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Hardest hitter on Red Sox not who you think

Rookie Chavis crushing the ball to begin his career
@AndrewSimonMLB
May 7, 2019

The Red Sox lineup features the reigning American League MVP, a guy coming off back-to-back seasons of more than 40 home runs, and other talented players who helped the Sox win 108 games and a World Series championship in 2018. But in what has been a topsy-turvy ‘19 thus far

The Red Sox lineup features the reigning American League MVP, a guy coming off back-to-back seasons of more than 40 home runs, and other talented players who helped the Sox win 108 games and a World Series championship in 2018.

But in what has been a topsy-turvy ‘19 thus far in Boston, the club’s hardest hitter hasn’t been J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, or anyone else who earned a championship ring last October. It’s been a 23-year-old rookie who hadn’t taken a single Major League plate appearance until a little more than two weeks ago.

That’s perhaps a little bit about Boston’s slow start, although Betts and Martinez still have been productive. It’s more about Michael Chavis.

Chavis hardly came out of nowhere. He was a first-round pick in 2014 and ranks as his organization’s No. 1 prospect (No. 75 overall), according to MLB Pipeline. Chavis smacked 40 home runs in 172 Minor League games from 2017-18 and four more in 12 games at Triple-A Pawtucket to begin this season, before the Red Sox called him up on April 19.

It’s safe to say that Chavis is making the opportunity stick. Despite taking an 0-for-4 in Monday's loss at Baltimore, his 16th MLB game, he is batting .309/.443/.673 with six home runs, tied for second on the team. His 187 wRC+ puts him among the top 10 hitters with 50-plus plate appearances. That’s all come while Chavis has mostly played second base, where he had very little prior experience, to plug a hole created by injuries to the likes of Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt.

The results with the bat have been impressive, but this is about more than two weeks of hot hitting. Simply put, Chavis is crushing the ball.

Having a blast

It didn’t take Chavis long to make his mark on Boston’s home run distance leaderboard.

Longest HR by Red Sox, 2019
1) Michael Chavis: 459 feet, May 3^
2-T) Michael Chavis: 441 feet, April 28
2-T) Michael Chavis: 441 feet, April 23
4) Michael Chavis: 438 feet, May 4

5) Rafael Devers: 436 feet, May 3
^Fourth-longest Red Sox HR since 2015

Besides hitting his team’s four longest homers, Chavis also is responsible for three of the seven longest by any MLB second baseman this season. Among players at that position, only the Twins’ Jonathan Schoop has launched one further than Chavis’ 459-foot blast at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field last week. And his 429-foot average puts him near the top of the Majors.

Longest average HR distance, 2019
Min. 5 HR
1) Nomar Mazara (TEX): 430 feet
2-T) Michael Chavis (BOS): 429 feet
2-T) Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL): 429 feet
4) Jonathan Schoop (MIN): 426 feet
5-T) Josh Bell (PIT): 423 feet
5-T) Willson Contreras (CHC): 423 feet

Three of Chavis’ six taters have gone to the middle third of the field. Five have flown a projected distance of at least 419 feet, and he is one of five players to hit at least four of 430 feet or more.

No, long home runs aren’t worth any more than short ones. But Chavis mashing no-doubters instead of wall-scrapers suggests his power is for real. Last season, the 14 players who hit at least seven of those 430-plus big flies were almost all big names, with 11 slugging at least .490 and hitting at least 25 total homers. These sorts of deep drives don’t just happen by accident.

Quality contact

“The combination of Chavis' bat speed, strength and loft in his right-handed stroke gives him plenty of raw power, and he took off once he realized he didn’t need to,” reads part of Chavis’ MLB Pipeline scouting report.

The Red Sox have seen this translate to the big leagues.

Chavis has hit 39.5 percent of his batted balls with at least a 95 mph exit velocity, giving him a hard-hit rate above the MLB average (34.2 percent), while topping 105 mph eight times. He also has fit in quite well with the “air-ball revolution,” posting one of MLB’s highest fly ball rates (36.8 percent) in the first two weeks of his career. For context, Matt Carpenter led MLB regulars with a 37.8 percent fly ball rate in 2018, on his way to a 36-homer campaign.

Add the high exit velocity with the ability to hit the ball in the air, and you get the sort of contact that tends to do damage. Statcast attempts to capture this by tracking barrels, which are batted balls featuring an optimal combination of exit velo and launch angle. Roughly three-quarters of barrels go for extra-base hits.

Highest barrel rate, 2019
Min. 35 batted balls
1) Gary Sanchez (NYY): 30.9%
2) Joey Gallo (TEX): 30.0%
3) Michael Chavis (BOS): 21.1%
4) Christian Walker (ARI): 21.0%
5) Anthony Rendon (WSH): 20.3%

Chavis is just behind two of the game’s top young sluggers, with a rate above what Martinez (16.0 percent) and Betts (14.1 percent) posted in their brilliant 2018 campaigns. And since the date of his debut, Chavis is one of eight players with at least eight total barrels.

An eye toward the future

Chavis played the 16th game of his career Monday, and has all of 67 plate appearances under his belt. The league will adjust, whether by throwing him fewer fastballs, attacking a certain area of the zone, or exploiting some other vulnerability that emerges.

Yet Chavis’ start has impressed in ways that go beyond his half-dozen homers. His 16.4 percent walk rate is one of the highest in MLB, paired with a 25.4 percent strikeout rate that’s not far above the MLB average. Chavis has shown a discerning eye, with nearly three-quarters of his swings coming against pitches in the strike zone (MLB average: 65.9 percent).

And he isn’t just sitting on fastballs. Thus far, Chavis is 8-for-20 (.400) with a double and four homers against breaking and offspeed pitches.

There is a long way to go in 2019, but with the Red Sox off to a rough start in their title defense, Chavis’ emergence has stood out as a pleasant surprise.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.