The following is an except from PIRATESGUIDE 2018, our 280 page Pittsburgh Pirates season preview book available on Amazon in e-book and paperback formats. See the link at the end of this post for to purchase – on SALE at reduced price today.
One of the few bright spots on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2017 roster was how productive Josh Harrison was in relation to his surprising home run spike. After hitting no more than 4 home runs in five of his first six seasons in the majors, JHay found his power stroke in 2017 going off for 16 home runs.
This was a welcome addition to a team that was otherwise starved of power. The problem going into the 2018 season is that much of Harrison’s power was likely undeserved and more of a function of good luck, rather than a true power surge.
When determining how likely Harrison is to repeat his home run numbers this season, one of the first places to look is how far he hit his home runs. If we compare his numbers, relative to batters who hit a similar number of home runs last season, we can get a good sense of just how likely he was to accomplish the feat of hitting 16 home runs. We’ll use the average distance of home runs hit as something of a proxy for batter’s raw power; in other words, someone who hits their home runs with an average distance of 420 ft. has a lot more raw power than someone who hits for an average distance of 370 ft. To do this we’ll look at all batters who hit in the range of 11 and 21 HRs.
We use this range because it is Harrison’s 16 HRs plus or minus 5. Harrison’s average distance on his home runs was 377 ft. with his longest hit 422 ft. and the shortest at 346 ft. The distribution of average distances for batters that hit 16 ± 5 homers in 2017 looks like this:
This gives us a nice bell shaped distribution. If you look to JHay’s 377 ft. mark, the total area under the curve to the left of 377 is the likelihood that a batter with an average home run distance of 377 ft. will hit between 11 and 21 home runs. Visually, that is a relatively small area, in comparison to the area left of, say, 400 ft. What this means is that, based on his average home run distance, Harrison was highly unlikely to have hit between 11-21 long balls; intuitively, having a lower average distance means that the player is more likely to hit homers in a range less than 16 ± 5; something more like 10 ± 5 HRs would more likely for a player with such a short average distance.
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Image credit – Daniel Decker Photography