# Pedro Leon does even better than it looks

The PCL recently released StatCast data from every park in the division, if you know where to look. A few Sugar Land players appear in aggregated datasets from April, including Shawn Dubin, Hunter Brown, JP France, David Hensley, and our topic of discussion today, Pedro Leon. I hope to have tracks on all of them soon.

Pedro Leon got off to a good start at Sugar Land this year. From a bird’s eye view, it sports a .241/.375/.456 slant line, good for a .831 OPS, a 116 wRC+ (the minor league wRC+ is not considered by the park and Constellation Field is where the balls go to die. 15 wRC+ season-ending runs from any Sugar Land hitter is an acceptable ballpark shorthand). Leon has already swept 8 bases in just 96 AP, having only been caught once. His strikeout percentage looks concerning, inflating by around 33%, while a walk rate of 13% hints at some patience. All is well if a bit unimpressive, but his departure in 2022 is a great example of how unique his profile is and what Leon could represent at major league level.

**He hits the ball really hard**

It’s no surprise the Astros called, towing a heavy record, for Leon’s services as an international signing. It may be too small, but it’s an absolute StatCast darling. We know Leon has more pop, but I think it’s important to contextualize just how much pop, now that I have the required data: Pedro Leon’s max EV this season of 113 MPH would put him on par ranked 28th in MLB at the time of writing, starring with Nate Lowe and Joey Gallo. These guys aren’t 5’10 center players with a 20 steal prospect. That would also be tied for Tyler O’Neill, maybe a better comparison, max EV for all of 2021 – you know, the year TON hit 34 homers.

Leon’s 80th percentile EV is 106.2 MPH (elite), and his average EV of 92.7 MPH is third-best of any PCL hitter with at least 45 balls hit so far in the year. Average EV is far from a perfect stat, but for context, 92.7 MPH would be 15th best in the majors this season, sandwiched between Christian Walker and Anthony Rendon. Leon hits the ball hard, harder and more frequently than his slugging percentage would imply.

But, of course, hitting the ball hard is only part of the equation. Where and how is this contact directed? Leon’s raw damage output is impressive: 46.6 HardHit% (Top 10 PCL Skilled Hitters) indicates that he often barrel-balls. SweetSpot’s 37.8% (7th among qualified PCL hitters, would qualify in the top third of all MLB hitters) encourages the idea that Leon’s above-average BABIPs aren’t flukey despite taking an extreme approach to flyball. That is, nearly 40 percent of Leon’s balls hit are within the optimal launch angle for base hits, between 10 and 30 degrees, regardless of exit velocity. And we already know that EVs are among the elite. Leon’s batting average prospects are hurt by his batting propensity, but he should continue to run BABIPs north of .300 as long as his batting path leads to SweetSpot % above average. It would be easy to glance at the FanGraphs page and notice his average of .250 and 33K% accompanied by a BABIP of .357, and conclude that Leon was lucky – that he is makes him a .220 hitter. But hitting the ball consistently at optimal launch angles isn’t luck, and those BABIPs should persist as long as he continues to do so.

For reference, here’s the full list of MLB batters within 1 MPH of Leon’s AVG EV, and 2% of his Sweet Spot cast as of 2021, both ways:

Tyler O’Neill, Bryce Harper, Teoscar Hernandez, Freddie Freeman, Yordan Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez.

They are hitters. I’m not saying Leon is guaranteed to be that caliber of hitter in the Majors. Of this list, Teoscar and O’Neill are the only ones to come close to Leon’s takedown rate. None of them come close to its rather steep average launch angle. Either way, Leon’s 2022 campaign so far puts him in great company.

**He hits the ball in the air**

Leon has always sold out to shoot the ball, with a career 57% pull in the United States. He hits more line drives and flyballs than ever, by a wide margin. Ground ball rate dropped from 47% in 2021 to 23% in 2022. For some players, a fly ball approach is unpredictable. For players with real power, a shot ball is almost always better than a ground shot, even accounting for Pedro’s plus wheels.

StatCast leaves a lot of room for the interpretation of these results. Leon’s average launch angle for the month of April is 23 degrees, which for context would be the 7th steepest average launch angle in MLB this season. He’s in great company there, less than a degree from Jose Ramirez, Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Matt Chapman and Trevor Story. Painting Leon’s flyball tendencies as a net negative is perhaps a bit out of place, given his prodigious power – and either way, the LA will almost certainly regress a bit (as in, will likely end up closer to 20 than of 25) because Leon’s flyball rate swelled beyond standard deviations of what is normal for him. 50 slap ball events is just where things start to stabilize, but for the approach-to-the-plate assessment, “stabilization” really means we can weigh what Leon is doing now a bit more than what he did last year – not that Leon’s entire AA season isn’t more representative of him as a player. His AA campaign only saw 29% FB, and therefore LA average significantly lower.

Leon also has a relatively low standard deviation from his average launch angle. That is, fly balls are more consistent around the 23 degree mark, compared to other players’ deviations from their respective average. I expect Leon’s average throwing angle to be in the upper limits of MLB hitters – Marcus Semien and Robbie Grossman are prime examples, with 2021 LAs of 21.1 and 20, 3 respectively. This is likely the range Pedro finds himself in, due to the equally tight standard deviation taper on his barrels.

**How is the Hit tool?**

The main blow to Pedro Leon is his striking tool, resulting in his strikeout rate. A common observation is that Leon’s withdrawal rate (30% in 2021, and now 33%) is a product of his swing-and-miss tendencies, which is generally true. To date, Leon sports a 33% Whiff, well below the league average in terms of making contact on his swings. For added context, however, he also has a %SwStr of 10.5, which is only slightly below the league average. When we’re talking about 95 total plaque occurrences, it may be more beneficial to weigh the SwStr% more heavily, which takes the contact rate and divides it by the total number of locations seen, as opposed to whiff% which only looks at the contact rate than on the swings. Larger denominators in small samples are usually the way to go, and SwStr% is much kinder to achieving tool projection for Leon. The discrepancy seems to indicate that Leon’s patience is helping to mitigate an above-average chance of swinging and missing. Players are often still productive with Leon’s type of raw power, defensive ability, base running value and an admittedly lagging striking tool. With marginal improvement, or if his smell rate stays the same after the jump, Leon’s strikeout rate won’t be what keeps him from reaching MLB regular status.

**Perspectives**

Notable MLB comparisons – formatted for desktop, if on mobile, flip phone horizontally for correct formatting.

name | Year | EVavg | THE | SwSpt% | Puff% |

Pedro Leon | 2022 | 92.7 mph | 23 | 37.8 | 33 |

Leon is doing well and improving in important aspects. The closest comparisons seem to be 2021 Tyler O’Neill (although Leon has a much higher CStr% and is generally more patient) and 2022 Matt Chapman, who is off to a strong start to the season. All this to say; there are plans for Pedro Leon to be an impact leaguer as is, and he has plenty of room to become an OF starter next season. It’s such an intriguing set of tools, completely designed for today’s MLB.

Thanks for the reading.