Call them “action guys.” For lack of a better phrase, that’s how I would describe the high-contact, extra-base threats who embody the kind of excitement Major League Baseball wants to restore to the game.
Action guys are not the only kinds of hitters who captivate fans; the beauty of baseball is that players not only come in all shapes and sizes, but also showcases different skills. Action guys, though, are the antithesis of three-true-outcome performers, who too often end their plate appearances with a walk, strikeout or home run. And, in a case of rather fortuitous timing, one of the new action heroes, the Rays’ Wander Franco, is poised to become one of the game’s biggest stars.
What is the definition of an action guy? I’d like to say, “I know one when I see one,” paraphrasing the threshold for obscenity employed by the late Supreme Court justice, Potter Stewart. Alas, a failure to at least attempt to quantify what I’m talking about would not cut it for my more analytically savvy readers. So, I’ve come up with my own simple formula, albeit one those readers likely will find insufficient. Just work with me, OK?
To qualify as an action guy, a hitter must meet only two standards. First, he must strike out in fewer than 15 percent of his plate appearances. Second, he must produce an isolated power percentage (extra bases per at-bat) of greater than .20. I thought about incorporating a baserunning measure, but at least at this early stage of the season, it might have eliminated José Ramírez, who generally rates quite well as a baserunner — and otherwise is a model action guy.
Yes, I’m cherry-picking numbers. Who doesn’t?
Ramírez, it turns out, is an inspiration for Franco. The two both hail from Bani in the Dominican Republic, the same neighborhood, in fact. They’ve trained together in past offseasons. Franco, who at 21 is the younger player by eight years, has called Ramírez his idol. Ramírez told MLB.com in 2018, “He’s good. Better than me.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that their offensive games are similar – not identical, considering that Franco is seeing the second-fewest pitches per plate appearance of any player in the majors, while Ramírez is averaging the 12th-most. No two players are exactly alike, which is the problem with trying to define any one group. Juan Soto doesn’t strike me as an action guy, simply because he walks so often (not that it’s a bad thing; Soto’s plate appearances are works of art). Turns out, though, that Soto met the standards in 2021 and is quite close in 2022.