Batted ball velocity is one of those "advanced metrics" that, after thinking about it for a moment, isn’t "advanced" at all. Intuitively, a hard hit ball is a good thing. Batted ball velocity is essentially putting a number to well-worn descriptions like "clobbering," "hitting a rocket," "mashing," "getting ahold of one," "crushing," and "hitting with authority." And, with a year’s worth of data (even if it’s not entirely reliable), the Rockies’ batted ball velocity leaderboards are mostly what one might expect—at least at the top.
Let’s start at the top. In terms of raw numbers, Carlos González clobbered the most balls in 2015. He was the only Rockies player to hit any balls harder than 115 mph, and he did that six times. CarGo hit 33 balls harder than 110 mph. While he wasn’t the only one to do that, the player with the next most balls in play at that velocity was Corey Dickerson with four. The remaining players to hit a ball between 110 and 114 mph are a smorgasbord of former Rockies: Wilin Rosario, Troy Tulowitzki, Kyle Parker, and Justin Morneau.
If we lower the rocket hitting threshold from 110 to 105 mph, we get a lot more players—22, in fact. González still sits atop this leaderboard here. His 73 balls in play hit harder than 105 mph lead the team and compose 3.25 percent of his total balls in play. Notably, this is the first time Nolan Arenado appears on one of these leaderboards. While he didn’t have any instants of power beyond 110 mph, he had a bunch between 105 and 109. His 44 balls in play in that range places him right behind CarGo.
A different view of who mashes the most on the Rockies emerges when the threshold is 100 mph. Even though none of Arenado’s balls in play clocked in at more than 110 mph the entire season, he was the Rockies’ 2015 leader in balls in play over 100 mph. His 110 outpaced CarGo’s 106, although they were essentially identical with regard to the percentage of balls in play to break the century mark—4.721 percent for Arenado and 4.720 for CarGo.
In fact, we can get an even clearer picture of who excelled the most at getting a hold of one if we pivot from raw numbers to ratios. Arenado led the Rockies in average batted ball velocity, besting CarGo by about a half mph:
|Balls in Play
|Avg. batted ball velocity in mph
It’s entirely possible that the difference between how many balls Arenado and CarGo got ahold of is, like the difference between a .299 and .300 batting average, meaningless. Still, when coupling the average batted ball velocity with the raw number of balls hit over 100, 105, 110, and 115 mph, we can conclude that Arenado was more consistent, whereas CarGo complemented his extremely hard hit balls with a lot of weaker ones.
He and Arenado landed in about the same place, although they took different routes to get there. Interestingly, this was the story when I reviewed batted ball velocity the first time way back on April 19. One of the things I took away from that overview was that when CarGo hits the ball with authority, he really hits it with authority—except, he does so in clusters. This supports the observation that González is incredibly streaky.
Something else in the chart above jumps out. Charlie Blackmon had the weakest batted ball velocity by fair margin. Again it’s not clear how significant a mile and a half of difference is, but it’s still surprising to see him below players like DJ LeMahieu and Nick Hundley. To make comparisons with other teams, it’s also Mike Aviles and Jordy Mercer territory.
Something else is surprising. Even though Blackmon, on average, hit the ball four to five mph softer than Arenado and CarGo, his batting average on balls (BABIP) in play was .040 points higher than both of them. Blackmon finished with a BABIP of .325. Arenado and CarGo both ended up with identical .284 BABIPs.
This might be a blip. Arenado, in particular, puts the ball in play a lot, and the numbers above indicate that he hits the ball hard while doing so. This should lead to a higher BABIP, which in turn would result in a higher batting average and on base percentage. This is something to watch for in 2016. That expectation doesn’t quite apply to CarGo because he strikes out more frequently. I can see Blackmon going either way. If he’s not squaring up the ball, his on base ability might take a dive. In this respect, however, his speed compensates.
Whether you want to call it batted ball velocity, baseball clobbering, or hitting it with authority, the first year of publicly available data raises questions and gives us storylines to pay attention to heading into 2016.
All data courtesy of Baseball Savant.