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. Last season, 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 2018 is Joey Gallo of the Rangers who had a batting average of .206 and struck out 207 times in 500 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 highest average exit velocity in baseball last year (95.4 mph) and that equated to him producing 40 HR’s, 92 RBI’s and a .810 OPS. He hit three balls that left the bat at 117 mph! Earlier this month, he became the fist player in history to hit 100 HR’s before he hit 100 Singles. In case you might believe these are isolated examples, think about this…through May 11th, Strikeouts (10,362) exceeded Hits (9,683) for the 2019 season. If Bob Dylan was a baseball fan, he’d say that “the times they are a changing”.
As the first six weeks of the 2019 campaign 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 45 batted ball events)…
1) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF (99.0 mph) – Currently on the IL, but his OPS this season is .925
2) Joey Gallo, Rangers OF (96.7 mph) – He’s raised his BA to .248 and his OPS to 1.014
3) Gary Sanchez, Yankees C (96.1 mph) – Also spent some time on the IL, but his OPS sits at .961
4) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF (95.8 mph) – The reigning NL MVP isn’t letting up with 16 HR’s and a 1.216 OPS
5) Josh Bell, Pirates 1B (95.6 mph) – Sometimes viewed as an under-achiever, he seems to be breaking out at age 26 with a .988 OPS
6) Anthony Rendon, Nats 3B (94.9 mph) – A short trip to the IL hasn’t slowed him down…the OPS is 1.043
7) Josh Donaldson, Braves 3B (94.8 mph) – It appears the hitting skills are still there, but can he stay healthy?
8) Mitch Moreland, Red Sox 1B (94.7 mph) – A career year at age 33? 12 HR’s through six weeks with a .908 OPS that is 146 points above his lifetime mark
9) Nelson Cruz, Twins DH (94.7 mph) – Yes, he’s 38 and yes, he can still rake
10) Javier Baez, Cubs SS (94.6 mph) – Was already an incredibly valuable player and now a .971 OPS makes him even better
11) Christian Walker, D’Backs 1B (94.6 mph) – A 28 year-old who has never been given a chance to be a full-time player. His .368 OBP & .931 OPS have been eye-popping for snake fans. As a point of reference, Paul Goldschmidt’s OPS is .810
12) Kyle Schwarber, Cubs OF (94.5) – One of the few examples of exit velocity not translating into good performance.
The next four on the list are all having solid seasons…Yoan Moncada (94.4), Carlos Santana (94.4), Cody Bellinger (94.2) and Joc Pederson (94.2).
The next time I talk baseball with my friend, maybe the subject will be “Barrels”.