Predicting power in Fantasy baseball is an evolving experiment. Using simple HR and RBI totals is flawed because there are so many factors (and luck) that influence those stats. We’ve used Slugging Percentage and, in recent seasons, OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) has emerged as an “overall” measure of a hitter’s true ability.
Even more recently we’ve welcomed something called Isolated Power (ISO). It’s pretty simple – it’s a batter’s slugging percentage minus his batting average. Without getting too nerdy, it simply measures power by removing singles from the slugging equation. (Just trust me on this; you don’t want me to show you the formulas, do you? Just remember SLG% – AVG.)
Stated another way, it examines how often a batter collects extra base hits.
The league average ISO last season was .151, so anyone who owns an ISO over .200 is hitting with power pretty regularly. Anyone of an ISO of .100 or lower is hardly ever hitting for any power.
So let’s look at the 2012 ISO leaders. We took all players with at least 350 plate appearances and it yielded 223 hitters. Our top 30 looks like this, with the player’s rank in SLG% in parentheses:
|Player||2012 ISO||Player||2012 ISO|
|Giancarlo Stanton (2)||.318||Mike Napoli (64)||.241|
|David Ortiz (1)||.293||Scott Hairston (37)||.241|
|Josh Hamilton (5)||.292||Adrian Beltre (8)||.240|
|Jose Bautista (20)||.286||Aramis Ramirez (13)||.240|
|Edwin Encarnacion (9)||.277||Tyler Colvin (17)||.240|
|Miguel Cabrera (3)||.277||Adam LaRoche (30)||.238|
|Ryan Braun (4)||.276||Mike Trout (6)||.238|
|Josh Willingham (21)||.264||Robinson Cano (11)||.238|
|Adam Dunn (65)||.263||Alfonso Soriano (41)||.237|
|Jay Bruce (28)||.263||Corey Hart (33)||.237|
|Curtis Granderson (46)||.260||Matt Kemp (15)||.236|
|Wilin Rosario (18)||.260||Ike Davis (74)||.235|
|Ryan Ludwick (16)||.256||Jarrod Saltalamacchia (85)||.232|
|Jason Kubel (34)||.253||Justin Maxwell (76)||.232|
|Garrett Jones (24)||.242||Albert Pujols (25)||.231|
*Just missing: Chris Davis, Joey Votto, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutchen
The list reads like a who’s who of baseball’s power hitters. And yet, “new” names such as Wilin Rosario, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Kubel and Scott Hairston appear here. That’s not to say Scott Hairston will win a home run title, but he has been effectively powerful in a mostly platoon role. You’ll also notice that ISO does a good job of ignoring a poor batting average (Dunn, Napoli, Ike Davis, Saltalamacchia).
On the flip side of the coin, hitters who were in the top 30 in SLG% but not ISO were: Joey Votto (6th), McCutchen (10), Buster Posey (12), Carlos Ruiz (14), Aaron Hill (22), Alex Rios (26), Melky Cabrera (27), and Ian Desmond (29). These were high average hitters whose slugging percentage was “watered down” by singles. All of them except Melky Cabrera (.170) had an ISO over .210, which is still consistent power production.
The next natural question was “Is ISO a skill or does it tend to fluctuate, like batting average?”
So we did the same ISO calculations for 2011. The top 30 that season looked like this, with the names of players on both ISO lists in bold.
|Player||2011 ISO||Player||2011 ISO|
|Mike Napoli||.312||Carlos Quentin||.245|
|Jose Bautista||.306||Albert Pujols||.242|
|Curtis Granderson||.290||Troy Tulowitzki||.242|
|Giancarlo Stanton||.275||Miguel Cabrera||.241|
|Prince Fielder||.267||Justin Upton||.240|
|Adrian Beltre||.265||Josh Hamilton||.238|
|Ryan Braun||.265||Carlos Pena||.237|
|Mark Reynolds||.262||Pablo Sandoval||.237|
|Matt Kemp||.262||Ryan Howard||.235|
|Evan Longoria||.251||Josh Willingham||.232|
|Michael Morse||.247||Carlos Gonzalez||.231|
|David Ortiz||.246||Robinson Cano||.231|
|Lance Berkman||.246||Jacoby Ellsbury||.230|
|Mark Teixeira||.246||Matt Holliday||.229|
|Nelson Cruz||.246||Corey Hart||.226|
*Just missing: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Ian Kinsler, Mark Trumbo, JJ Hardy
Many of the same names but – wow! – Mike Napoli on top of the list? In his case, and many of the others, there were big swings in ISO, meaning we will be looking closer. We learned that Stanton’s power is elite, that Corey Hart is a consistent yet unspectacular power hitter.
Curious about the sizable swings in ISO, we looked closer at several sabermetric stats for many of these hitters (and other notable Fantasy names).
Here are the league averages for the 2012 season in the categories we examined :
Outlook: Napoli is not a .320 hitter, OR a .227 hitter; was helped by a large BABIP in 2011, resulting in more doubles that year and driving up his ISO. We’d bet on a slightly higher BABIP in 2013, but his hip situation worries us. His 25 HR/FB% over two seasons seems high. With all those factors, we call for EVEN POWER in 2013 if he remains healthy.
Outlook: A drop in his fly ball percentage and HR/FB% cut into his power productivity but an increase in BABIP fueled a batting average increase. We’ll call for EVEN POWER in 2013 until we’re sure he’s got the same bat speed and fly ball percentages as in the past.
Outlook: Willingham’s power seems real, though if he can get his FB% back to 2011 levels, we could see something special. He improved both his walk and strikeout rates, which is always a good sign for a POWER SPIKE.
Outlook: Look at Votto’s doubles; that’s a career high in just 111 games last season. Some of his 2011 HRs could have become doubles in 2012, and his unworldly .404 BABIP just doesn’t happen in baseball. His K rate (17.9 percent) was identical in both seasons and he walked about 5 percent more last year – a wonderful hitter from top to bottom. Don’t bet on .337 AVG again (maybe .315?), but with a full season and small jump in HR/FB%, he could easily post 35 HRs for a POWER SPIKE.
Outlook: Saltalamacchia’s luckier HR/FB% rate fueled the HR gain, as he essentially flipped his HRs and doubles, accounting for some of his BABIP drop last year (BABIP doesn’t include HR). We think his HR/FB luck will fall back and the BABIP will rise and provide a SLIGHT POWER REGRESSION unless he can cut way down on a 31 percent K rate.
Outlook: Kubel’s “counting” statistics naturally increased, playing 141 games in 2012 versus 99 in 2011, but they were more frequent – he hit a HR or 2B about 10.5 percent of the time, up from 8.2. The HR/FB% should fall on a consistent FB%, and a .253 ISO is very good, so we’d bet on EVEN POWER in 2013.
Outlook: Ludwick’s ISO jump looks a lot like Kubel’s jump. With a steady BABIP around league average, he wasn’t lucky, though the HR/FB% did seem a bit high, but with a lower FB% and a doubled HR total in 86 fewer plate appearances (he did all this in just 472 trips to the plate). He’s in the right park and we’ll call for a SLIGHT POWER GAIN for Ludwick in 2013.
Outlook: Bruce’s power is not just legit, it’s bordering on elite levels; increase in doubles despite dip in BABIP is another great sign, as is a “balanced” 2B/HR split (35/34). SLIGHT POWER GAIN is on the horizon, but that could mean 40 HRs.
Outlook: Hamilton had such a strange 2012. Early in the season he looked like a runaway MVP before trailing off and then leaving Texas. He hit a home run on 25 percent of his fly balls, a ridiculously high rate and, despite hitting more fly balls, we expect a SLIGHT POWER REGRESSION in 2013, but that could mean a mere 38 HRs. We’ll bet on 35 for a really great hitter.
Outlook: Hunter averaged 19 HRs the last two years, but don’t even think about drafting him. Look at the BABIP, almost .100 points higher than 2011 which screams regression in 2013. He hits many fewer FB anyway, so don’t even dream of 15 HRs and his AVG will tumble as well. He struck out more and walked less in 2012, so bet on a SIGNIFICANT POWER REGRESSION in 2013, not that we were banking on much to begin with.
Outlook: Now we don’t think Castro is a significant power name in MLB, but many are curious if/when he might make a leap in power categories. He’s a 47.5 percent GB hitter, so unless he raises that 32 percent fly ball rate and becomes a much more patient hitter, then what you see is what you get. The power might come but we say EVEN POWER for now.
*Only 320 plate appearances
Outlook: In the RotoExperts 5×5 Mixed League draft, Tim McCullough said Plouffe was his worst pick because “Plouffe just isn’t that good, though he is another example of the late power available. I made a mistake with this one.” I’m not sure I agree with him that he was a mistake at 188 (16th round). Plouffe will never be mistaken for Miguel Cabrera, but if he can lift his average to the MLB average of .255, and his power continues to bloom, he can be pretty good. He suffered a thumb injury in the summer, which inevitably sapped his power and slowed his hot start. I believe he is looking at a batting average spike this season, with his BABIP falling to a paltry .244 last season. He boosted his fly ball rates, which is not always great for your average, but he is turning ….. wait for it …. age 27 in June. We like to see 66 point gains in ISO and we call for a SLIGHT POWER GAIN in 2013.
So what did we learn?
We learned that ISO can be volatile from year to year, but those who are above .200 tend to stay there and produce power. It can be dicey – whether a double is a double or a home run depends on several factors – when trying to predict home runs, but if you dig a little bit deeper and look at the other sabermetrics, you can more comfortably predict at least power output.
How do I use ISO in Fantasy Baseball?
We wouldn’t lean too hard on ISO, but we do suggest:
- Look at a player’s ISO from year to year. If it jumps by 50 points, look at his other stats to gauge whether the power is real.
- If someone’s ISO jumps out at you, try to figure out why. When I saw Ryan Ludwick in the top 30– and then examined his other stats – I felt comfortable that his power was for real.
- Remember though that a player like Joey Votto, who enjoys a huge .567 SLG% but does not make the top 30 in ISO, doe not have “less power” than those on the list. He enjoys a much higher batting average and his higher singles totals are likely contributing to both his RBI and runs scored totals.
- Remember, ISO is just a power tool, literally. Adam Dunn does so well because of his poor average, but if you’re looking for pure power production, it’s a good indicator.
- If a player is in line for full-time duties this year and was either hurt or platooned last year, he might have a modest HR total but a good ISO might be the hint you need that he’s a quiet source of HR this season.
Opening Day is inching closer – close enough that Ruben Tejada’s power could reach it. So study wisely so you can draft smarter. And have some fun already, will ya?
Tom knows about isolation – spending hours a day stationed at his laptop. But we’ll see this season if he knows about isolated power. Just check Trevor Plouffe’s statline throughout the season, and then taunt Tom on Twitter (@TomMcFeeley) or at t.mcfeeley (at) rotoexperts.com