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2016 Exit Velocity Gainers and Losers

With two seasons’ worth of Statcast data now in the books, we look at which players took steps forward and backward in 2016.

Milwaukee Brewers v Miami Marlins Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images

Hitting the ball hard is good. This is something that baseball has always known, more or less, but was never able to quantify until 2015, when Statcast made exit velocity numbers available to the public. It takes much more than exit velocity to be a successful hitter of course; launch angle is incredibly important, as are approach and contact skills. But still, hitting the ball hard is good, generally.

Now that we have two full seasons worth of Statcast data at our disposal, it is time to see which players experienced a significant change in exit velocity from 2015 to 2016. Before we reveal the lists, a few things to keep in mind:

  • Statcast misses tracking some batted balls, and different ballparks do have some differences in tracking. The main point is that the info presented in this article should not be taken as gospel so much as a general overview. There is missing data, but to the best of our knowledge it is pretty complete, so we can learn from the data we do have.
  • The hitters looked at for these leaderboards had at least 100 batted balls recorded in both 2015 and 2016. This yielded a group of 293 players.
  • Of the 293 players, 149 of them had a difference in average exit velocity of one mile-per-hour or less, either positively or negatively. This represents 51 percent of the hitters who qualified.
  • The average exit velocity for these 293 players was 88.9 mph in 2015 and 89.2 mph in 2016.
  • As Craig Edwards noted for FanGraphs, the statistic that most closely correlates with exit velocity is slugging percentage. For that reason, the difference in slugging for each hitter from 2015 to 2016 is included in the tables as well.

So now, to the leaderboards we go.

2016’s TOP 10 EXIT VELOCITY GAINERS

Player Team 2015 EV (mph) 2016 EV (mph) EV Difference (mph) SLG Difference
Danny Espinosa Nationals 85.5 91.1 5.6 -.031
Danny Santana Twins 85.2 89.3 4.1 +.051
Kole Calhoun Angels 86.5 90.4 3.9 +.016
Matt Joyce Pirates 86.1 89.9 3.8 +.172
Sean Rodriguez Pirates 87.4 91.1 3.7 +.148
Gordon Beckham Braves/Giants 85.1 88.7 3.6 +.015
Chris Young Red Sox 85.8 89.2 3.4 +.045
Carlos Ruiz Phillies/Dodgers 85.2 88.4 3.2 +.063
Matt Holliday Cardinals 91.6 94.7 3.1 +.051
J.J. Hardy Orioles 87.9 91.0 3.1 +.096

  • Danny Espinosa leads EVERYONE by 1.5 mph! Even more shocking is that despite his 5.6 mph gain in exit velocity his slugging percentage went down in 2016. It seems that Espinosa was the embodiment of the phrase “selling out for power.” He set a career high in home runs with 24 with, but his contact and strikeout rates suffered dearly. Exit velocity going up and slugging percentage going down could be a sign of bad luck, but for Espinosa, it seems like it’s a sign of the increased velocity not justifying a worse approach.
  • Given that he dealt with a quad injury for much of 2015, it’s not that surprising to see Matt Holliday on this list, but it’s not like he had a bad exit velocity last year. He made the top ten list by improving on an already impressive 91.6 mph in 2015 with a 94.7 mph mark in 2016, a jump that ranked him third on our list of qualified players. Holliday will be entering his age-37 season and should probably be a 1B/DH only player going forward, but it looks like there’s still some pop in his bat (when he’s healthy) for whatever team is willing to take the chance.
  • Matt Joyce had a brutal 2015 with the Angels, slashing .174/.272/.291 for an anemic 61 wRC+ and -1.4 fWAR. This season he was able to show that 2015 was an aberration, bouncing back nicely with an additional 3.8 mph on his average exit velocity and a whopping .172 point increase to his slugging percentage. A repeat of 2015 might have meant the end Joyce’s major league career, but it now looks like he’s still capable of handling left-handed platoon/4th outfielder duties.

2016’s TOP 10 EXIT VELOCITY LOSERS

Player Team 2015 EV (mph) 2016 EV (mph) EV Difference (mph) SLG Difference
John Jaso Pirates 91.3 86.4 -4.9 -.046
Miguel Rojas Marlins 87.9 83.9 -4.0 -.041
Juan Lagares Mets 91.7 88.0 -3.7 +.022
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 98.6 95.1 -3.5 -.117
Jason Heyward Cubs 90.7 87.4 -3.3 -.114
Jed Lowrie Athletics 89.4 86.2 -3.2 -.078
Jonathan Schoop Orioles 90.8 87.8 -3.0 -.028
Lucas Duda Mets 93.0 90.2 -2.8 -.074
Brandon Belt Giants 90.2 87.4 -2.8 -.004
Ivan De Jesus Jr. Reds 86.7 84.2 -2.5 -.061

  • That Giancarlo Stanton lost 3.5 mph from his average exit velocity but still had the second-highest of 2016 among qualified batters says all you need to know about him. He had a horrible slump from mid-May to mid-June and then suffered a serious groin injury. When healthy, Stanton will continue to crush baseballs; being on this list is probably not a cause for concern.
  • Jason Heyward’s struggles in his first year with the Cubs have been well documented. He cut his ground ball rate by nine percent and replaced most of those grounders with fly balls. Normally that’d be great, but his exit velocity decreased for both batted ball types. In July, FanGraphs’ August Fagerstrom pointed out that, in the past, Heyward had done most of his damage low in the zone, but 2016 had seen that strength of his vanish. You can see additionally see this from his exit velocity zone profile from Baseball Savant. Making more contact, and worse contact, up in the zone appears to have been Heyward’s downfall in 2016.
Baseball Savant
  • Brandon Belt lost almost three mph of exit velocity, but saw his slugging percentage remain almost unchanged. From 2015 to 2016 his BABIP dropped from .363 to .346, and his HR/FB dropped from 13.6% to 9.3%. It seems those are the only two areas where his decreased exit velocity showed up, because the rest of his offensive numbers were either unchanged or showed improvements. It’s not clear which figure represents his underlying talent.

2016’s OTHER NOTABLE EXIT VELOCITY GAINERS

Player Team 2015 EV (mph) 2016 EV (mph) EV Difference (mph) SLG Difference
Eric Hosmer Royals 90.5 93.4 2.9 -.026
Victor Martinez Tigers 88.0 90.8 2.8 +.110
Jose Altuve Astros 86.1 88.7 2.6 +.072
Jean Segura Diamondbacks 87.3 89.9 2.6 +.163
Nelson Cruz Mariners 93.7 95.9 2.2 -.011
Justin Upton Tigers 90.3 92.3 2.0 +.011
Khris Davis Athletics 90.7 92.7 2.0 +.019

  • Eric Hosmer gained almost three mph of exit velocity but saw his slugging percentage actually decrease. A nearly seven percent increase in ground balls and a .035 decrease in BABIP seems to be the culprit. He needs to elevate the ball more consistently in combination with the improved exit velocity to have a bounce-back year in 2017.
  • Nelson Cruz’s 95.9 average exit velocity topped our list of qualified players for 2016. His offensive numbers were slightly worse this season, despite the 2.2 mph increase from 2015. Just slightly though; he still had a great year at the plate.

2016’s OTHER NOTABLE EXIT VELOCITY LOSERS

Player Team 2015 EV (mph) 2016 EV (mph) EV Difference (mph) SLG Difference
Ryan Braun Brewers 93.2 91.3 -1.9 +.040
Bryce Harper Nationals 91.4 89.5 -1.9 -.208
Jose Abreu White Sox 91.7 90.1 -1.6 -.034
Lorenzo Cain Royals 90.8 89.2 -1.6 -.069
Miguel Sano Twins 94.8 93.2 -1.6 -.068
Mike Trout Angels 93.2 91.7 -1.5 -.040
Nolan Arenado Rockies 91.7 90.3 -1.4 -.005

  • Bryce Harper saw a 1.9 mph decrease in his exit velocity to accompany a season that, for him, represented a real step backwards. In August, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs looked at Harper’s 2015 slugging percentage on fly balls and saw that, based on his exit velocity, we perhaps should’ve expected regression. Combine this expected decline on fly balls with the decrease in exit velocity overall, and we can start to explain why Harper saw his 2016 slugging percentage decrease by .208. Hopefully a completely healthy Harper can get back to his otherworldly self in 2017.
  • Mike Trout lost 1.5 mph of exit velocity and these NERDS still think he should win the MVP?! Sad! (He should, of course.)

THE MODELS OF CONSISTENCY

Finally we take a look at the six players who saw their exit velocities completely unchanged from 2015 to 2016.

Player Team 2015 EV (mph) 2016 EV (mph) EV Difference SLG Difference
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 94.5 94.5 0.0 +.029
Erick Aybar Braves/Tigers 85.1 85.1 0.0 -.018
Mark Reynolds Rockies 88.3 88.3 0.0 +.052
Michael Bourn D’Backs/Orioles 85.2 85.2 0.0 -.011
Alexei Ramirez Padres/Rays 84.7 84.7 0.0 -.024
J.D. Martinez Tigers 91.8 91.8 0.0 .000

  • The six players on this list are all veterans and all known quantities; what you see is what you get. Really, the inclusion of this table is for the sole purpose of pointing out that JD Martinez saw both his exit velocity AND slugging percentage remain exactly the same from 2015 to 2016. Now that’s consistency!

***

Statcast is still in it’s infancy, and while exit velocities can only provide so much analytical value on their own, how hard a player hits the baseball is a fundamental component of the sport. Exit velocity used alongside other batted ball numbers are proving to be wonderful tool to further public player evaluation.

What a time to be alive!

. . .

Chris Anders is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @MrChrisAnders.