Hitters these days are fighting a constant uphill battle against the game’s incredible array of pitching talent.
That makes it even more impressive when they can adjust and take a big step forward at the plate. And that’s exactly what a number of hitters have done from 2021 to 2022.
It’s not so much about the standard back-of-the-baseball-card results, which often don’t tell the full story, especially in a small early-season sample. Instead, we’ll judge this based on expected on-base weighted average (xwOBA), a scary-sounding stat that simply evaluates a hitter based on strikeouts, walks, and quality of contact (i.e., the exit velocity and launch angle), which helps filter out factors like defense and luck. For context, MLB’s average xwOBA this year is .328.
MLB.com has already highlighted some of the biggest winners recently: sophomore sensations Jazz Chisholm Jr., Wander Franco and Ke’Bryan Hayes, Giants breakthrough Joc Pederson and Mike Trout impersonator Taylor Ward. Here are seven more hitters who have turned things around so far in 2022. (Numbers are through Thursday games.)
Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
xwOBA gain: 83 points (at .412)
It’s been a tough time defensively for Anderson so far (nine errors), but the 2019 AL batting champion continues to hone his craft at the plate. And this is a player who has already topped a .300 average and .800 OPS for three straight seasons.
Anderson is making hard contact more often in 2022, and he’s replaced some ground balls with fly balls and line drives, giving him an elite sweet spot rating. But the real headline here is that the 2021 All-Star has halved his average strikeout rate and now sits in the 94th percentile. Anderson is still a very aggressive hitter, but he’s also putting the bat on the ball more. never. He’s paying off, hitting .333/.369/.514 (163 OPS+).
Some improvers are shooters and some are rebounders. Yelich drops a lot in the latter field, having gone from NL MVP award winner (2018) and runner-up (’19) to a barely average league hitter (2020-21). We probably won’t see Yeli’s flashier peak numbers again, but it’s certainly eye-opening to note that his 2022 xwOBA is nearly identical to what he posted during that MVP campaign (.416).
Long story short, Yelich is back to smashing the ball again, even if it’s not exactly clear why he stopped in the first place. Here’s the story: In all of 2021, he threw 22 balls, which means he made the best kind of contact possible, the kind that typically produces extra-base hits. In just over a quarter of plate appearances, Yelich already has 16 barrels this year.
This is a case where the raw stat line is clearly insufficient. Taking into account the decrease in offense throughout the league, Torres’ OPS had rebounded from 7% below average to 14% above. On top of that, Torres is suffering from a huge gap between his expected and actual output, which masks the gains the 25-year-old has made after a very disappointing 2021 campaign.
The former great prospect, who hit 38 home runs in 2019, is pulling off quite a trick this year. He has increased his hard hitting rate more than almost anyone, going from the 26th percentile to the 90th percentile of MLB hitters. And he has done it by hitting the ball more in the air and striking out at the lowest level of his career. If that continues, the Yankees will celebrate Gleyber Days a lot this year.
As a marketing ploy, hitting .304/.413/.522 to jumpstart his final season heading into free agency sounds pretty good. There’s a long way to go, of course, but it’s especially encouraging that Contreras, who turned 30 on Friday, is backing that line in a big way.
There are two things you want to do as a hitter: make a lot of contact and make good contact. Contreras is doing both much more frequently in 2022. He’s right up there with Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez and Giancarlo Stanton at the top of the MLB hard-hitting rate leaderboard, while shaving roughly 11 percentage points off his strikeout rate. If the Cubs don’t right the ship in the next two months, Contreras is on his way to becoming a coveted target at the Trade Deadline.
Jean Segura, 2B, Phillies
xwOBA Gain: 75 points (at .394)
Segura had been hitting smoothly in 10 straight games through Thursday, batting .457 in that span and raising his line to .307/.369/.485. His career-high 147 OPS+ was second-best on the team, sandwiched between sluggers Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos. The improvements from both Segura and third baseman Alec Bohm have been huge for a Philadelphia club struggling to say in the quest for the NL East.
Segura has always been good at putting the bat on the ball, but not so good at doing it with authority. In the first seven seasons of Statcast tracking, his hard hit rate ranged from the 18th to the 44th percentile among MLB hitters. Last year, he was 30. This year? The 96. Segura entered Friday tied for sixth among those ranked in that category, just ahead of Trout and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. If the 32-year-old can keep scoring like this, his $17 million club option for 2023 will look a bargain.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Brewers
xwOBA Gain: 113 points (at .453)
It appears Tellez, a 30th-round pick in 2013, has found a home in the Brew Crew after arriving in last July’s trade with Toronto. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound left-handed slugger has emerged as a key bat in the middle order for a surprisingly robust Milwaukee offense, slugging .528 and ranking second in the NL in RBIs ( 27).
Even that production is underselling, because while Tellez has always been more than capable of demolishing baseballs, he’s doing it at a truly elite level in 2022. Among the qualifiers, only Trout, Judge and Stanton have a better production expected in contact than Téllez. Combine that with nose and around-average K-rates, and you have a hitter who suddenly looks like a top-tier slugger.
Have the Rays discovered another gem? Ramírez is 27 years old and in his sixth organization, having been acquired in late March by a minor league infielder from the Cubs, who bought him last November from Cleveland, which had smuggled him out of Miami before the 2021 season. In 818 career plate appearances, Ramírez was 10% below the league average offensively.
Ramirez, who crushes lefties, doesn’t play every day and doesn’t seek power. He still takes his hacks (36.7% chase rate). But his shooting rate is in the 92nd percentile, and his line rate has jumped to one of the highest in the game (33.3%), following the lead of teammates Franco and Manuel Margot (another big winner). That helped him hit .311 with a 128 OPS+ for the two-time defending AL East champion.