Ever since MLB officially sanctioned some of the sacred batted ball data, I have really enjoyed looking at batted ball velocity data. In its essence, it provides us a way to assess how a player is doing in something fundamental: how hard is he hitting the ball? This is something that cannot be confused or confounded, but rather is a simple assessment of how well a guy is making contact. Of course, the value of batted balls vacillates depending on the launch angle among other factors, so hitting the ball hard does not necessarily purely translate into value. However, while individual batted balls can vary in their value, the more valuable ones tend to be harder-hit. Thus, increasing batted ball exit velocity for a hitter is a potential marker for someone who might be hitting the ball better.
A quick look at the Miami Marlins can show us whether players are playing up to their 2015 standards in terms of batted ball velocity. Bolded numbers represent an increase of greater than one mph.
|Player||2015 Avg Velo (mph)||2016 Avg Velo (mph)|
There were a few players whose velocities have dropped since last season. At the top, Stanton's velocity has dropped more than three mph off the bat. For many players, that might sound like a potential concern, but for Stanton, he is dropping from a stratospheric number of nearly 100 mph per batted ball down to 95 mph, which currently ranks seventh in all of baseball.
Marcell Ozuna and Martin Prado have dropped their batted ball velocities by around two mph. Prado is red-hot to start the year and has a sky-high BABIP, but that should regress as one would expect, especially since he is not hitting the ball particularly harder than usual to get him out of the "donut hole" of value of around 80 mph. Ozuna is hot right now, heating up in the last few weeks to bring his batting line up to .269/.319/.491 (.348 wOBA), so this may be a case of the exit velocity being on the rise. This is especially true knowing that Ozuna has natural power in his swing that is waiting to be unlocked.
Dee Gordon was hitting the ball lightly last year, and he was still hitting the ball pretty lightly this season before his suspension. He was not lighting it up at the plate either, but with Gordon, we know that batted ball velocity has not helped him as much in a line drive angle given that he is starting at such a low velocity compared to guys at the borderline of around 90 mph.
Christian Yelich has already been discussed before. It should be noted that, when Craig Edwards of FanGraphs took a look at the data provided by Darren Wilman (the original compiler of Baseball Savant) on changes in slugging percentage per "bucket" of exit velocity, there was a notable change in slugging when going from the 90-94 mph range to the 95-99 mph range, with the overall slugging percentage of 2015 batted balls hit at this velocity going from .372 to .656. In other words, making a jump in velocity from 90-94 to 95-99 goes from singles-type line drive hits to extra bases and home runs. Yelich is approaching the border of that jump, and that must have everything to do with why his power has spiked this season, even with his known ground ball / launch angle limitations.
J.T. Realmuto and Derek Dietrich so far have made similar increases in power. Realmuto's numbers in terms of power do not necessarily reflect it, but Dietrich has looked much better so far this season as compared to his prior data from previous years. Both players have been squaring up balls a lot better.
The Steady Hands
It is good to see Justin Bour maintaining his velocity from last season. A lot of markers were concerning about Bour, but his power was difficult to argue against. He is maintaining that raw strength when he makes contact, and his batting line looks better thus far for it.
The same can be said for Adeiny Hechavarria, who has picked up his velocity by almost one mph but has not reaped the same benefits. He is struggling with a .217 BABIP despite making similar types of contact and striking out less this year than he did before. No guarantees that either of those things will continue, but the batted ball velocity data is usually indicative of true talent at that time pretty quickly, meaning it should be a little more reliable as a predictor of future performance than BABIP. Hechavarria should start hitting a little better soon.
All of these numbers generally point towards good outcomes for the Marlins' offense. A number of players are either hitting the ball harder or, based on stable or improved batted ball velocities, should see improvement in play. The few stragglers are mostly power-laden guys who are "falling" to good ranks regardless of their dip in the early season. The offense may surprisingly be in decent hands this season.