How New Data Metrics Are Changing The Tradition Baseball Swing
A lot young players may not remember this old Nike commercial, but many of these aspiring stars are swinging for the fences after studying new hitting metrics.
Starting in 2015, all 30 professional stadiums were equipped with MLB’s new state-of-the-art tracking technology Statcast.
Through an intricate system of optical cameras and radar instruments, Statcast can track precise movements of the baseball from when it leaves the pitcher’s hand to when it (hopefully) flies over the fences.
By translating the movements of the baseball into data, the technology has introduced hitters to an entirely new set of statistics that have changed the way players and coaches think about hitting.
The first of these measurements is Exit Velocity, which is pretty much exactly how it sounds.
How fast is the baseball going after it makes contact and leaves the bat?
Naturally, a hard-hit ball has a higher chance of becoming a hit, and eventually a home run, than a softly-hit ball.
The game’s best hitters like Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt have an Average Exit Velocity over 90mph.
However, Exit Velocity alone does not always lead to more Home Runs. To tell the complete story of a home run, you need to pair it with its teammate Launch Angle.
This metric measures the precise vertical angle at which the balls leaves the bat. A batted ball with a Launch Angle under 10 degrees is often a ground ball that is easily taken care of by the infielders. Any batted ball hit above 40 degrees is a high fly ball that should find an outfielder’s glove.
To hit a line drive, a batter will need to hit the ball at a launch angle between 15 and 35 degrees. Players want to hit as many line drives as possible as this ball flight is statically proven to lead to the most hits.
So where is the Home Run sweet spot?
This graph, found by FiveThirtyEight and produced by the MLB Statcast service Baseball Savant, shows that a ball hit with an Exit Velocity over 95mph and a Launch Angle around 25 degrees is leaving the ball park almost every time.
These are the swing dimensions a hitter is striving for at every bat.
This has led hitting instructors to think about hitting in a different way all the way down to the high school level. Instead of teaching their players to swing down on the ball with a short, compact motion, players are starting to be taught to extend their swings and hit the ball at a slightly upward angle.
In fact, third baseman Justin Turner, whose walk-off moonshot in Game 2 of the NLCS helped send the Dodgers to the world series, told NBC Los Angeles, “When it’s hot out here and there’s a breeze blowing out, the ball flies pretty good here. I’m just trying to hit the ball as hard as I can every time.”
— TBS Network (@TBSNetwork) October 16, 2017
That pitch is a fastball tailing back into the strike zone after starting on the outside. The older school of hitting would have taught you to drive down on that pitch and hit a hard ground ball the opposite way. Instead, Turner drops his hands slightly and lifts a low pitch out of the ball park.
So, after hundreds of years of teaching players to not swing for the fences, that’s exactly what players are doing, and it has led to more Home Runs than ever before.