12 Average Exit Velocity Surgers

Exit Velocity! It’s all the rage now. And it should be. With just one season’s worth of incomplete data, we’re still trying to figure out what it all means. You’re familiar with my xHR/FB rate metric, right? That equation uses a hitter’s batted ball distance to determine what his HR/FB rate “should have” been. Unfortunately, batted ball distance is a result and the goal for any metrics I develop is to use metric that represent underlying skills. Exit velocity is that underlying skill. The hope is that it will eventually replace batted ball distance in my equation.

Just two weeks in, we already have Statcast data to work with and I’m itching to dive in. So that’s precisely what I’m going to do. The normal small sample size caveats apply, especially because I’m only looking at fly ball/line drive exit velocity, not all balls in play. We don’t care who hits hard grounders nearly as much as hard fly balls. Because we want to predict power spikes, not singles spikes. So here are 12 notable exit velocity surgers, as compared to last season.

Exit Velocity Surgers
Player  Avg FB/LD EV (mph) 2016 Avg FB/LD EV (mph) 2015 Difference
Preston Tucker 104.6 92.3 12.3
Scott Schebler 101.4 92.5 9.0
Matt Holliday 99.7 90.9 8.8
Juan Uribe 100.5 92.2 8.3
Steven Souza 102.6 94.9 7.7
Scooter Gennett 96.0 88.7 7.3
Starlin Castro 97.0 90.3 6.7
Adam Duvall 97.0 90.3 6.7
Joc Pederson 103.1 96.6 6.4
J.J. Hardy 97.2 90.9 6.3
Danny Espinosa 96.5 90.5 6.1
Domingo Santana 101.7 95.7 6.0

Boy do the Astros have one heck of a “problem” on their hands. With Evan Gattis‘ return, there is now a crowd ready to fill the designated hitter slot. And that’s not to even mention A.J. Reed waiting in the wings, who we all assumed would be the team’s first baseman by the summer, but Tyler White is now making things interesting. Preston Tucker was only supposed to start until Gattis was back, but he has wOBA’d .397 and sports a hilarious 66.7% HR/FB rate. He currently leads baseball in FB/LD exit velocity. It’s not like Gattis was a lock to outproduce Tucker to begin with, so this is going to be problematic for fantasy owners. A.J. Hinch may very well play the hot hand and who knows how much playing time either is going to receive. Gattis getting back to catching would be a boon, but hurt Jason Castro’s value.

How about the pair of Reds who looked like they should form a platoon, but haven’t, in Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall? They have received a nearly identical number of plate appearances, and both come with serious power potential, but issues making contact. The odd thing is that despite strong exit velocities, they have failed to hit a single homer between the two of them! Schebler has the strangest batted ball profile, rarely hitting a line drive, posting a near 20% fly ball rate, and hitting a ground ball more than 70% of the time. Duvall’s is more normal, but he has pulled everything in sight. It’s hard to start either of them given the even playing time distribution, but the home run power is going show up soon.

Matt Holliday is one of the most important names on this list. Last year, his power disappeared and his batted ball distance tumbled by 23 feet. At age 36, it was fair to wonder if the power would rebound. So far, so good, as everything looks to be back to normal. I would feel much better if I were a Holliday owner that another 2015 wasn’t in the, ahem…Cards.

Juan Uribe is still playing?! The 37-year-old still has some pop, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at his microscopic .036 ISO. The results should turn around soon and ensure that Giovanny Urshela patiently awaits his call back to the Show.

I had major concerns about the playing time potential for any Tampa Bay Ray who played first base or outfield. This included Steven Souza, who early depth charts actually projected as opening the year in the minors. He sits third in baseball in exit velocity, and by golly, he needs all the power he could muster. Because that brutal strikeout rate, coupled with a sudden impatient approach at the plate, means he’s playing with fire. Luckily, he’s got a monster BABIP at the moment keeping his offense afloat, but that’s not going to last of course. I love the power and touch of speed, but a 19.5% SwStk% simply isn’t going to lead to long-term success.

Scooter Gennett is already halfway toward is home run total through all of last season. He has also sextupled his walk rate. Is this a new Scooter? Perhaps. And man does he need that power boost because he doesn’t steal bases and was in danger and beingthat dreaded zero category contributor.

Starlin Castro’s growth had stalled and where he had peaked was respectable, but likely a disappointment by those expecting an annual major breakout. But he’s still just 26, a good age for a power outburst, and he makes excellent contact to take advantage of additional thump. Batting toward the bottom of the Yankees lineup isn’t great, but there’s a decent chance he churns out a bit of profit for his owners given what they likely paid.

So it’s the Joc Pederson tease again, huh? As usual, his HR/FB rate is flirting with the 30% plateau, exactly what it did over last season’s first couple of months. Then he famously collapsed in the second half. This year, he has changed his approach — swing hard at everything. His Swing% has surged, causing his walk rate to plummet, while he’s whiffing more than he did last year…and he whiffed a lot last year. That has resulted in a gruesome 14/2 K/BB ratio so far, which is not what we expected. Perhaps he felt pressure to make a change after his weak finish last year. I wouldn’t bet on this being a winning strategy.

J.J. Hardy! Welcome back to the power club. Hardy’s power has been M.I.A. since 2013, and now he’s 33. Maybe he’ll get back over the 10 home run plateau again this year? The early returns are encouraging and he hasn’t had to sacrifice contact to get that power back.

The results don’t agree, but Danny Espinosa still has some offense and pop in that bat. Don’t go calling for Trea Turner’s promotion just yet. Did you even realize that Espinosa is still just 28?! I was actually shocked when I just scrolled up on his page to check his age. We know he has battled injuries in recent years, and he has shown excellent power in the past. Obviously, it’s just for NL-Only leaguers, but there are some encouraging signs here.

Yesterday, August Fagerstrom shared with us how Domingo Santana has apparently adjusted his approach at the plate this year. He’s swinging significantly less and has enjoyed the most improved O-Swing%. He’s even continuing to hit the ball hard, even with the dramatically improved contact ability. And yet, he has just one homer to show for it. Part of the reason for that is a wacky 17% fly ball rate. He’s been too busy knocking line drives all over the field and doesn’t have time for those silly fly balls that could find outfielders’ gloves! Despite the ho-hum fantasy performance so far, I am more bullish on his prospects this season than I was before the season. He’s a strong buy, especially so if your team is in need of power.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Good info. I saw Hardy’s 2 HR in Boston. They were both Pesky pole 300′ fly balls. It didn’t look like they contributed to his average exit velocity surge.