Back in the days when ESPN was actually entertaining, Dan Patrick & Keith Olbermann seemed to have an endless amount of clichés that always fit even boring sports highlights. From “En Fuego” to “They’re Not Going To Get Him” to “The Whiff” to “You Can Try To Contain Him But You Can’t Stop Him” and so many more, the viewers were always in on the joke. When it came to baseball home runs, the go-to comments were “Gone” and “He Hit The Ball Real Hard”. With today’s analytical environment, you have to wonder how the boys would feel if they knew exactly how hard a player hit that ball?
My closest friend is a long-time baseball fan who goes all the way back to rooting for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in the 50’s. He was also a successful Fantasy Baseball player from 1984-2013, so his knowledge of the game and players had to be very detailed. Recently, we were talking baseball and I mentioned that “exit velocity” can help Fantasy players get a better read on the potential of a player. He looked at me and laughed because he thought I was messing with him and just making up a whimsical statistic. As a (now) casual baseball fan, he can’t be blamed for the skepticism because so much has changed since he stopped scouting players just a few years ago.
In 2015, Major League Baseball installed a state-of-art tracking technology in all 30 big league parks. It is called Statcast and allows for the analysis of a massive amount of baseball data. We’re talking Trackman Doppler radar and high definition Chyron Hego cameras. This allows all of us to quantify the raw skills of players in a way that was never even conceived when we first became fans of the game. This is where terms such as “spin rate”, “launch angle” and “pitch velocity” were born and they’re influencing our game every day.
“Exit Velocity” has a very simple definition…”How fast, in miles per hour, a ball was hit by a batter”. In the current era of baseball where records are being set for both Home Runs and Strikeouts, it tells teams the kind of damage a player can create when he hits the ball. The easiest example from 2017 is Joey Gallo of the Rangers who had a batting average of .209 and struck out 196 times in 449 At-Bats. In another time and place, he might have been sent to the minors but that’s no longer the case. Why? Because he had the 3rd highest exit velocity in baseball last year (93.1 mph) and that equated to him producing 41 HR’s, 80 RBI’s and a .867 OPS. His average Home Run traveled 421 feet! The best in the game was a rookie…Aaron Judge! He struck out over 200 times but finished with an OPS of over 1.000 while being 2nd in the MVP balloting. In case you might believe these are isolated examples, think about this…in April, Strikeouts exceeded Hits during a calendar month for the first time in baseball’s 150-year history. If Bob Dylan was a baseball fan, he’d say that “the times they are a changing”.
As the first month of the 2018 goes into the books, who are the players with the best exit velocity so far? Are they stars, phenoms or over-looked part-timers? Here are the top twelve (with a minimum of 30 batted ball events)…
1) Yoan Moncada, White Sox 2B (96.6 mph) – Formerly the #1 prospect in baseball, he’s lost his sheen after hitting .231 in 199 AB’s last season. Don’t give up on this 23 year-old just yet…a .922 OPS in 2018.
2) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF (96.2 mph) – Last season was no fluke.
3) Nelson Cruz, Mariners DH (96.1 mph) – He’s still good at age 37…led the AL in RBI’s last season.
4) Franchy Cordero, Padres OF (96.1 mph) – Didn’t even make the opening day roster, he has 5 HR’s in 54 AB’s…with 22 K’s
5) Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays OF (95.9 mph) – Another player who started the year in the minors, his .995 OPS in the early going is hard to ignore.
6) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF (95.7 mph) – Another thank you note to Derek Jeter.
7) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox DH (95.7 mph) – Will do lots of damage in that line-up.
8) Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 1B (95.5 mph) – Over the hill? Maybe not.
9) Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 1B (95.5 mph) – Maybe we shouldn’t be fooled by that .188 BA.
10) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B (95.4 mph) – One of the most consistent bats in the game.
11) Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees OF (95.0 mph) – 39 K’s in 101 AB’s just might be the pressure of New York.
12) Shohei Ohtani, Angels DH (94.9) – Here’s the trivia question for your baseball buddies…which is higher, Ohtani’s exit velocity as a hitter or his average fastball velocity as a pitcher? They’re actually very close, but his fastball wins at 97.4 mph.
The next time I talk baseball with my friend, maybe the subject will be “Barrels”.