Going Deep 8/6 – Naquin, Dickerson, Kepler

Every week Max is using StatCast data and other tools to take a look under the hood at some hitters ripping the cover off the ball, and whether or not...

Every week Max is using StatCast data and other tools to take a look under the hood at some hitters ripping the cover off the ball, and whether or not the skills are legit. This week we’re looking at some emerging outfielders.

Tyler Naquin (Cleveland Indians) – More like Tyler Rakin’, amiright?! Woof. Seriously though, this dude has been absolutely killing it to the tune of a .330/.397/.626 batting line with 13 dingers. Woooooow!, looks like the Indians found the second coming of Manny Ramirez right? WRONG!!!…right?

The easy things to point out in a case for negative regression in Naquin’s batting line are his BABIP (.437), Strikeout rate (29%), and HR/FB% (31%). Naquin leads all of MLB in BABIP among hitters with 230 or more PAs. He leads the next guy by 35 points. And Naquin’s only hitting fly balls at a 30% clip, so expecting a third of those balls to continue to leave the yard would be crazy town. It’s clear his batting average has benefitted from some luck on balls in play, especially since he’s punched out in a third of his PAs. But, when Naquin does make contact he’s hitting the ball really hard. His 41.1% Hard Contact rate ranks 13th with the same PA cutoff we used earlier for BABIP.

Take a look at another thing Naquin’s done well:

That’s a nice looking spray chart with plenty of oppo hits to go with the abundant pull side power. Wait, so can this guy actually sting the ball enough, and in the right spots, to run a higher than average BABIP.

Naquin’s average Exit Velo at 91.4 MPH puts him in good position for hits, his Fly Ball/Line Drive average of 94.6% has him on the cusp of our optimal power band, and his average Home Run distance of 404 ft ties him with Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, and Miguel Cabrera. Uh, those guys are pretty good n’ stuff. Ok, Ok, Ok, BUT, Naquin’s got a .221 AVG and .368 SLG against Four seamers this year. Roughly 83% of the heaters he swings at are either struck foul, or completely missed. It’s clear he has trouble squaring up the cheddar right? So throw him more fastballs, duh. Only, Naquin has managed this ridiculous performance despite seeing the 7th highest percentage of fastballs in the league (230 PAs). Even more confounding are the following heat maps.

Here’s his Contact% on all pitches:

Here’s where pitchers have been challenging him with heaters:

Ok, so clearly pitcher’s know he’s got a gaping hole against high heat, have decided to attack that hole, and yet he’s still destroying them. Hmmm. I thought this guy’s BABIP told me he was gonna explode though?

There’s no question that some of these relevant stats will regress, namely his .296 ISO, and high BABIP and HR/FB%. That’s just because they’re grossly out of proportion with the league averages. The question is how much negative regression are we to expect here? To simply say they’ll come down for ‘coming down’s’ sake is to miss out on some evidence suggesting that Naquin could be a legit fantasy asset. Afterall he hit more fly balls in June (42%) and since he was recalled on the 2nd of that month he’s posted a .300 ISO on four-seamers. And August Fagerstrom highlights some adjustments Naquin’s made in this awesome article from FanGraphs.

Obviously if you can find an owner willing to pay up for Naquin it’s the right time to sell him but if no one’s biting I wouldn’t be rushing to drop this guy. If you’re in a league with daily roster moves he’s an easy platoon as well considering he pretty much never starts against lefties.

Max Kepler (Minnesota Twins) – You may remember Max Kepler from such 3 homer games as monday night when he went yak all over the Cleveland Indians. Tate, tate, aaaaand tate. I think Danny Salazar hit the DL out of shell shock. Kepler homered again the next night, because at that point why not? Impressive stuff for the rookie, but I’m left wanting.

In many ways Kepler’s exactly what you look for in an emerging power hitter. He’s selective (11.3% BB%), Hits the ball hard (39.6%), and pulls the heck out of it (50% Pull%). But it’s not all there quite yet.

Kepler’s average EV on his Flies and Liners is just 91.5 MPH. The average distance of his tates, just 388ft. In fact, of Kepler’s 15 bombs this year 7 have been classified as “Just Enough,” with this one classified as borderline “Lucky.” Side note, I love so deeply when the broadcast cuts to the pitcher after serving up a dinger only to catch him screaming obscenities. Mmm. Sadness. But back to Kepler, his distances and EV doesn’t exactly scream “Slugger!”

Kepler actually hits the ball harder on the ground (93MPH) and given his rather high 44% GB% that’s not fantastic news. Behold, a spray chart.

Kepler pulls a ton of his grounders. Given the EV on those grounders it’d be reasonable to see teams shifting him to take away those hard hit balls in the hole. Kepler will then have to prove he can get hits to the opposite field. Adjustments, thy name is major league baseball.

There’s certainly promise here. Kepler’s usually the kinda guy I like given that he displayed good ISO and K/BB metrics in the minors. Nonetheless, I’m a little bit gun shy about investing too heavily until we see more balls hit hard in the air, and in the ideal angles for power. It’s clear Naquin has made the adjustment, and I’d love to see something similar from Kepler. Check out Eno Sarris’s bit on Kepler too. There’s certainly some promise in keeper leagues.

Alex Dickerson (San Diego Padres) – The recent departures of Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton Jr. have opened the door to consistent playing time for Dickerson and he’s run with the opportunity thus far. Well, until he ran into Travis Jankowski last weekend. A scary sight, but he avoided he DL and was in the lineup last night. So what’s underneath his impressive .286/.337/.560 batting line?

Alex Dickerson




















League Average










To label Dickerson a “free-swinger” might be a stretch. He’s certainly not up there hacking like the Jonathon Schoop’s of the world (61% Swing rate). Nonetheless, Dickerson displays an aggressive approach at the dish. Not a bad thing when you make that kind of contact, and even more intriguing with that kind of batted ball distribution. Dickerson’s doing well at hitting the ball in the air and hitting it hard to his pull side. A key recipe for power and a look at StatCast seems to legitimize what he’s done thus far.

His 94.9 MPH Exit Velo on Fly Balls and Line Drives has him right in line with our optimal target of 95 MPH. He’s managed 8 Batted Ball Events in the optimal power band (20°- 35° launch angle with Exit Velocity >= 95 MPH), not quite an elite volume but nonetheless impressive. His percentage of balls in play within those parameters (2.17%) puts him in the vicinity of fellow outfielders Mookie Betts (2.15%), Jackie Bradley Jr. (2.10%), and Stephen Piscotty (2.18%). And all 6 of his homers, except this one, ranked as “Plenty,” or “No Doubt,” by ESPN’s HR Tracker.

With a Pop Up% well above league average, and not a lot of natural speed, he’s earned his .270 BABIP. And while it seems the latter could get worse with his heavy fly ball tilt, let’s take a look at his spray chart.

Nice to see those Oppo hits, which is a skill that could possibly counteract the damage of some weakly pulled fly balls.

Dickerson was never a “Can’t Miss” prospect. Many doubted his ability to make enough contact at the higher levels for any power to show up in games. Well, that’s certainly not been an issue thus far. The stabilization point on his batted ball mix has passed, so we can believe in him as a pull hitter with fly ball tendencies. And, there appears to be legitimate pop here in a contact oriented skill set. Because the sample is so small here I wouldn’t go nuts for him just yet, but he’s real watchable right now.

All stats provided by BaseballSavant.com, Brooksbaseball.net, ESPN.com, and Fangraphs.com

Max Eddy contributes for Pitcher List and spent his childhood watching and re-watching Ken Burns’s Baseball. When he magically happened to attend Game 4 of the ‘99 NLDS, witnessing Todd Pratt’s walk off homer to clinch the series, his fate as a Mets fan was sealed. Coping mechanisms include Pacifco, BBQ, and playing as much fantasy baseball as possible. You can harass him on Twitter @maxwelleddy. 

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

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