Most Improved Hitters of 2022

Today’s hitters are fighting a constant uphill battle against an incredible array of promotion talent.
This makes it even more impressive when they are able to adapt and take a huge step forward on the board. And that’s exactly what a number of hitters did from 2021 to ’22.
This has little to do with standard baseball back card scores, which often don’t tell the full story, especially in a small sample early in the season. Instead, we’ll be judging it based on a base-weighted average (xwOBA), a daunting stat that simply rates a hitter based on hits, walk, and contact quality (i.e. exit speed and launch angle), which helps filter out factors like defense and luck. For context, the MLB xwOBA average this year is .328.
MLB.com has already highlighted some of the biggest winners recently: sophomore sensations Jazz Chisholm Jr., Under Franco and Kibrian Hayes, breakout giants Jock Pederson and Mike Trout impersonator Taylor Ward. Here are seven of the hitters who have taken things a step further so far in 2022. (The numbers are from Thursday’s matches).
Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
xwOBA earning: 83 points (up to .412)
Anderson has had a rough time defensively so far (nine fouls), but the 2019 AL champion continues to hone his skills at the top. And this is a player who has already crossed the .300 and .800 OPS average for three consecutive seasons.
Anderson is making heavy contact quite often in 2022, and he’s replaced some globes with volleys and line drives, giving him an impressive spot rate. But the real headline here is that the 2021 All-Star has almost cut his average hitter in half and is now ranked 94 percent. Anderson is still a very aggressive hitter, but he gets the ball more than ever as well. It pays off, with a .333/.369/.514 streak (163 OPS+).
Some of the improvements are hacks and some are regressions. Yelich falls very much into the latter camp, having fallen from NL MVP winner (2018) and runner-up (’19) to hardly league average hitter (2020-21). We probably won’t see Yeli’s great peak numbers again, but it’s certainly interesting to note that his xwOBA 2022 is almost identical to what he posted during his MVP (.416) campaign.
Simply put, Yelich is back in smashing the ball again – even if it’s not entirely clear why he stopped in the first place. This tells the story: in all of 2021, he hit 22 balls, which means he made the best possible contact type, the kind that usually produces extra basestrokes. In just over a quarter of plate impressions, Yelich already has 16 barrels this year.
This is a case where the baseline is clearly insufficient. Due to the low attack rate at the league level, Torres’ OPS bounced from 7% below average to 14% above. On top of that, Torres suffers from a huge gap between his expected and actual production, which masks the gains the 25-year-old made from the very disappointing 2021 campaign.
The former potential client, who brought 38 homeowners back in 2019, is doing a pretty cool trick this year. He raised his hit rate more than just about anyone, going up from the 26th percentile to the 90th percentile for an MLB hitter. And he did this while hitting the ball more in the air and hitting at a low professional level. If that continues, the Yankees will be celebrating a lot of Gleiber days this year.
As a marketing strategy, hitting .304/.413/.522 to kick-start your last season and transition to a free dealer sounds pretty good. There is a long way to go, of course, but it is especially encouraging that Contreras – who turned 30 on Friday – is so supportive of that streak.
There are two things you want to do as a hitter: make a lot of contact and make good contact. Contreras is doing both things more frequently in 2022. He’s up there with the likes of Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez and Giancarlo Stanton at the top of the MLB most affected leaderboard, while carving out nearly 11 percentage points from his hit rate. If the Cubs do not correct the ship within the next two months, Contreras is well on its way to becoming a desirable target on the trade deadline.
Jane Segura, 2b, Phyllis
xwOBA earning: 75 points (up to .394)
Segura struck safely in 10 straight games through Thursday, hitting .457 at that distance and raising his streak to .307/.369/.485. He placed a career 147 OPS+ second on the team, sandwiched between kickers Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos. The improvements from both Segura and third baseman Alec Bohm were huge for the scrambling Philly club to say at the NL East hunt.
Segura has always been good at putting the racket on the ball, but not so much at doing so with authority. In the first seven seasons of Statcast tracking, his hit rate ranged from 18 to 44 percent among MLB hitters. Last year, he was thirty. this year? 96. On Friday, Segura entered sixth place among the qualifiers in that category, directly ahead of Trout and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. If the 32-year-old can continue to do so, his $17 million option for the club for 2023 will look like a bargain.
Rudy Telles, 1B, Brewers
xwOBA earning: 113 points (up to .453)
Tellez, a 30-round draft pick in 2013, appears to have found a home with Brew Crew after coming on last July’s trade with Toronto. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound left-footed player became a key middle-ranking bat to attack surprisingly strong Milwaukee, snapping a .528 and finishing second in the NL in RBIs (27).
Even that production discounts it, because while Tellez has always been more than capable of knocking down baseballs, he’s doing so at a truly elite level in 2022. Of the playoffs, only Trout, Judge and Stanton predicted better production on call than Tellez. Combine that with rap rates and K-rates about average, and you get a hitter who suddenly looks like a top-tier player.
Did X-rays reveal another gem? Ramirez is 27 and is in his sixth organization, having been acquired in late March for the player from the Cubs he bought last November from Cleveland, and who had cleared him of exemptions from Miami prior to the 21 season. In 818 appearances on the career board Ramirez was 10% below the offensive league average.
The leftist Ramirez does not play every day, nor does he seek power. He still takes his breakouts (36.7% chase rate). But his high hit rate was in the 92nd percentile, and his driving rate jumped to the highest level in the game (33.3%), following the lead of teammates Franco and Manuel Margo (another big winner). It helped him hit 0.311 with 128 OPS+ to defend the AL East Champions twice.

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