Prior to the 2014 season, MLB Advanced Media announced that in the coming seasons it would install digital tracking devices in every ballpark. These instruments capture the minutest of movements on the field—from player position, to pitches, to every bat-to-ball event. You’ve seen the announcement. A clip of Jason Heyward chasing down and catching a ball accompanied it, with both Heyward and the ball leaving digital detritus behind. What made the announcement so compelling was that the data would eventually be released in some form to the public. Teams have had the bulk of this information for a while now. Major League Baseball Advanced Media christened the project and the data yielded form the tracking system Statcast, and we’re now seeing bits of information seep out.
For the most part, I have no idea what to do with the information. There’s no context. Not only that, but I’m not sure I care that much about precise figures telling me a player’s acceleration or max speed. While waiting for smarter minds to persuade me why I should care about those things, I did dig into some available information whose returns are more obvious. Statcast tracks batted ball velocity, which you can find at Baseball Savant. Batted ball velocity correlates nicely to "he hit it hard," and hitting it hard correlates to being a good hitter. So—which Rockies have hit the ball the hardest so far this season, and what does that tell us?
The tables below (with accompanying commentary) are Rockies leaderboards for batted ball velocity, in five mph increments, from 90 to 110. We'll call any batted ball velocity 90 mph or above "hard hit." The tables include raw number of pitches see for each batter, the number of batted balls that break either equal or cross the indicated velocity threshold, and the percentage of batted balls that did so. Stats are current through Friday's games.
Leaderboard: 90 mph or greater batted ball velocity
|Rank||Player||Pitches seen||Balls in Play > 90 mph||% of Balls in Play > 90 mph|
A general point sticks out to me here. While it's certainly hard to hit the ball 90 mph, it's not too hard. There are some light hitters who, even in a small sample, have a couple balls hit at least 90 mph. Setting a 90 mph limit will yield a list of most position players who have accrued a few plate appearances. The player who sticks out the most is Nick Hundley. He has seen a lot of pitches and has hit just two of them hard. His backup, Michael McKenry, has seen 100 fewer pitches and has just as many hard hit balls.
Leaderboard: 95 mph or greater batted ball velocity
|Rank||Player||Pitches seen||Balls in Play > 95 mph||% of Balls in Play > 95 mph|
Upping the threshold to 95 mph, we lose Drew Stubbs and Nick Hundley. So not only does Hundley have very few hard hit balls after seeing a lot of pitches, neither were hit hard enough to keep him around for this leaderboard. Of course, everyone except for DJ LeMahieu lost a few hard hit balls after upping the threshold.
Leaderboard: 100 mph or greater batted ball velocity
|Rank||Player||Pitches seen||Balls in Play > 100 mph||% of Balls in Play > 100 mph|
Daniel Descalso represents the sole casualty of the change from 95 to 100 mph. Notice here that Charlie Blackmon fell from second on the previous leaderboard to tied for last in the one directly above. That tells us that his hard hit balls tended to be below 100 mph off of the bat. Impressively but perhaps not too surprisingly given his strength, Wilin Rosario is still here in a small sample. More surprisingly, McKenry and DJ LeMahieu remain on the leaderboard.
Leaderboard: 105 mph or greater batted ball velocity
|Rank||Player||Pitches seen||Balls in Play > 105 mph||% of Balls in Play > 105 mph|
Upped to 105 mph batted ball velocity, we lost two more: Charlie Blackmon and Justin Morneau. Now is a good time to point out that Carlos Gonzalez has been sitting atop every leaderboard thus far. Not only that, but he's only lost four balls in play from the first one to the more exclusive one above. In terms of percentage, about four percent of CarGo's batted balls have been at least 105 mph off the bat. Rosario is the only batter with a higher percentage, but he's seen 97 fewer pitches than CarGo.
Leaderboard: 110 mph or greater batted ball velocity
|Rank||Player||Pitches seen||Balls in Play > 110 mph||% of Balls in Play > 110 mph|
And now the ranks have really thinned out. It's not surprising to find CarGo and Dickerson here, but it is somewhat unexpected not to find Tulowitzki. It's clear that batted ball velocity above 110 mph is elite company. I didn't make a leaderboard for velocity higher than 115 mph. The Rockies have only had one such ball in play. Carlos Gonzalez hit it. You'd think it was his glorious home run to center field in Milwaukee, but it was a decidedly unglorious groundout to Scooter Gennett.
The big takeaway is about Carlos Gonzalez, but it's fuzzy. CarGo is struggling so far this season. He's hitting .231/.244/.410, and his wRC+ stands at 63. Of course, we're in a moment where Adrian Gonzalez leads baseball with a 383 wRC+. The current figures do not foretell.
In fact, batted ball velocity might tell us something a little more optimistic about CarGo. His four batted balls with a velocity above 110 mph is tied for most in baseball. The other players with four are Hanley Ramirez and Mike Trout. Lowering the threshold to 105 keeps CarGo around great hitters near the top of the batted ball velocity leaderboards, such as Josh Donaldson, Adam Jones, and Michael Morse. So while CarGo is struggling right now, he's still hitting the ball hard.
Or, rather, he was hitting the ball hard. Each of Carlos Gonzalez's seven batted balls with a velocity above 100 mph came during the first three games of the season in Milwaukee. He hasn't had one since. We know all too well that CarGo is a very streaky hitter. He's been mired in slumps that would seemingly never end. But he always came out of the funk at some point. The exception was his injury riddled 2014, when the high point was the Opening Day home run against Jose Fernandez.
So CarGo's batted ball velocity, which we know about because of Statcast, is sending us mixed messages. On the one hand, it's telling us that CarGo is just as capable of a hitter as he was prior to 2014. On the other hand, it's telling us that his recent slump isn't just due to poor luck. It's also because he hasn't been hitting the ball very hard.
At least, that's what I'm taking from the data above. Tell us what you see about Rockies hitters in the comments.