Statcast, the new tracking system installed in every MLB park this season, allows the public to know some interesting things — chief among them being just how hard the ball is coming off the bat when players make contact.
For those obsessed with the radar gun on pitchers, this is the next great thing. It also demonstrates why a pitcher getting hit by a line drive is often scarier than a batter getting hit by a pitch, since batted ball speeds routinely top 100 mph and have reached as much as 120 mph this season (Giancarlo Stanton).
But is this data just fun, or does it tell us something? After all, data is useless unless we know what to do with it. Five Thirty Eight did some interesting work recently, discovering that each mph increase in batted ball velocity equates to an increase of roughly 18 points of OPS. This shouldn’t be a surprise since hard-hit balls = extra-base hits, and extra base hits drive up OPS. But Five Thirty Eight used it as a way, in albeit a small sample size, to measure which batters have been lucky or unlucky so far in 2015 based on correlation between batted ball velocity and OPS.
It’s interesting stuff, and you should take a look at the link. For our purposes, the Twins are the main focus. So looked at Twins hitters for whom there are at least 30 at bats with batted ball speed tracked this season (while Statcast is in every ballpark, the data is so far incomplete in terms of measuring every at bat … for instance, Joe Mauer has 145 at bats this season, but only 85 of them show up in Baseball Savant’s batted ball data tracking).
There are 10 Twins hitters with at least 30 tracked at bats; the graphic below (thanks to the capable help of coworker CJ Sinner) shows both the average speed off the bat and the top speed off the bat for each of those 10.
What conclusions could we tentatively draw from that small sample size, aside from simply saying that knowing the speed of the ball off the bat is pretty cool? Well, I’d say these things:
*The OPS/batted ball speed correlation is pretty strong with the Twins. The top four Twins regulars in terms of OPS are Brian Dozier (.833), Torii Hunter (.790), Trevor Plouffe (.759) and Joe Mauer (.709), who are also the top four in terms of average batted ball velocity — though not in that order. Plouffe has hit the ball the hardest but perhaps hasn’t been rewarded as much as he should be based on OPS (and his slugging of .423, which is also third on the team).
*Kennys Vargas is the leader on the Twins with a single batted ball that traveled 114 miles per hour, 4 mph faster than any other of the 10 charted players. But he’s only fifth in average batted ball velocity of the 10 … perhaps an indication of the inconsistency in his at-bats that got him sent back to Class AAA Rochester.
*Jordan Schafer, at 79.10 mph average batted ball velocity, is by far the softest hitter of the 10 and is among the softest in all of MLB. Not surprisingly, he has a very low OPS (.510).
So the conclusions aren’t surprising, but I do like Five Thirty Eight’s approach of using it as a way to calculate whether players have been lucky or unlucky — particularly as we get a full season (and seasons) of data going forward.