The Extra Base Hit Kings

In the 2017 season we witnessed the most total home runs in a season by a wide margin. According to baseball-almanac, 2017 saw 6,105 total home runs shattering the previous record set in 2000 at 5,693. But we all know offense is about more than the long ball. Extra base hits are a critical component of player valuation and their ability to produce runs. In 2017, 9 players had an extra base hit percentage of 12% or greater, meaning 12% of all their plate appearance ended in an extra base hit.

The Kings of Extra Base Hits

#1 Jose Ramirez – Cleveland Indians (14.1% XBH%)

Jose Ramirez was an extra base hit machine in 2017 with a whopping 91 total extra base hits, tied for 59th best single season mark in history. He set career highs in doubles (56), triples (6), and home runs (29).

There is no doubting Ramirez’s talent now after two straight years with more than 45 doubles and a .312 batting average. The question with Jose will be if he can sustain this crazy pace he has set. For the most part, the underlying numbers back up the production. He increased his hard hit rate, which was pretty low, increased his fly ball percentage, and maintained an elite BB/K rate. The only place I could really see some regression is with home runs. Ramirez has never been a big power hitter and while his hard hit rate improved, it isn’t elite. He was helped by a career high 14.1% home run to fly ball ratio, and pulled a higher percentage of balls. These two things helped inflate the home run total which may be hard for him to match.

*I will point out that J.D. Martinez was actually higher at 15.1%, but he did not qualify.

#2 Giancarlo Stanton – New York Yankees (13.2%)

First, I’m not going to lie, typing New York Yankees next to Stanton is just odd. What the baseball, the Marlins basically gave him away.

Regardless, it’s no shock to see the 2017 home run leader on the extra base hit leader board. But, this also reminds us that Stanton is more than just a slugger. We all know Stanton smacked 59 home runs, but he also accumulated 32 doubles, a career high, matching Ramirez’s total extra base hits of 91.

There are a few things that stand out with Stanton, the first, and most obvious, is the fact that he played the most games of his career, 159. The second key stat was his ability to significantly reduce his strikeout rate, dropping from 29.8% down to 23.6%. He put the ball in play at a much better rate. The third stat is a little more interesting. Stanton actually had one of his lowest hard hit rates of his career and, according to Fangraphs, was helped by a whopping 34.3% home run to fly ball ratio. As long as Stanton can stay healthy we should expect the home runs to continue, although personally, I am not sure he ever reaches 60.

#3 Nolan Arenado – Colorado Rockies (12.8%)

Nolan Arenado is definitely one of the most underrated players and has put up video game type numbers for three consecutive years. Did you know he has had at least 82 extra base hits in three straight years?

In 2017, Arenado filled the stat columns and accumulated 43 doubles, 7 triples, and 37 home runs, the lowest home run total of the past three years. He has done all of this with an elite strikeout rate for a slugger and has been very durable.

Most people will automatically mention how Coors Field boosts his numbers comparative to others. But looking at his splits, 18 of Arenado’s home runs, 19 doubles, and 2 triples came away from Coors Field. Yes, he has been better at home but his numbers away certainly aren’t lacking. It’s crazy that he is only 26 years old and the best may be yet to come.

#4 Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves (12.7%)

Freddie Freeman has long been a star, but over the past two seasons we are finally seeing the big power break through we’ve been waiting for. Unfortunately, Freeman got injured last year and played in only 117 games. In limited action last season Freeman his 35 doubles, 2 triples, and 28 home runs while once again batting over .300. Freeman boasts strong hard hit numbers and great contact skills that should allow him to continue his power break through, making him one of the elite extra base hitters in the league.

#5 Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers (12.6%)

Cody Bellinger has been known as a slugger for some time in the minors posting an ISO above .200 a few times now. The swing and miss part of his game may always be a challenge, but he was able to keep it at a very manageable level. He piled up 26 doubles, 4 triples, and a whopping 39 home runs in only 132 games. Bellinger had the 6th highest hard hit rate among all qualified hitters and the 10th highest fly ball percentage in 2017. These numbers are very consistent with what we saw in the minors, and as long as he can keep the strikeouts down, he should be a perennial all-star slugger. I’d actually rank him above Judge moving forward as I think he will have more success keeping the strikeouts down.

Some Surprises

Just for fun, here are several other players who surprised me with their high extra base hit percentage.

Eric Thames – Milwaukee Brewers (11.1%)

Eric Thames came over from Korea last year with a bang. Through the first month of the season Thames hit 11 home runs while batting a crazy .345. He looked like a super star. 23 of his 31 home runs came in the first half of the season along with 15 doubles and 1 triple. He definitely cooled down over the second half, but still ended up with a very solid season and did much more than hit home runs. He accumulated 26 total doubles and 4 triples to go along with his 31 home runs.

The biggest challenge Thames faces is he is almost certain to be platooned after being absolutely dreadful against lefties. Thames batted .182 with only 9 extra base hits against lefties and ended up losing a lot of playing time in the second half of the season because of it.

This could actually be a good thing for Thames. He should be a late target in fantasy leagues where you can plug him in against righties and let him mash away. You won’t have to worry about his poor performance against lefties dragging down his average.

Marwin Gonzalez – Houston Astros (11.1%)

Where did that come from? Before 2017, Marwin Gonzales had never had an ISO above .165, never batted over .280, and never hit more than 13 home runs. So where did this season full 34 doubles and 23 home runs come from?

There are really only a few numbers that are of significant difference. He decreased his strikeout rate by over 3%, held a higher BABIP, and increased his fly ball percentage by about 4%. The increase in fly balls is probably the most important reason for the increase in extra base hits and is also one thing he can control. If he can keep the fly ball percentage up and maintain his career rates in other areas we should expect Gonzales to be a similar player.

Adam Duvall – Cincinnati Reds (11.0%)

Duvall has been known as a masher for some time now, hitting over 25 home runs numerous times in the minor league levels. He hasn’t missed a beat in that regard in two full seasons with the Reds, but it’s important to note he has done much more than just hit home runs. For two straight seasons Duvall has hit a ridiculous 70 extra base hits, with 71 in 2017. To go along with a healthy 31 home runs, Duvall hit 37 doubles and 3 triples. Duvall has been an extra base hit machine and there really aren’t any signs of slowing down. Of course, he brings along with him a low .240ish batting average and a high strikeout rate, but he should be pretty consistent.

Yuli Gurriel – Houston Astros (11.0%)

We finally saw what the hype was all about with the old rookie from Cuba. Yulieski Gurriel came over in 2016 and really struggled in the minors before being tossed up to the bigs. Once in the bigs, he actually held his own and contributed well to end the season.

In 2017, Gurriel rewarded the Astros with 62 extra base hits including 43 doubles, 18 home runs, and 1 triple with a nice .299 batting average. Although Gurriel was known for power in foreign league, at 33 he shouldn’t be expected to rack up more than 15-20 home runs, but he should be a solid source of doubles and batting average.

Stats referenced from www.fangraphs.com and www.baseball-reference.com

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