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Miami Marlins hit breaking balls harder than fastballs

Contrary to popular belief, the Marlins, like most players, hit breaking balls rather than fastballs the hardest.

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Is that a breaking pitch or a fastball?
Is that a breaking pitch or a fastball?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are excelling on offense thus far in 2016, ranking eighth in the league among non-pitchers in wRC+. The team as a group is hitting 12 percent better than the league average when not including pitchers. Of course, a big part of that is Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, who own two of the 30 best batting lines in the game. The Fish are impressing, but there are still some folks doubting their players. Fish Stripes reader Sandman12 thinks that Stanton got his strong first month off of cheap shots off bad breaking balls and has failed to hit fastballs well.

Stanton hits soft pitches hard

and fouls or misses everything over 92 mph.

This would make Stanton's strong month look a little worse, but it was a comment that got me thinking about what types of batted balls get hit hard. It is also something that, when taken generally, has been the case for most hitters once the StatCast data has been made available. Joe Lemire of USA TODAY commented on this very factor late last year.

One could easily point out the basic numbers for each of the Marlins' best power hitters and see how well they do.

Player, 2016 AVG SLG
Giancarlo Statnon .272 .613
Christian Yelich .308 .461
Derek Dietrich .323 .588
Marcell Ozuna .316 .579
Justin Bour .333 .452

The highest slugging percentage and ISO on fastballs still is coming from Stanton, meaning that even with Stanton's supposed difficulty hitting fastballs, when he hits them, he apparently hits them very hard. Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna are the two other Marlins with the most prolific work against fastballs.

But how is their work against breaking balls? This is how they have fared versus sliders and curveballs.

Player, 2016 AVG SLG
Giancarlo Statnon .250 .458
Christian Yelich .286 .534
Derek Dietrich .385 .846
Marcell Ozuna .207 .345
Justin Bour .266 .667

Three of the team's players hit for more power when facing breaking pitches, indicating the ability to perhaps better punish mistake pitches with hard contact. Two guys did worse, though Stanton's line was still quite acceptable. Only Ozuna looked significantly worse in this small sample of breaking balls.

How did those hitters fare against each type? First, let's take a look at their performance against hard pitches, fastballs of both two- and four-seam variety.

Player, 2016 Swing% Foul/Swing % Whiff/Swing %
Giancarlo Stanton 39 43 27
Christian Yelich 37 46 4
Derek Dietrich 41 48 16
Marcell Ozuna 46 28 19
Justin Bour 43 38 27

The team as a whole is not all that different at swinging at fastballs. Marcell Ozuna is the most aggressive, and that seems warranted given that he is making fair contact the most often among the hitters on the team. Yelich is on the other hand, being the most patient with the fastball but as a result whiffing on the lowest number of fastballs per swing; Yelich has the smarts and patience to avoid all but the best fastballs to hit. Most of the Marlins are fouling off fastballs at around a 40 percent rate, so this does not seem all that different for any player on the team.

Compare those numbers with those against breaking balls this year.

Player, 2016 Swing% Foul/Swing % Whiff/Swing %
Giancarlo Stanton 47 18 49
Christian Yelich 37 33 37
Derek Dietrich 41 38 23
Marcell Ozuna 46 27 47
Justin Bour 45 41 17

Ozuna does not hit foul balls, Yelich is very patient versus both fastballs and breaking pitches, and Derek Dietrich has some newfound contact skill against breaking pitches that he did not have in previous seasons. Ozuna and Stanton are the Marlins who have some more notable struggles with the breaking pitch with more missed swings. However, as we already noted above, Stanton compensates that with good power, while Ozuna struggles when he actually makes contact on breaking pitches.

One more way we can determine how the Marlins are doing is by taking a look at batted ball distributions and exit velocity based on the pitch velocity. First, we looked at all fastballs with velocity greater than 92 mph and saw how the Marlins' players distributed their batted ball types by launch angle and their overall exit velocity.

Player, 2016 GB ang (%) LD ang (%) FB/PU ang (%) Avg Exit Velo (mph)
Giancarlo Stanton 52 20 28 90.5
Christian Yelich 69 13 18 94.2
Derek Dietrich 54 31 15 87.5
Marcell Ozuna 51 11 38 90.0
Justin Bour 53 12 35 87.2

Let's compare that to the batted ball velocities the Marlins are hitting against breaking pitches of any velocity, classified as sliders and curveballs.

Player, 2016 GB ang (%) LD ang (%) FB/PU ang (%) Avg Exit Velo (mph)
Giancarlo Stanton 38 27 35 95.9
Christian Yelich 47 35 18 96.4
Derek Dietrich 13 50 37 88.5
Marcell Ozuna 50 29 21 86.0
Justin Bour 67 0 33 97.4

The only player who looks worse versus breaking balls in Ozuna, with a worse velocity on his average batted ball. The other players saw an increase in their exit velocity against breaking pitches, with Derek Dietrich's being the lowest. Essentially, the only Marlin who looks like he prefers the fastball to the breaking pitch when fair contact is made is Ozuna; the rest fall in line with the general principle that breaking balls are more hard-hit when contact is made, but contact for most hitters is harder to make with breaking pitches.

This is the kind of information that gives us a better sense of what type of hitter players are. Yelich, Stanton, and Ozuna are better attacked with breaking pitches, but of the three, only Ozuna may struggle to make opponents pay. Stanton and Yelich have improved power and batted ball distributions when they do make contact with breaking pitches, making them more dangerous. On the other hand, Justin Bour is to be attacked with the fastball, as he is a punisher of bad breaking pitches to the extreme. We will see if this kind of habit will continue going forward or if both sides are ready to make adjustments.