The evolution of baseball technology has allowed for new insight and analysis in almost every area of the game. While these underlying stats cannot tell the whole picture, they do provide a deeper glance into realms previously only touched upon. One rapidly growing area is batted ball data, much of which is housed by MLB’s Statcast database. The Baseball Savant tool includes many intricate categories, including both exit velocity and launch angle.
Neither exit velocity nor launch angle is a completely new statistic, but the extent of the data available to the public has never been this great before. By looking at how hard players hit the ball and from what angle balls leave their bat, much clearer dissections can occur as compared to just looking at a stat like batting average.
One note on the data below: only balls that resulted in a hit, out, or error are included in the data set, and balls and strikes, walks, strikeouts, hit batters, etc. are excluded.
The above chart maps the results from Tigers batters this season based on their exit velocity and launch angle combinations. There are a few distinct sections on the graph. Most balls hit downward resulted in an out unless they came with a good amount of velocity. Likewise, anything hit above 40 degrees was almost always an out as well. Home runs fall in the upper right section, and triples and doubles slide in next, decreasing in both velocity and angle.
The Tigers featured a lower ground ball rate than most other teams, leading to an above average amount of both line drives and fly balls. More importantly, they made strong contact over 40 percent of the time, and per the graph above, this usually ended well. This is not too surprising, considering the team ended third in batting average and fourth in wRC+ in 2016.
The key to success comes down to two things: hit the ball hard or hit the ball at a medium angle. When recording an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, the Tigers earned a batting average of .534. When hitting the ball between five and 25 degrees, their average was .623. Combining these factors is what yields extra base hits, including the majority of the team’s home runs.
|Player||Avg Velo||95+ mph||5-25 deg||Both|
Who hit the ball the hardest in 2016? The names at the top of the list are not much of a shock. Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, and J.D. Martinez all hit the ball over 95 mph more than half of the time, and they were also the great at finding the middle launch angle. While Nick Castellanos and Ian Kinsler were successful at hitting this range as well, they were not nearly as violent in terms of power. For the most part, the Statcast data matches the traditional stats for the majority of the Detroit batters.
The graph looks pretty similar for Tigers pitchers. Detroit was more of a fly ball team than a ground ball, and the top of the chart is a little more pronounced than the one for the batters. Opponents made a decent amount of solid contact against the Tigers in 2016, but they hit balls over 95 mph at a lower-than-average rate. If the graph does not look overly impressive, keep in mind that the Tigers were below average in both ERA and batting average against last season.
39 percent of the time, opponents made hard contact against the Tigers, and they did so with a .665 batting average. They hit the ball between five and 25 degrees on 30 percent of their batted balls and generated a .555 average from these occasions. While neither of these frequencies are devastating, they were nothing to be proud of for Tigers pitchers, who allowed batters to make quality contact more often than they had hoped in 2016.
|Pitcher||Avg Velo||<95 mph||<5 / >25 deg||Both|
Though there is much more to pitching than just avoiding the most dangerous exit velocities and launch angles, they do provide some insight into what is important. There is clear benefit in avoiding hard hit balls, and no Tiger was better than Shane Greene in this department. In terms of launch angle, he was also the best at avoiding line drives. Most of the Tigers were clumped together in the middle, with Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson posting competitive numbers in 2016.