MLB is on the cutting edge of sports technology and it is making their teams rich. In 2000, they established MLB Advanced Media (BAM) and it has become a $3 Billion enterprise that supplies streaming video services to ESPN, HBO and the WWE.
For the fan, player and front-office executive, BAM has become the go-to provider for advanced analytics through “Statcast”. For the past few seasons, this operation has tracked every pitch, hit & catch in every major league game and gives us information we’ve never been privy to before. Much of the data is proprietary but even the basics you can find at mlb.com are fascinating as well as informational.
One of the stats that has become mainstream is exit velocity. You see it on your TV screen every time a Home Run is hit along with the estimated distance.
Does exit velocity matter? Let’s look at the top ten hitters in average exit velocity for 2019 (through August 9th) and determine if your eyes tell the same story…
1) Aaron Judge – 97.9 mph
2) Joey Gallo – 96.2 mph
3) Nelson Cruz – 95.0 mph
4) Christian Yelich – 94.5 mph
5) Miguel Sano – 94.4 mph
6) Kyle Schwarber – 94.3 mph
7) Rafael Devers – 94.2 mph
8) Josh Donaldson – 94.1 mph
9) Yoan Moncada – 94.0 mph
10) Shohei Ohtani – 93.8 mph
The list seems to make reasonable sense but when you realize that Cody Bellinger (91.4), Mookie Betts (90.8), Ronald Acuna Jr. (90.8) & Mike Trout (90.8) aren’t even in top 35, you realize that exit velocity is only a piece of the puzzle.
With the numbers from StatCast, another statistical analysis is available to compare the best of the best when it comes to major league hitters. Here’s the definition…
” Expected Outcome stats help to remove defense and ballpark from the equation to express the skill at the moment of batted ball contact. By looking at the exit velocity and launch angle of each batted ball, a Hit Probability is assigned that gives each player an Expected Batting Average, Expected Slugging and (most importantly) Expected Weighted On-Base Percentage. These numbers tell the story of a player’s season based on quality and amount of contact, not outcomes.”
It may sound complicated, but the formula is essentially taking luck and ballpark factors out of the equation. So, the major league 2019 expected batting average for all players is .247. The top five are Cody Bellinger (.335), J.D. Davis (.320), D.J. LeMahieu (.318), Anthony Rendon (.318) & Christian Yelich (.317).
The 2019 expected slugging percentage for all players is .413 and, once again, here are the top five…Nelson Cruz (.655), Mike Trout (.655), Bellinger (.646), Yelich (.637) & Rendon (.601).
No surprise on the list for expected on-base average (mlb average is .319) as Trout leads with .460, then Bellinger (.448), Cruz (.435), Yelich (.433) & Rendon (.425).
An interesting aside is that Astros rookie Yordan Alvarez (who has less than 200 AB’s) would be in 6th place with a .420 xOBA just ahead of J.D. Martinez (.412). And that doesn’t count the three HR game Alvarez had while I was typing this piece. Aaron Judge, George Springer and Freddie Freeman round out the top ten.
These are the best offensive players in the game…unless you’re fooled by your eyes.