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The Tigers’ approach of hard opposite field hitting is not paying off yet

One might say the results are hit and miss, but they show promise.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers have gotten off to something of a mediocre start as far as their offense is concerned. They have scored 84 runs (14th in the MLB), have a batting average of .236 (18nd), and a wRC+ of 109 (8th). They have been without J.D. Martinez for the entire season and Justin Upton and Jose Iglesias have each missed some time due to injury. JaCoby Jones (.150/.244/.300, 54 wRC+) and Victor Martinez (.222/.286/.238, 51 wRC+) have gotten off to slow starts, so it is easy to recognize why the Tigers have not done a great job at scoring runs thus far.

However, there is one aspect the Tigers have been excelling at, and it could be an encouraging sign going forward. The Tigers have been hitting the ball hard and they have been hitting the opposite way. And probably most importantly, they have been hitting the ball hard the opposite way.

2017 hard hit percentage

Team Hard%
Team Hard%
Tigers 41.2%
Red Sox 37.1%
Indians 37.0%
Brewers 35.4%
Rays 35.3%
Twins 34.6%
Diamondbacks 34.2%
Athletics 33.6%
Dodgers 33.3%
Blue Jays 31.6%

According to FanGraphs, no team has hit the ball harder than the Tigers. Until recently, Alex Avila had hit everything hard 100 percent of the time (currently now at 71.4 percent). Nicholas Castellanos is atop of the qualified leader board with 58.8 percent hard hit rate.

When it comes to spraying the ball to all fields, the Tigers are once again ranked near the top. They are currently first in the American League at 28.8 percent and third overall in baseball.

2017 opposite field hit percentage

Team Oppo%
Team Oppo%
Nationals 31.6%
Padres 29.3%
Tigers 28.8%
Brewers 28.2%
Reds 27.6%
Astros 27.4%
Yankees 27.3%
Dodgers 27.2%
Diamondbacks 27.1%
Marlins 26.7%

Miguel Cabrera (no surprise) has been the best Tiger hitter at going the opposite way with 42.9 percent and is second in all of baseball. In limited time, Alex Avila has also gone the opposite way 42.9 percent. Victor Martinez is also in the top ten in baseball at number eight with 38.5 percent opposite field hit.

Hitting the ball hard is a great thing as well as going to the opposite field. Both approaches usually result in good offensive numbers. However hitting the ball hard the opposite way is even better. And again, the Tigers rank supreme in this category.

2017 opposite hard hit percentage

Team Oppo Hard%
Team Oppo Hard%
Tigers 34.9%
Diamondbacks 32.9%
Brewers 31.6%
Dodgers 29.0%
Indians 27.6%
Astros 27.5%
Braves 27.4%
Giants 24.8%
Cardinals 24.8%
Nationals 24.5%

The Tigers do not have anyone qualified near the top in the league in this category, although Miguel Cabrera is eighth at 50 percent of his opposite field batted balls hit hard. Nicholas Castellanos and Alex Avila are also at 50 percent, but they lack the number of balls hit the opposite way to make it on the qualified list.

Compared to 2016, the Tigers ranked 11th in opposite field percentage (25.8 percent), sixth in hard hit balls (33.2 percent) and 14th in opposite hard hit percentage (24.1 percent). Being that the Tigers have almost the same roster as they did last year, it seems that they are taking a different approach this year, one that has not exactly panned out yet in the early part of the season. The key word is early. Flukes happen (Alex Avila is not as good of a hitter as he has shown in the first few weeks whereas Victor Martinez clearly is a better hitter than what he has shown).

It has only been a few weeks, so the 2017 numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but here is how certain Tiger hitters are hitting the ball hard the opposite way compared to 2016.

Opposite hard hit percentage

Player 2017 2016
Player 2017 2016
Miguel Cabrera 50.0% 40.4%
Nichaloas Castellanos 50.0% 23.5%
Alex Avila 50.0% 64.7%
Tyler Collins 50.0% 25.0%
Justin Upton 33.3% 22.9%
James McCann 33.3% 25.8%
Andrew Romine 30.0% 11.4%
Jose Iglesias 26.7% 12.2%
Victor Martinez 25.0% 31.1%
Ian Kinsler 10.0% 14.2%

Some things to note:

  • Alex Avila (50 percent) is not too far off from last year (64.7 percent) when he had a reassurance hitting mostly against right-handed pitching. He has gotten off to a great start, with .364/.462/.864 hitting exclusively against right-handed pitching. It is not out of the question that he can duplicate his 104 wRC+ from 2016 as long as he continues to only hit against right-handed pitching.
  • Nicholas Castellanos has the biggest increase (from 23.5 percent to 50 percent). Maybe this is his breakout year.
  • Victor Martinez is not doing as well as last year (31.1 percent to 25 percent), which is a sign of slowing down. It might be hard for him to repeat his 120 wRC+ from last year.

Again, the 2017 numbers come from a small sample size, so small sample size rules still apply. However, there is enough evidence there to suggest a different approach from last year and if we are patient enough we should expect to see some payoffs pretty soon.