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The 7 most extreme players in the game today

No one plays the game like these guys
(Tom Forget / MLB.com)
@michaelsclair
July 6, 2020

Everyone would love to be Mike Trout. Who wouldn't want to wake up tomorrow and be the perfect ballplayer, with the ability to hit for power and average, and the speed to steal bases and run down balls in the outfield? Unfortunately, there is only one Mike Trout. But just

Everyone would love to be Mike Trout. Who wouldn't want to wake up tomorrow and be the perfect ballplayer, with the ability to hit for power and average, and the speed to steal bases and run down balls in the outfield?

Unfortunately, there is only one Mike Trout. But just as some of us are good at math and others are great at remembering facts from 1980's sitcoms, MLB players can call upon a wide range of unique skills that no one else in the game can replicate.

Today, we're talking about those guys -- the players with the weirdest abilities and most extreme skills -- who force us to change the axis because they're so very good at their particular talent.

The strongest hitter

We'll start with the player who looks like he belongs here. Aaron Judge is a monster of a man who towers over his peers. Even Trout looks like a high schooler asking for advice when the two stand next to each other:

Judge backs that up when he's in the box as no one on Earth hits the ball as hard as the Yankees slugger. Last year, Judge's average exit velocity was 95.9 mph -- the best in the league. It's like he was throwing an elite fastball every time he connected at the plate.

He led the league in average exit velocity the year before (though this was a pedestrian-for-him 94.7 mph), and he did it in 2017, too.

If you were to predict which hitter was going to pull a Roy Hobbs and atomize a baseball with a single swing, Judge is the only acceptable answer.

The best bad-ball hitter

The general guideline that is taught from the earliest days of Little League is that you should swing at pitches in the strike zone, and you shouldn't swing at pitches out of the strike zone. It's a simple rule, and the last 150 years have shown it to be pretty good advice.

That's not the case for Marlins outfielder Corey Dickerson. Unlike every other player in the game, he excels on the pitches that everyone else struggles to hit.

Out of the 300 qualified batters on the Statcast leaderboard, 298 posted a negative run total on pitches they chased out of the zone. The Indians' Tyler Naquin was worth a neutral zero. That left Dickerson as the only player to post a positive value. Perhaps even more shocking was that his plus-five runs on chase pitches almost matched the plus-seven mark he had on pitches in the strike zone.

It didn't matter if the pitch was up and in ...

... or down and away. Throw a pitch that Dickerson wants, and chances are he's going to hit it.

The man who won't strike out

Major League batters set another record for strikeouts for the umpteenth consecutive season last year. It makes sense: Pitchers want to strike batters out, and hitters don't mind having a "K" on their scorecard if they can drive the ball when they make contact.

One batter bucks that trend: The Tortuga himself, Willians Astudillo.

Last year, Astudillo struck out in 3.9 percent of his plate appearances, the lowest total among all big leaguers with at least 200 PA. To put that in context, the batter who struck out at the second-lowest rate was his teammate Luis Arráez, who struck out twice as often. The last time a batter struck out less than Astudillo was 1999, when Tony Gwynn K'd just 3.1 percent of the time.

To put it one other way, Stevie Wilkerson -- the only position player to ever earn a save -- struck out batters at a higher rate as a pitcher. Sure, it was a small sample size of 5 1/3 innings, but Astudillo is the kind of statistical outlier that demands we make absurd comparisons.

The fastest player

Forget watching CW's "The Flash," -- if you feel the need for speed, watch D-backs outfielder Tim Locastro sprint around the field.

Locastro can reach a best-in-baseball top speed of 30.8 feet per second -- .4 feet faster than second-best Trea Turner. That may not seem like a lot, but when we're already talking about the most elite athletes in the game, it's a pretty big deal.

That number also explains Locastro's perfect 17-for-17 stolen base record last year:

Speed isn't the outfielder's only skill, though. He also seems to exert a magnetic force over baseballs.

Last year, batters were hit by a pitch about once every 94 plate appearances. At that rate, Locastro should have been hit about three times in his 250 PA. Instead, Locastro was hit 22 times. Only three batters were hit with more pitches, and all had more playing time.

Were Locastro to keep up at this rate and get a full season of at-bats, he would pass Craig Biggio's record of 285 career HBP in just six seasons. That probably won't happen, but then again, there aren't many players like Locastro.

The brick wall

Roberto Pérez is one of the game's elite defensive catchers (and after breaking out with 24 home runs last season, one of the best with the bat, too). He controls the running game, throwing out a league-leading 41 percent of base stealers. He was fourth in the Majors in pitch framing. And, perhaps most amazingly, he allowed zero passed balls in 118 games.

Only three players in big league history have ever caught more games in a season and not allowed a passed ball: Bill Dickey accomplished it in 1931, Al Todd in '37 and Johnny Bench in 1975.

There's one thing those catchers didn't have to deal with: the high velocity and insane break in a modern pitcher's arsenal. Watch footage from the '30s and pitchers look like they're having a leisurely catch in the park. Even pitchers during the '70s couldn't match the kind of looping, skipping, hopping and diving pitches that Pérez had to snag last season.

The hardest thrower

In 2015, MLB.com made a Statcast filter for Aroldis Chapman. It wasn't much fun to pull up the velocity leaderboard and see one name so thoroughly dominate it. It may be time to come up with a new one for Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks.

Last year, he threw 206 pitches over 100 mph -- the most in the league. Hicks accomplished it despite being limited to only 28 2/3 innings because of Tommy John surgery. Combine the past two seasons, and he's thrown 865 pitches over the century mark, more than doubling Tayron Guerrero's second-best 374. Half of Hicks' pitches top 100 mph -- meaning a coin flip has the same odds as Hicks throwing unhittable heat.

While Hicks won't be ready to pitch for the Cardinals on Opening Day, the team expects him to contribute at some point this season.

The frisbee

While Hicks fires pure cheese, Chaz Roe throws the bendiest pitch in the Majors. His slider ends up in a different area code from where it started.

There's the cold, hard data -- like how his slider has 22.8 inches of horizontal break, the most in the game. Home plate is only 17 inches wide, so if Roe wants his pitch to stay in the strike zone, he needs to start it six inches off the plate to nip the corner.

There are the numbers -- like how batters whiff 30 percent of the time against the pitch. When they do manage to put it in play, they don't do much better, posting only a .211 average against Roe's slider.

And then there is the visual, which puts Wiffle ball players to shame:

Michael Clair writes for MLB.com. He spends a lot of time thinking about walk-up music and believes stirrup socks are an integral part of every formal outfit.