M-SABR All Stars: MLB’s 2022 All-Cent% Team

Image: Photo by Adam Glanzman / Getty Images

Contributions from: Nolan Bruce, William Gregory, Christopher Putnam, Daniel Pardi, Tim Kulawiak

What is Cent%?

We’ve assembled a starting lineup of the best straightaway hitters in all of MLB. These guys have the ability to shoot singles right through the infield gap, which should only help them in 2023. 

Obviously, Cent% measures this capability. League average in MLB is around 35%, so these guys are doing a great job outpacing the field.

Starting Lineup

C – Will Smith, LAD (37.0 Cent%)

Nolan Bruce

Will Smith is one of very few catchers that is not a liability on offense, and his 37.0 Cent% is an indicator of his excellent timing at the plate. 

At just 27 years old, Smith has already put up 2 full seasons of at least a 127 wRC+, trailing only Alejandro Kirk and J.T. Realmuto at the position last season in 2022. Smith finished in the top 15% of all hitters in xWOBA. xSLG, and Chase Rate, so you can expect his bat to remain elite going forward. 

Smith uniquely crushed sinkers last season, putting up a run value of 18 against the pitch, while also performing well against curveballs and changeups. He was also particularly good against left-handed pitching, with a .908 OPS against lefties last season, compared to a .775 against righties.

The most unsurprising stat on Will Smith from 2022, given that he’s on this list, is that he led all catchers with 24 HRs. Being able to consistently drive a pitch to the center of the field is an indicator that you’re making direct contact, and this often leads to high HR totals.

1B – Rowdy Tellez, MIL (39.7 Cent%)

William Gregory

I wrote an article about Rowdy’s great first two months back at the end of May. You can check that out here

At that point in time, Tellez was Milwaukee’s best bat with a 130 OPS+, and it seemed like the Brew Crew finally had the first baseman they’d been searching for since Jesus Aguilar left.

Tellez might not be that player for the Brewers, but he finished the season with a 115 OPS+ in his first year receiving more than 400 plate appearances. Given Milwaukee’s struggle to get their offense to where they want it to be, Tellez is a solid part of the lineup.

He finished with only 0.8 fWAR since he posted an above-average offensive season at a defense position that is not valuable. However, I think he’s a better player than that number indicated. Tellez’s BB% of 10.1% (77th percentile) at the end of the season was a great improvement on the 44th percentile BB% he showcased in the first months of the year that was much closer to his career average. 

As a power-hitting first baseman that doesn’t strike out at a below average level, Tellez has a great skillset as he enters his prime.

Tellez’s xSLG of .479 was in the top 10% of MLB in 2022. His actual SLG was only .461. When it comes to this All Star team, Tellez’s Cent% is not the culprit for this discrepancy. Although if he could pull more of his batted balls instead of hitting them to center, he could take advantage of American Family Field’s 337 foot right field fence.

AmFam has a distance to center field in the bottom half of MLB, so it’s not like Rowdy is getting the Miguel Cabrera at Comerica Park treatment. Tellez would have only hit more homers in Cincinnati, so it’s still an ideal situation for him.

If Tellez can keep up that improved plate discipline and keep mashing, there’s a good chance that he ends up being Milwaukee’s best offensive player in 2023. I’m rooting for him.

2B – Luis Rengifo, LAA (42.1 Cent%)

William Gregory

After three seasons of progressively worse play, bottoming out with a -1.0 fWAR season in 2021, Rengifo was a league average 103 OPS+ season in 2022. I’d bet against him in 2023, though.

I don’t know how to weave Cent% in this argument so just know that Angel Stadium has the fourth shortest center field fence at 396 feet, and besides his pulled homers, Rengifo likes to send his extra-base knocks up the middle.

That doesn’t matter. This dude is a fraud. It shows over his first three years, and it still shows now. Rengifo was extremely lucky this season. His SLG of .429 was nearly 40 points higher than his xSLG of .392. That’s a problem when nearly all of his value is taken from that power.

Rengifo isn’t disciplined at all (low K%, high Chase%, the worst BB%), doesn’t make quality contact, and he’s a bad defender anywhere on the infield. The Angels need to bring him back because he was a competent hitter on that team, but he’s gonna suck.

SS – Bobby Witt Jr., KCR (38.6 Cent%)

Christopher Putnam

Bobby Witt Kr., the electrifying young shortstop for the Kansas City Royals, made his debut in 2022 for a developing Royals team seven years removed from their World Series championship. The former top prospect in all of baseball represents a new era for the Kansas City faithful, as he hopes to lead the charge back to the playoffs. 

Overall, Witt’s rookie season flew under the radar, as fellow American League rookies Adley Rutschman and Julio Rodriguez stole the show in 2022. In 150 games, he posted a middling .254/.294/.428 slashline, good for a nearly league average of wRC+ of 99. When he was able to get on base though, he utilized his elite sprint speed to steal 30 bases. 

Witt’s lack of results in the form of extra base hits may be puzzling at first, given his nearly 90 MPH average exit velocity and his elite maximum exit velocity north of 113 MPH. To find a potential root of the problem, we have to look deeper into how he hits the ball, and how his ballpark affects him. 

Witt hits the ball to center field at the highest clip of all MLB shortstops at a clip just shy of 39%. However, given the nature of Kauffman Stadium, home to the second biggest outfield behind Coors FIeld, it may be in Witt’s best interest to find the gaps more often at his home ballpark to squeeze out as many doubles and triples as possible. You’ve got to smash the ball with some serious authority to get it out of Kauffman’s center field. 

3B – Ke’Bryan Hayes, PIT (40.8 Cent%)

Daniel Pardi

Ke’Bryan Hayes’ hitting campaign in 2022 was a roller coaster. The 26 year old managed an impressive profile for power when he was hitting the ball, ranking highly in average exit velocity and HardHit% (85th and 84th percentile). However, he simultaneously had a measly 3.9 Barrel% and only a .345 SLG with seven homers. 

Hayes’ Cent% might explain his lack of success. He seems to be hitting the ball hard, but he’s just doing it to the deepest part of the park. If Hayes were to hit balls only to the left and right sides of the field he’d slash .307/.366/.452, as evidenced by the 229 pitches he didn’t send straight away last year. Obviously, this result isn’t realistic but gives a little insight into where his stunted success may be coming from.

Hayes’ 24 game stint in 2020 seemed to be a flash in the pan. He’s mellowed out the past two seasons while battling some injuries. For 2023, he’s projected a .251/.319/.383 line, but one can’t help but think that with some adjustments to his approach and mechanics, Hayes might be able to elevate his play. Regardless, Ke’Bryan contributes stellar defense to the Pirates and should continue to be an impactful part of the squad. 

RF- Alex Verdugo, BOS (42.3 Cent%)

Tim Kulawiak

While Cent% may seem like a random stat, the fact that Alex Verdugo’s number is the highest in the league underscores his recipe to being a solid big league hitter. Dugie doesn’t swing and miss much, doesn’t strike out much, and instead just makes solid contact, resulting in a lot of balls going back up the middle and a solid .280 batting average.

Of course, the other side to Verdugo’s great bat-to-ball skills is a very low 8.4 degree average launch angle, resulting in just 11 home runs, a .405 slugging, and vulnerability to luck factors such as defense and park dimensions. 

Crucially, while he does make consistent good contact, evidenced by a 51th percentile average exit velocity marking, he doesn’t actually make a lot of hard contact, his hard hit rate falling to the 39th percentile and barrel rate all the way to the 31th percentile.  

Behind these overall numbers are remarkable splits against fastballs compared to against breaking balls and offspeed. Take any stat for Verdugo against fastballs and he looks like a potential superstar. A .403 WOBA and a .513 slugging are a couple examples. However, take any stat against breaking balls or offspeed and you see a very different picture. A .221 WOBA and .289 slugging against breaking balls, and a .225 WOBA and .286 slugging against offspeed show the massive difference in results.

Put this all together and you have a solid big leaguer well worth a spot in a lineup, but hardly the future building block the Red Sox envisioned when they acquired Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong for former MVP Mookie Betts

CF – Brandon Nimmo, NYM (38.5 Cent%)

Daniel Pardi

Continuing to be one of the most underrated players in the league, Brandon Nimmo’s Cent% may be indicative of his unheralded success. His profile for power lacks at times, with his high rates of rolling over and below average solid contact. However, Nimmo was able to showcase his prowess by sending it up the middle, whether the ball was hit hard or not, due to the fact that he faced the shift only 15.1% of the time.

The Mets locked Nimmo up through 2030 for good reason. Since debuting with the team in 2016, he’s averaged a .385 OBP and 13.6% walk rate. He also has drastically improved his plate discipline, lowering his K% from 26.9% in the first half of his career to 18.5% in the second.

Despite putting up pretty solid numbers, Nimmo has never made an All Star appearance. His contract puts him eighth highest by value amongst outfielders and he has more than proven that he’s worth it. 

He may not be as flashy as his company atop the highest paid OFs, but continues to prove his worth by finding his way on base and scoring. As the Mets look to make a strong push towards a World Series, there’s no doubt Nimmo will be one of their most utilized pieces.

LF – Andrew Benintendi, NYY (41.0 Cent%)

Tim Kulawiak

The lowest three soft contact rates in 2022 were not surprising: Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani, and Yordan Alvarez. In fourth? Andrew Benintendi. That may come as a little more of a surprise, as Benintendi hit just five home runs last year, but look at his wider batting profile, and you can see why. 

Benintendi is just a solid hitter. He has no exploitable weakness against a certain pitch, doesn’t swing at many pitches outside the strike zone but swings at the ones in the zone, and, most tellingly, hits the balls to fields. With that solid base, Benintendi has stayed fairly consistent throughout his career, whether in Boston, Kansas City, or New York. 

However, his home run production does stand out as a more inconsistent part of his game. But looking past just the number, Benintendi’s slugging percentage hasn’t varied quite as drastically as his home run totals. In fact, his career best 20 home runs in 2017 produced a .424 SLG%, but his career low (outside of his cup of coffee 2016 and injury/COVID shortened 2020) five home runs in 2022 produced a .399 SLG%, just a .25% difference That is still a noticeable gap, but hardly a sign that his home run production will stick in the single digit range. 

That’s at least what the White Sox are hoping, as they locked him into a 5 year $75 million deal this past offseason. But even if his home runs remain low, they know they’re getting a guy who can put together a good at-bat, make solid contact, and hit the ball to all fields, giving him a very high floor for a consistency craving White Sox team. 

DH – Yordan Alvarez, HOU (39.6 Cent%)

Nolan Bruce

When a player hits the ball as hard as Yordan, it usually doesn’t matter which direction it’s in. It’s still a hit. He led the league in average exit velocity, xwOBA, Barrel %, xSLG, and hard hit %. This means nobody in the league made stronger contact with the baseball than Yordan. 

It is reasonable that he would end up on a list of players who hit it to the center of the field the most because of this direct contact. In Yordan’s case, a large number of the balls he hit towards center field ended up 10 feet over the wall as he circled the bases, or hit so hard into a gap that a fielder never had a chance, so his contact direction is usually irrelevant.

It might, however, be a marginally better idea for Yordan to hit the ball to the opposite field more often because his xwOBA was .35 higher than his actual wOBA. This means his batted balls are producing less than the typical output based on his contact as a result of the direction the ball travels. This is typical for left-handed hitters who often face the shift, but affects his production nonetheless. 

Luckily for Yordan, this problem will likely be solved externally as the shift was banned for the 2023 MLB season.

How would this team do?

The addition of Yordan Alvarez at DH really takes this lineup to another level. The infield isn’t very strong and the corner outfielders won’t buoy an offense, but it’s not necessarily weak anywhere. 

To see how this lineup would fare if rolled out in the 2023 MLB season, we will add the ZiPS WAR projections for each of these players (30.9 fWAR) and give them an average bench (0.5 x 4 fWAR) and pitching staff (2022 = 14.3 fWAR). This process results in a 47.2 total fWAR projection for the upcoming season.

This total would rank eighth in MLB in terms of projections for 2023, right between Houston and Tampa. If we look at what this means in terms of a win total projection, we could expect this team, if healthy, to win around 90 games. Pretty good.

Categories: Articles, M-SABR All Stars


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