Cleat Geeks

Saber-Metrics Sunday: Speed AND Angles Kill…an Intro to Statcast

There are new stats in town, and they are taking baseball stat geeks by storm. Thanks to the latest camera and motion technology, we now have accurate measurements of Exit Velocity and Launch Angle statistics of batted balls.

These statistics are brought to you by MLB Statcast and they are happy to give you these readings in baseball television broadcasts and datacharts for your stat-loving eyes. It seems like these stats have popped up overnight…and in a way that is an accurate statement.

This is the first season in baseball that these stats have been regularly talked about after starting to peak its way into the minds of fans last year. Statcast developed these measurements in 2014 and tested them during the 14’ All Star game and postseason. Now they are more regularly measured and broadcasted on national TV, local broadcasts and MLB.com. Not only that, but some of the data is available now to the public online.launch-angles

So what exactly are these stats? Well they are exactly what they sound like.

Exit Velocity measures how fast the ball comes off the bat (MPH). Since baseball was invented, people have been amazed at how some players have the ability to scorch the ball to the point where you can barely see it. Now people can know just how hard it is being hit and who hits the ball the hardest on a regular basis in baseball.

Launch Angle is the measurement of the vertical angle which the ball was hit when it reaches its maximum peak. The higher the ball is hit, the higher the angle. Absolute zero is hitting a straight surface parallel to the ground; balls hit on the ground are below zero in the negatives. Different kinds of players will have different averages when it comes to launch angle. Power hitters who drive the ball will have higher launch angles because they hit more long flyballs. Players with less power who typically hit singles on the ground and use their speed to reach base have much lower average launch angles.

Exit-Velo-Hosmer-2016-Spray-ChartWhat makes these two stats really useful and interesting is graphing them together. fivethirtyeight.com presented a very excellent graph with launch angle on the vertical axis and the exit velocity on the horizontal axis. The data on the graph shows batted balls and is color-coordinated (on a scale from cool to hot) on “scoring value”, so in other words how useful a ball hit at a certain angle and speed is to resulting in runs. The notable clump of balls that have the “hottest” value related to run-scoring are in the range of 18 – 40 degree launch angles and an exit velocity of 98MPH or greater are home runs. It gives you a basic idea of what is needed to hit a ball out of that ballpark. Though exit velocity has no exceeding limit to hit a home run, any angle greater than 45 degrees results in balls hit too high which does not allow the ball to travel at an angle to leave the yard.

These stats can tell you a lot about a hitter’s raw ability; take away BABIP for a moment and the chances of reaching base and just look at a hitter’s ability. For a long time scouts used power measurements in 0-100 intervals and basic numbers based on human observation. Now technology can actually use numbers and physical data to tell us how a hitter is able to put a solid swing on a ball and where he can hit it more accurately. Also, look at the chart example. Is it not important to evaluate at what kind of batted balls results in runs? A player’s raw hitting abilities can suggest what kind of production a player has the ability to put up. It’s not the be-all-end-all measurement by any means, but it does say something.

Though the popularity of these new stats has grown so much this year, it will continue to grow as more data becomes available over the next few years. Despite there being a lot of data available for fans, there is still a lot that isn’t available yet…but that will change.

I predict that in the next decade or so, there will be technology measuring these stats in all ballparks of all levels and used in scouting young players in high school and college.

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