5 NL Central sluggers with a world of wallop

May 8th, 2020

The Major League power surge over the past five years has provided the game with a new generation of sluggers who can captivate sellout crowds with one swing. The National League Central is no exception, and the division's hitter-friendly ballparks provide the perfect environment for the big bats.

Not only are the following players some of the game’s biggest stars, but they have consistently put up big home run totals, showing their prodigious power is here for the long haul.

Here are the NL Central sluggers who provide the most pop for each team:

President of baseball operations David Stearns has shown a knack for acquiring left-handed hitters poised for a power surge at Miller Park, from Travis Shaw to Eric Thames to Yelich, who ascended to superstar status after making the move to Milwaukee in 2018. Yelich finds the discussion of launch angle oversimplified. Yes, he is hitting the ball in the air more often, but he says that’s not a conscious effort and rather an evolution of his swing and finding an ideal contact point.

The results have been stunning. In 2018, on the way to winning the National League MVP Award, Yelich hit more home runs in the second half (25) than he hit in any of his five seasons with the Marlins. His .770 slugging percentage after the ’18 All-Star break was baseball's best in 14 years, since Barry Bonds' .832 in ’04. Last year, Yelich hit 44 homers despite missing the final three weeks of the regular season, and he led the Majors with a .671 slugging percentage. -- Adam McCalvy

Goldschmidt was our pick for best hit tool, and the first baseman can hit for power, too. That, of course, is one of the main reasons the Cardinals acquired him. Despite an inconsistent year at the plate in his first season with the Cardinals, Goldschmidt hit a team-high 34 home runs, and his .476 slugging percentage was second to Tommy Edman, who had about half the plate appearances Goldschmidt did. Since 2011, Goldschmidt’s career .524 slugging percentage and 243 home runs both rank eighth among Major Leaguers (at least 3,000 plate appearances for slugging). Goldschmidt has the ability to barrel the ball (11.6 percent of his plate appearances since '15 have been barreled balls) and hit the ball hard, with an average 91 mph exit velocity and a 44.4 percent hard-hit rate since '15, according to Statcast. -- Anne Rogers

Giving Schwarber the nod here goes beyond the career-high 38 homers or personal-best .531 slugging percentage (.631 in the second half) that he posted in 2019. No matter which power-influenced statistic you prefer, Chicago's slugging left fielder tends to top the list on the team.

Hardest-hit ball for the Cubs in the Statcast era (since 2015)? That'd be Schwarber, who had a 117.6 mph single on June 22 last year. Hardest-hit homer? For the Statcast era, it's Schwarber with a 117.1 mph blast on April 24, 2018. Hardest-hit round-tripper last year? Also Schwarber: 114.7 mph shot on June 8. In fact, Schwarber has four of the top five hardest-hit balls, plus the top four hardest-hit homers, on record for the Cubs. His .282 isolated power in '19 led qualified Cubs batters and his .257 ISO over '17-19 is also first for Chicago (minimum 1,000 plate appearances). Schwarber ranked first in average exit velocity (minimum 750 results) for the Cubs in '19 at 92.7 mph, and he's first at 90.8 mph on average (minimum 2,500 results) among Cubs hitters over the last three years combined. -- Jordan Bastian

It’s almost funny to think about it now, but there were questions heading into last season about Bell's ability to hit for power. He went deep only 12 times in 2018 while posting a .411 slugging percentage, a disappointing follow-up to his 26-homer rookie campaign in ’17. But the switch-hitting slugger turned his raw power into real results last year by blasting 37 homers (tied for 15th in the Majors) while hitting 37 doubles with a .569 slugging percentage (13th in the Majors). He was Pittsburgh’s cleanup hitter and, in July, the NL's starting designated hitter in the All-Star Game.

As Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon said last summer: “I think everyone, in a way, expected him to be some version of this guy at some point.”

The underlying metrics back up Bell’s success. Last year, he ranked 12th in the Majors with an average exit velocity of 92.3 mph. His hard-hit rate was in the Majors’ 90th percentile and his expected slugging percentage in the 93rd. His maximum exit velocity (116.2 mph) was 14th in baseball, and his 474-foot bomb over the batter’s eye at PNC Park gave him the ninth-longest maximum distance among Major League hitters last year. If you want anecdotal evidence to back up the numbers, go check the Allegheny River.
-- Adam Berry

Suárez's power manifested late, but now that it’s here, it’s legit. The third baseman smashed a career-high 49 home runs in 2019 after hitting 34 in ’18. Last season, he ranked 12th in the Majors in slugging and, according to Statcast, he was in the 93rd percentile in barrel percentage and the 79th percentile in expected slugging percentage. Rare is the time that Suárez will get a cheap wall-scraper of a home run. In ’19, he slugged 18 homers with an exit velocity of 105 mph or higher, with 10 of those being above 110 mph. -- Mark Sheldon