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Love/Hate with Statcast

Posted by MaxOelerking , 24 April 2018 · 2,068 views

statcast home runs hitting scouting
Love/Hate with Statcast With all the technological advancements made in baseball, its easy to get lost in the mess. There's new stats that make zero sense to some people, but the issue is just understanding what they tell us. Batting average and ERA are easy to grasp. What percentage of this batter's at-bats have resulted in hits? How many earned-runs does this pitcher give up on average in 9 innings? These are how we read stats, because they answer our questions. So what question does launch angle and exit velocity answer? "It just shows how hard a player hits the ball.", is an answer that makes me cringe because its so far from the truth. Yes, it is used to see who's hitting the ball the hardest, but that's not a question we need answered. The question shouldn't be "how hard can he hit it?", rather we should be asking "how well does he hit it?" and "how often does he hit it well?".

What makes for a well hit ball? The magic numbers lie between 10 to 30 degrees. Batted balls that are hit at these angles off the bat have the greatest chance to fall for a hit (or better yet home runs). Why does this matter? Because if a player is able to hit a ball consistently this way, he will have more hits (higher batting average for those who will never be convinced that Statcast is a good thing). Even if a guy can't hit the ball 100+ mph, he can have success with a good launch angle.

There is an opposite end of the Statcast love-hate spectrum. Those that gush over exit velocity and nothing else. This group of people are just as bad, if not worse, than Statcast haters. This is the over excitable group that is driving the non-believers away. Don't get me wrong, I love it when guys hit 110+ mph moonshots. But if a guy hits a ball 100 mph and grounds out to third, its just a ground out. Launch angle should be the most important thing we look at when it comes to analyzing hitters. Is it okay for players to have low launch angles? Absolutely! Dee Gordon is wasting his time if he's trying to lift the ball over the fence because he's built and has the ability to slap the ball up the middle and leg out singles. For players like Mookie Betts or Chris Taylor, launch angle is extremely important because they lack size and and blazing speed. Betts (5'9" 180lbs) and Taylor (6'1" 190lbs) look the exact opposite of power hitters, but they are still able to hit 20+ homers a year.
Posted Image
Chris Taylor is a perfect example of a player that revived his career by improving his average launch angle. Below are his average launch angle, average exit velocity, % of batted balls hit between 15 and 30 degrees, along with his corresponding stats.

2015 and 2016
Avg. Launch Angle............................11.0 deg.
Avg. Exit Velocity...............................86.6 mph
Stats: .187/.236/.277

2017 and 2018
Launch Angle....................................12.0 deg.
Exit Velocity.......................................87.1 mph
Stats: .281/.344/.488

It took just a 1 degree increase in average launch angle and 0.5 mph increase in average exit velocity to go from a -1.0 WAR player to a 4.9 WAR player. Chris Taylor is not the only example either.

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Here is another example, this time looking at Anthony Rendon. This was a player who was already a solid hitter who was able to progresses even more.

2015 and 2016
Avg. Launch Angle............................14.5 deg.
Avg. Exit Velocity...............................90.5 mph
Stats: .268/.346/.419
WAR: 4.4
2017 and 2018
Launch Angle....................................18.2 deg.
Exit Velocity.......................................89.6 mph
Stats: .300/.399/.521
WAR: 6.0

Rendon's improvements also show us that a slight decrease in average exit velocity does not cause is drop in offensive production. Rendon also increased his average launch angle by 3.7 degrees and had a huge jump in offensive value, making him one of the most underrated third basemen in the MLB.

In closing, if I was not able to change anyone's mind about the use of Statcast data, I hope I was able to prove that this information has a place in the game. Radar guns were once seen as overrated too when collecting data on pitchers.

  • Tom Froemming likes this

I understand the convenience and the tchnologoy to quantify launch angles and exit velocities. It can be a teaching tool and an evaluation asset. But the concept is not! We used to call them frozen ropes, hitting the ball on a line, or even the simple "line drive"! Basically if you hit the ball on the ground you are not going to do as well. If you get under the ball and hit it too vertically someone will end up standing under it. And the harder you hit it, and the faster it gets to a given landing area, the better chance no one will interfere with its path. We didn't have the technology to delineate to the Nth degree the deviations, we just knew that guys who hit the ball harder and straighter were better hitters than those who popped up and hit two hop grounders to short! :)