As a “stat-geek”, I am always on the lookout for a new statistic in baseball that will give me a deeper look at the game that we all love. In 2015, MLB Advanced Media made a hitter’s exit velocity available for the first time on a regular basis and ever since I have been mesmerized. In case you are not in the know, exit velocity is very simple; it’s essentially the speed of the ball after it makes contact with the bat, or a radar gun for the batter. You might be asking yourself just why something like exit velocity can help teams gain an advantage over their opponent…and that would be a valid question. So why is this fancy new statistic such a hit? Well, there are many reasons for it’s success.
The most obvious reason is the fact that you can measure which batters are hitting the ball the hardest. If you are consistently nailing the ball with a high exit velocity, then the likelihood is that you are stacking up hits at an efficient rate. Looking at the top average exit velocities in 2015 and you obviously will find some of the biggest home run hitters in the game. There is no shock that Giancarlo Stanton led this category last year, averaging 99.1 mph launch speed on balls hit; Stanton might be the most prolific home run hitter in the game right now. But looking at the Top 15 and you see a who’s who of sluggers; Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano, David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Trout are just a few of the names littered near the top. These are not only big home run hitters, but also some of the most elite hitters in the game, period. The easy answer is that if you have a high exit velocity, then there is a good chance you are going to be near the top of the leaderboard for extra base hits. There are still other factors in play(like actually hitting the ball. See Peguero, Carlos) but exit velocity will show you who is hitting the ball the hardest on your team.
For instance, let’s look at the Royals exit velocity leaders last year. Top of the list is Kendrys Morales at 92.9 mph on average; Morales just put together a great comeback season last year while winning a Silver Slugger award. He also put up 22 home runs, 41 doubles and drove in over 100 runs, so one would assume his exit velocity numbers were higher than what they were in 2014. Same for Royals minor leaguer Jose Martinez, who had one of the highest exit velocities in the minors last year and put together a career year for Omaha. What is really fun is going and looking at Kansas City’s playoff exit velocities. Granted this is a smaller sample size, but three Royals had an average exit velocity above 94 mph(Lorenzo Cain, Morales and Salvador Perez) with Morales having the highest average launch speed during the postseason. Exit velocity won’t give you instant success, but in a shortened period like the postseason it sure would indicate a higher chance of success, especially if you have multiple players near the top of the rankings.
But there are a couple more reasons to keep your eye on a hitter’s exit velocity. For one, it could be a window into a possible injury. A hitter would tend to put up a fairly consistent exit velocity, as it is five times more the batter’s doing than the pitcher. If a batter has shown a major dip in his exit velocity and shown that over a regular period of time, then there is a possibility that player could be injured. There is no way to 100% quantify this, but if a player is averaging an exit velocity in the mid 90’s, then averages an exit velocity in the lower 90’s/upper 80’s in a short amount of time, there is a good chance that player is hurt. Exit velocity could actually help teams determine if a player should play through the injury or take up some DL time.
Another interesting pattern to watch would be a player’s regression. Most know that as a player gets older his abilities will start to regress and a statistic like exit velocity would(and should) show a declining pattern. The difference between an injury and regression is that an injury would show a more sudden decline while regression would be over a longer period of time. Look at it this way; a batter isn’t going to wake up one day and all of a sudden lose a ton of bat speed and show a weaker hand eye coordination.Both of those skills will slowly erode over a long stretch of time, so you would have to look at a number of years of exit velocity to get a true feel for a regression. Since Statcast is still in a somewhat early infancy, this is probably still a few years away from being something an organization would use. I could easily see teams using it to determine keeping or trading a player or even using exit velocity to determine whether or not to sign a free agent. This is the beauty of a stat like exit velocity; we are still learning from it and how to use it to evaluate players and their abilities.
In a baseball world where power is still a highly coveted commodity, exit velocity could be the holy grail to determine who to stack into the middle of a batting order. The fun part for those of us that love stats is how the possibilities are endless. With the information that is currently available, it is possible to break down a hitter’s exit velocity into pitches, into whatever the count is at the time of the hit(3-2, 0-1, 2-2, etc.) or even against individual pitchers. Statcast has opened up a whole new door into baseball statistics and we should all welcome them in. Exit velocity is just another way to look at a game that is constantly evolving using the technology available today. I still want my peanuts and cracker jacks, but go ahead and throw in a side of velocity and launch angle.