Nobody Is Hitting the Ball Harder Than the Detroit Tigers
Hitting a baseball is far from easy, but it sure sounds simple when you hear someone say, "If you consistently hit the ball hard, good things are bound to happen." That school of thought makes a lot of sense, but what if good things don't actually happen as often as they should?
That's part of what makes baseball either beautiful and frustrating, depending on who you ask.
While there are nearly twice as many qualified hitters with a hard-hit rate over 40.0% so far this year compared to the 2016 campaign, there's one team in particular that's been head-and-shoulders above the rest virtually all year, and that's the Detroit Tigers.
Just About Everyone Is Doing it
When we say Tiger hitters are bathing in hard contact, we're not kidding.
Their team hard-hit rate is currently 40.7% heading into action on Tuesday, which leads the league by a significant margin. While Detroit will miss the contributions from J.D. Martinez and his 47.0% hard-hit rate since he now plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks, there are other hitters on the roster who can pick up the slack.
The below table is Tuesday's projected starting lineup from numberFire's Game Information & Starting Lineups page, along with the number of plate appearances they've accumulated this season and the hard-hit rate they've produced thus far.
And it's not like their bench players are slouches, either: Alex Avila (50.0% in 256 plate appearances, Dixon Machado (31.3% in 81 plate appearances), and Andrew Romine (31.1% in 212 plate appearances) are doing just fine in this department.
At the moment, the league average hard-hit rate is 32.1%. So, only three of the above 12 Detroit hitters are below that, and the nine above that number rather easily.
This Doesn't Happen Often
There is still most of the second half left to play, but how rare would that 40.7% team hard-hit rate for Detroit be if they kept it up through September? So rare that they'd be the only squad to break the 40.0% mark since 2002, which is how far back quality of contact data goes on FanGraphs. So, the it looks like the Tigers are controlling their destiny here.
Eight of the top 10 teams in hard-hit rate since 2002 came during the 2007 campaign, with both the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies tied at the top with a mark of 36.5%. The Tigers may not be the only team to break into the top-10 this year, either -- the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and Arizona Diamondbacks would also shove their way into this elite group if the season ended today.
The common theme through all of this, though, is the fact that the Tigers are clearly ahead of the pack. Now, only if they could take advantage of it, they'd be in business.
Not Reaping the Benefits
Hitting the ball hard more frequently than anyone else is never not a good thing, but it's more a point of frustration when a player and/or team can't truly capitalize on it. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they've been mostly frustrated this year.
They're currently 45-53 entering action on Tuesday, and while their 103 team wRC+ is among the top-10 in baseball, it's hard to fathom that a team on pace for the best hard-hit rate since 2002 has an offense that's barely above average as a unit.
It's even more frustrating when comparing their team batted-ball profile against the league average. The statistics looked at below include line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (HR/FB%), and BABIP.
Since Detroit's hard-contact rate is more than eight percentage points above the league average, one would assume they'd experience more success than they have to this point. Playing home games at Comerica Park -- which ranks 16th in park factor and 18th in home run factor over the past three seasons -- certainly doesn't help, but either way, manager Brad Ausmus are not seeing the results despite having what mostly seems like a sound process at the plate.
It'll still be cool if they can keep this going over the next couple months, but with August right around the corner, it appears to be too late for the Tigers to take advantage of the historical pace they're on.