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Giancarlo Stanton and the discrepancy on hard-hit balls

The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton has the fewest line drives of his career despite a strong month of April. Is this reflected in the exit velocity data?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are going to need Giancarlo Stanton to continue playing well as he did during April of this season. Stanton hit .253/.364/.566 (.396 wOBA) this past month, representing the best April he has put up in his career. Of course, he had been pretty cold before a recent 10-game streak in which he started smashing home runs and getting on base at high clips in large part due to fears by opposing pitchers. Stanton figures to play an important role in the team's success going forward with Dee Gordon suspended.

The interesting thing when you look at Stanton's otherwise gaudy batting line is that he supposedly is not hitting the ball as hard as he was last season. According to BIS data, he has the lowest line drive rate of his career and the highest rate of soft-hit batted balls than ever before.

Stanton, Season GB% FB% LD% Soft% Hard%
2016 42 43 15 22 28
2015 35 45 20 16 50
Career 41 40 19 17 42

If you look at those numbers, you might be concerned that the batted balls off of Stanton's bat have been weaker despite the impressive eight homers and .313 ISO. But it does not necessarily fit; after all, Stanton's eight homers did happen, and that eight percent homer rate is more or less the same as the rate he put up in his abbreviated 2015 season. How can he also be hitting the ball softer with all of this power display, especially in the last few games?

Part of it could just be the small sample and the fact that more than a usual number of those hard-hit balls left the stadium potentially this month. But given that we now have more access than ever to data regarding exit velocity and launch angles, we have more information to evaluate these batted ball speeds and see if the raw data fits these subjective categorizations. We can compare Stanton's 2015 and 2016 breakdowns of batted balls so far. In order to do that, batted balls were broken down into three categories: exit velocities less than or equal to 80 mph, between 81-89 mph, and greater than or equal to 90 mph. The following table shows the breakdown of batted balls by percentage of total batted balls.

Stanton, Season <80 mph 81-89 mph >90 mph
2015 25 15 60
2016 17 17 66

The distribution looks essentially pretty similar, especially since the 2016 data has occurred early in the season. You would think that if Stanton were hitting more balls softly, as the stringer data seems to indicate, that he would have fewer 90 mph balls. It should be noted that overall he is hitting the average ball about five mph slower than he was last season, but it does not seem as though the distribution of batted ball strength should be that significantly different.

The launch angles also tell a story pointing towards similarities rather than differences between the 2015 and 2016 seasons so far.

Stanton, Season <10 deg 10-25 deg >25 deg
2015 47 23 30
2016 44 29 27

Generally, batted balls at an angle 25 degrees or greater tend to be primarily fly balls, while those at ten degrees or less tend to be grounders. The middle ground usually are line drives. Oddly enough, while Stanton has more balls in the middle degrees, he is somehow classified as having fewer liners this year. A similar number of balls at that line-drive angle were hit at 90 mph or greater, with Stanton hitting about 74 and 71 percent of batted balls at this angle at high velocities in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Stanton is definitely not hitting the ball as hard as he was last season, but given the data we have seen from him thus far, he is not all that far behind from the 2015 year. Remember, in 2015, he hit 27 home runs in just 318 plate appearances. If Stanton even approaches that kind of strength in 2016, the Miami Marlins would be very happy with his performance. Despite the odd classifications for batted balls, it appears there is not a major concern in terms of the strength of Stanton's swings.