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Exit Velocity Leaders - Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds (Week 7)


For this week's Statcast Hitter Analysis, we're going back to where it all started and revisiting exit velocity. So far, we've also looked at barrels, sweet spot rate, xwOBA, and xBA.

With a larger sample size, the exit velocity leaderboard can be very telling. In our earlier iteration, names like Daniel Vogelbach, Renato Nunez, J.D. Davis and Byron Buxton were among the most noteworthy leaders. All have fallen out of the top 20 since and only Buxton falls within the top 50 still.

Let's take a closer look at who is continually striking the ball hard (or not) to find buy/sell/add/drop candidates for 2019 fantasy baseball leagues.

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Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of May 12, 2019 and display leaders among hitters with at least 25 batted ball events (BBE).

 

Josh Bell (1B, PIT)

94.6 MPH avg. exit velocity

Bell currently ranks fifth in average exit velocity, behind mighty strikers like Aaron Judge (back when he played), Joey Gallo, Gary Sanchez, and Christian Yelich. You may not have noticed, since he plays for the Pirates, but Bell has 10 HR, 34 RBI and a .319 average this season. He's arguably been the most valuable fantasy first baseman outside of Cody Bellinger. A high exit velocity has also led to the 10th-highest hard-hit rate (53.9) and 23rd-highest Barrel/PA rate (10.9%).

The question here isn't whether it's legit, it's whether he can keep it up. He had never hit more than 14 homers in a minor league season until he jacked 26 in his first full Major League season. After a rough 2018 of epic proportions, we have to trust that Bell has finally grown into his power after years of speculation that he could do so. He's taking a far more aggressive approach at the plate, swinging at the first pitch 34.2% of the time, and sacrificing some plate discipline for hard contact. It's working and his .313 xBA doesn't argue either. Bell's breakout is one to believe in, at least if you believe Statcast.

 

Christian Walker (1B, ARI)

94.2 MPH avg. exit velocity

After a blazing start, Walker hasn't homered in almost three weeks and has just one RBI in the month of May. That doesn't mean he isn't hitting the ball hard, however. Mainly occupying the fifth spot in the lineup, Walker should continue to have plenty of chances to drive in runs. The latest homestand against Atlanta didn't do his statline or fantasy owners any favors but he shouldn't be hitting the waiver wire any time soon.

Walker is sixth in exit velo, just behind Bell, and seventh in hard-hit rate at 55.6%. While he's proven to be a little streaky so far, the underlying metrics show that he may not have been a flash in the pan. It doesn't hurt that he can contribute the occasional steal too. If Walker gets dumped in your league, scoop him up.

 

Hunter Pence (OF, TEX)

93.1 MPH avg. exit velocity

Now here's a name I did not expect to see on the Statcast leaderboard at any point this year. Pence is throwing back to the early part of this decade when he was a perennial 20-HR guy who also hit for average. Pence is currently batting .316 with a robust 1.047 OPS. His .346 xBA is second in the bigs only to Cody Bellinger. That's an impressive start for one of the oldest players in the league.

Conventional wisdom is that he's got to fall off at some point and I can't disagree. The expected stats show that he's legitimately smoking the ball but it's a huge resurgence for someone whose exit velocity had declined for the past two years and xBA had fallen for three straight years down to .231 in 2018. The only possible explanation is a change of scenery. Globe Life Park ranked second in Park Factor for Hits last year whereas San Francisco was 13th. Pence is enjoying his time in the American League and we should partake too, at least while it lasts. Consider him a streamer for batting average and runs throughout the first half and don't hold the Giants years against him.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of May 12, 2019 and display leaders among hitters with at least 25 batted ball events (BBE).

 

David Dahl (OF, COL)

85.5 MPH avg. exit velocity

The front of Dahl's baseball card for this season should have a Demogorgon on it because there are some strange things happening on the back. On the plus side, he's batting .319, has a .520 xwOBACON and a 17.8% Barrel rate that is in the top five percent of the league. The downside is that he's got a 31.9% strikeout rate, a lowly 32.9% hard-hit% and ranks 306th with an 85.5 MPH exit velocity. After jacking 16 homers in just 249 AB last year, he's only gone deep three times this year.

Dahl has been all-or-nothing in his at-bats.

 

Edwin Encarnacion (1B, SEA)

87.4 MPH avg. exit velocity

Many predicted that E5 would start to fall off a cliff this year but he hasn't. In fact, it's been a solid first month for the 36-year-old, who's put up 12 HR, 28 RBI and has an xwOBA in the 89th percentile. What's to worry about? Well, his exit velocity has fallen 2.5 MPH from last year to the lowest since Statcast began measuring data and his hard-hit rate is at 30.8%, which ranks 223rd among hitters with 50 BBE. That hasn't stopped him from posting a 12.3% Barrel rate that is tied for a personal best over the past five years. How is this possible?

Encarnacion is pulling the trick due to an increased launch angle and quite good 39.6% Sweet Spot%. In short, he's making weaker contact in general but when he hits it hard, he's hitting it just right. This is something a crafty veteran can get away with but it should still be noted that he's less likely to get those barrels over time if he's not hitting the ball as hard. His 24.5% HR/FB% is the highest of his 15-year career and eight points above his career average. There's a really good chance April was the best month he'll have all year, so be prepared to sell if you reaped the rewards early on.

 

Travis Shaw (1B/2B/3B, MIL)

87.5 MPH avg. exit velocity

"Low exit velocity? Yeah, it figures." - Travis Shaw owners, probably.

Shaw is hitting so poorly, he didn't just get a day of rest - he got the entire weekend off to clear his mind. Let's hope it works because his putrid .167/.262/.288 slash line is making us all uncomfortable. The Mayor does have four dongs on the season but only eight RBI to show for it. Although his exit velocity is the lowest it's ever been, it's only by about one MPH compared to his norm. The real problem is a strikeout rate that has ballooned to 14 percent higher than last year when he posted a career-best 5% K-BB%. Now, it's at a career-worst 22.3% K-BB%. The lesson here is not to worry about exit velocity or quality of contact in Shaw's case. If/when he starts making more actual contact, everything should normalize and he could be due for a strong rest of the season.

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