Welcome to this little discussion on batters who are really putting a charge into the ball. I wrote a similar column a few weeks ago, and thought it would be fun to do something a bit more in-depth.
When analyzing hitters, we love seeing healthy contact. While we're going to look at hard hit rates, do note that there is plenty of context needed aside from simply "Kronk hit ball hard, ball go far, Kronk good player." We're not barbarians here. That said, it does make for a fantastic starting point. Barbarians did some cool things, right?
MLB Statcast data will be used to check in on the average exit velocity leaders for the entire season, and then used to view those who have hit the most 100+ MPH balls at a launch angle greater than 10 degrees. That will allow us to see the power shots and weed out grounders). Lastly, we'll check in on the hard-hit leaders for the past 30 days according to Fangraphs' data. While yearly leaderboards can be helpful, someone's hot streak to open the season is not going to be all that relevant when it's July and they've been batting .100 for the past few weeks, so it's very important to keep time-splits in mind.
Let's see which players are named, while paying special attention to those that make multiple appearances. Without further ado, here's that sweet data (stats as of May 23).
2016 Average Exit Velocity Leaders
|Player Name||Average Exit Velo (in MPH)||Average Distance (feet)||Average Launch Angle (degrees)||Average Height (feet)||Number of Hits Tracked|
A Few Takeaways
Plenty of power bats populate the list, with hard-hitting grounder specialist Christian Yelich nearly at the top of the list. Cameron Rupp can smash a baseball, but this is why we don't blindly follow any one stat as we know that he isn't good for much else (ditto Tyler Flowers). It raises the interesting point of those catchers who have no speed and a poor average, but will hit the ball hard when contact is made. This isn't accounting for overall contact rates of course, with the presence of many batters who can launch a ball but kill your average. Always seek out context.
What this can do is allow you to validate certain hot streaks when it comes to power, as it's what I personally banked on to hold with Danny Valencia before his torrid past week. That's not meant to be a promise that it always translates, but perhaps some are thinking that Eric Hosmer is getting lucky since he hasn't really performed this well before. Not so fast, as hitting the ball this well and this fast correlates with better batted-ball luck. Create that good fortune!
Let's now look at data from the past 30 days to identify recent trends.
Most 100+ MPH Exit Velocities With >10 Degree Launch Angle
|Amount of Hits||Players||Notes|
|26||Khris Davis, David Ortiz||Davis is streaking, bopping nine homers and 20 RBIs in May. Don't forget that he ended last season with 20 homers in the last two months. As for Ortiz, his retirement party is simply the party of the year.|
|24||Freddie Freeman, Miguel Cabrera||Neither is lost at the dish, and they can still bring it. Cabrera's ceiling is much higher of course, but Freeman can still hit despite a poor surrounding cast and slow start.|
|20||Matt Kemp, Evan Longoria, J.D. Martinez||Kemp's career OPS for May: .683, his next worst month is September: .825. Don't fret too much. Longoria may surprise you, but he's selling out some plate discipline for pop gains thus far. Martinez's buy-low window has closed, hopefully you already got him.|
|19||Josh Donaldson||Donaldson's one of the best hitters in the game, in one of the best hitting environments in the game. Checkmate.|
|18||Chris Carter, Manny Machado, Corey Seager, Nick Castellanos||Carter has always had huge power, but it has typically come in streaks. This season has largely been one big hot streak. Machado is one of the purest hitters in the game, so this isn't surprising. Seager has really come on in the past month, he's adjusting well in his second year. Castellanos' .393 BABIP will fall a bit, but his power gains appear legitimate with an elevated fly ball rate and the hard hit rate.|
|17||Edwin Encarnacion, Andrew McCutchen, Victor Martinez||Encarnacion is a notorious slow starter, but his pop is legit. The numbers will flow. McCutchen is working through some contact issues, but is hitting a ton of fly balls and so the power numbers are still there even if the average is suffering. Martinez is employing a batted-ball profile that looks eerily similar to his amazing 2014 season, so owners should pay attention. He primarily plays DH, meaning his job is solely to hit baseballs, and he's very good at his job.|
|16||Christian Yelich, Mark Trumbo, Wil Myers||Yelich has started taking some of those hard-hit grounders and elevating them, though he still isn't a power hitter by traditional standards. Trumbo is rocking career bests in fly ball rate and hard hit rate, validating the power out of the gate (not to mention he has a history of homers). He also currently has a career-low mark of chasing pitches out of the zone, so enjoy the show. Myers finally has his health under him, and so we're finally seeing why he was a highly touted prospect.|
Hard-Hit Rate Leaders
|Player Name||Hard-Hit Rate||Notes|
|David Ortiz||53.6 percent||His name pops up on nearly every leaderboard. Owners who invested in him for this last season are drowning in profits.|
|Joey Votto||49.1 percent||He's a special kind of hitter. One so cerebral that making such hard contact might actually be a sign of struggle with him. He's always been a great hitter by using all parts of the field and making healthy contact, but early on he was pulling many more pitches than usual. His May has seen his spray chart even out a bit, so hopefully the hits start falling if he starts feeling more natural and focused in the batter's box. He makes for a decent buy low.|
|Brett Wallace||47.8 percent||Platooning against righties, but able to hit the ball hard against them at least. His average won't be anything to write home about but in deeper leagues he shouldn't be forgotten about.|
|Corey Seager||47.8 percent||This young buck is really swinging a hot bat, last year's impressive debut shouldn't be forgotten about. He's learning, making adjustments, and will be a fantastic hitter for a long time.|
|Mike Napoli||46.4 percent||When he's healthy, he can bring the power.|
|Victor Martinez||46.2 percent||It will be interesting to see how his body holds up, but many rates are aligning with his amazing 2014 season.|
|Josh Donaldson||45.8 percent||Bringer of hard hits.|
|J.D. Martinez||44.7 percent||Buy low window: closed.|
|Mike Trout||44.6 percent||Not surprising, just one of the best hitters in the game towards the top of a list, ho hum.|
|Evan Longoria||44.3 percent||Harder swing means harder hits, but he's also striking out quite a bit more for it. Most owners will take that trade-off.|
|Yasmany Tomas||43.9 percent||He's coming around in Year Two, with his walk rate up alongside modest fly ball rate gains.|
|Michael Conforto||43.7 percent||Hard-hit rate leader vs. righties (51.8 percent vs RHP), but still has lefty struggles (22.7 percent vs LHP, albeit in only 28 PAs). Also take note that with Lucas Duda out for a while, Conforto is taking grounders at first and may gain that eligibility quickly.|
|Giancarlo Stanton||43.6 percent||Shocker. Even when he's mired in a slump, it isn't as though he's lost any of his power. He'll find a groove again shortly and the contact will be loud. If you can buy low, scoop him.|
|Justin Smoak||43.6 percent||His hard hitting is manufacturing some of that lofty .418 BABIP, but it will still come down.|
|Kyle Seager||43.3 percent||Perennially underrated thanks to his quiet yet consistent contributions. His .129 BABIP from April was never going to stay that low.|
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||43.2 percent||He's good yes, but he's not this good. He's still a left-handed batter who hits far too many grounders to sustain this current rate of production. Defenses should start to shift as well, but that's far less predictable.|
|Joc Pederson||43.1 percent||Streaky all get out, but makes very strong contact.|
|Carlos Santana||42.7 percent||He has powerful swing when he actually decides to use it as opposed to just drawing a walk.|
|Mark Trumbo||42.5 percent||He's clearly enjoying his new digs in Camden Yards.|
|Miguel Cabrera||42.2 percent||After hitting .270 in April, he has a .370 mark through May with a 1.064 OPS as his batted-ball rates have finally stabilized to career norms.|
|Brandon Drury||42.2 percent||This former hot prospect is locked in, enjoy.|
|Buster Posey||42.2 percent||Not that anyone would've really freaked out enough about Posey to do something rash given the sad state of catchers this season, but all the same it is encouraging to see Posey's profile on an upward trend lately. His BABIP should continue to climb from its current .273 mark to his career .323 mark as well, especially with the hard hits in tow.|
Notable Names From the "Last 14" Hard-Hit Leaderboard
Jung Ho Kang: 52.2 percent - He's come back on the scene with authority, owners should be encouraged. Yes, he will get plenty of rest days at first to ease his transition back into being an everyday player, but his bat is strong and in most leagues his dual SS/3B eligibility is a huge bonus.
Yan Gomes: 42.9 percent - His batting average in his last 30, and last 14, games is exactly .154. That seems odd. His BABIP was .227 in April, and it's a laughable .143 through May thus far. So his increase in hard hits has come with a further drop in batted ball luck. Yes, hitting many fly balls and striking out a lot can hurt your luck profile, but not like this...not like this.
Adam Jones: 42.5 percent - Hopefully you didn't cut ties with him before, as he looks like himself again at the plate after a rib cage injury sidelined him and then may have affected his swing.
There you have it folks, a nice little reference piece for those "who is hitting the ball hard" questions. Use this information as a springboard for further investigations, but these are usually guys that are worth targeting. We use data like this and more to fuel our Waiver Wire Recommendations over at RotoBaller, as well as in our daily baseball chats with live experts (like me!), so come on by anytime.