting .309/.429/.615 with 42 doubles, 35 home runs and a league-leading 179 OPS+ for a Philadelphia Phillies team that hung around in the wild-card race all year.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft now has 267 career home runs through his age-28 season. That makes him one of just 23 players in MLB history with at least 250 career long balls at that age, and that list is essentially a who's who of all-time great sluggers.
His career will always be under a microscope, and he will always have his fair share of detractors, but Harper is undoubtedly on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
7. Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox (239.2 Points)
Metrics: 92.9 EV, 51.5 HardHit%, .568 xSLG, 38 HR
It's easy to forget sometimes that Rafael Devers just turned 25 years old shortly after the 2021 regular season concluded.
One of the more hyped international signings in recent memory, Devers flew through the minors and made his MLB debut at the age of 20. He hit just 21 home runs in his first full season in the majors, but he followed that up with a breakout performance in 2019 when he posted a 132 OPS+ with 32 home runs and an AL-leading 54 doubles.
A few more of those doubles turned into home runs this past season, as his 38 long balls ranked ninth on the AL leaderboard. It's not out of the question to think he could make a run at a 50-homer season in the not-too-distant future.
6. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (241.3 Points)
Metrics: 92.9 EV, 53.2 HardHit%, .592 xSLG, 36 HR
Who would have guessed?
Joey Votto only hit 38 home runs total in 341 games in the three years leading up to 2021, and it looked like he might be cooked when he batted a career-low .226 with a 107 OPS+ during the pandemic-shortened season.
Instead, he responded with one of the best power-hitting seasons of his career. He posted a .563 slugging percentage that ranked fourth in the National League and tied the second-highest home run total of his career with 36 bombs.
The 38-year-old homered in seven straight games at the end of July, posting an absurd 1.908 OPS with nine total long balls in 33 plate appearances during arguably the most impressive hot streak of the 2021 season.
5. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (251.8 Points)
Metrics: 95.8 EV, 57.9 HardHit%, .591 xSLG, 39 HR
Few players are more imposing in the batter's box than the 6'7", 282-pound Aaron Judge.
Unlike many of his New York Yankees teammates, the 29-year-old managed to avoid the injury bug in 2021, and he put together an MVP-caliber season with a 149 OPS+ and 39 home runs to ultimately finish fourth in the AL balloting.
His 95.8 mph average exit velocity and 57.9 percent hard-hit rate were both No. 1 among the 404 hitters who qualified for inclusion in our rankings, and his 119.0 mph max exit velocity trailed only Giancarlo Stanton (122.2 mph) and Manny Machado (119.6 mph) for the hardest hit ball of 2021.
Will the Yankees let him hit the open market next offseason?
4. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (253.3 Points)
Metrics: 93.9 EV, 55.6 HardHit%, .618 xSLG, 42 HR
With an NL-leading 42 home runs in 130 games, it's not surprising to see Fernando Tatis Jr. rank among baseball's most prolific power hitters.
His .618 xSLG was No. 1 among the 404 qualifiers, and he had 28 homers in 74 games during the first half of the season before he spent much of the second half nursing a nagging shoulder injury that briefly led to a move to the outfield defensively.
The 23-year-old is one of the most dynamic talents in the sport, and with 25 steals in 29 attempts to go along with his impressive power numbers, he and Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. might be the best current threats to join the prestigious 40/40 club.
3. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (253.5 Points)
Metrics: 93.0 EV, 55.9 HardHit%, .566 xSLG, 48 HR
Salvador Perez warned us all his record-setting season was coming.
The longtime Kansas City Royals backstop returned from a 2019 season lost to Tommy John surgery to hit .333/.353/.633 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI in 156 plate appearances during the 2020 season, suiting up for 37 games.
Surely he couldn't sustain that level of production over a full season...
The elite batting average indeed proved unsustainable, but the power numbers did not, as he set the single-season record for catchers with 48 home runs. That number was pumped up by an otherworldly final two months that saw him post a .931 OPS with 22 home runs in 58 games.
There's nothing in his underlying metrics to suggest there was anything fluky about his record-setting season.
2. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (254.2 Points)
Metrics: 93.6 EV, 53.4 HardHit%, .612 xSLG, 46 HR
Shohei Ohtani ran out of steam late in the 2021 season or he might have secured the No. 1 spot.
That wasn't overly surprising considering he was called on to make 639 plate appearances and toss 130.1 innings on the mound in an epic season the likes of which the sport has simply never seen.
Despite hitting just .216/.379/.422 with nine home runs in 235 plate appearances over the final two months of the season, he still finished with 46 long balls and some of the most impressive batted-ball metrics in all of baseball.
There's simply nothing he can't do, and do extremely well, on a baseball field, and his prodigious power was on full display during his MVP campaign.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (257.4 Points)
Metrics: 95.1 EV, 55.2 HardHit%, .591 xSLG, 48 HR
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the perfect example of why it's unwise to overreact to the early returns from a young player who has the physical tools to be a star.
After making his MLB debut shortly after his 20th birthday, he hit a somewhat lackluster .269/.336/.442 for a 109 OPS+ with 24 home runs in his first 183 games in the big leagues.
I distinctly remember more than a few readers calling him a bust in the comments section of various articles. On the scale of takes that have aged poorly, that's among the worst.
The 22-year-old led the AL in on-base percentage (.401), slugging (.601), OPS (1.002), OPS+ (169) and the league in total bases (363) while tying with Salvador Perez for the MLB home run title.
He's just getting started.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.