In the year 2019, exit velocity is firmly ingrained in the baseball lexicon. It is inescapable. It’s all over Twitter and game broadcasts, and the Yankees literally show exit velocity on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard. Each time a Yankee puts the ball in play, there’s the exit velocity, right next to the pitch velocity on the center field scoreboard. Get used to it. Exit velocity isn’t going anywhere.
The Yankees have embraced exit velocity as an evaluation tool. It helped them unearth Luke Voit, and I remember former farm system head Gary Denbo mentioning Aaron Judge had premium exit velocity back when he was still a prospect in the minors. Hit the ball hard and good things happen. Here is the 2018 exit velocity leaderboard (min. 200 balls in play):
- Aaron Judge: 94.7 mph
- Joey Gallo: 93.9 mph
- Nelson Cruz: 93.9 mph
- Giancarlo Stanton: 93.7 mph
- Matt Chapman: 93.1 mph
(MLB average: 87.7 mph)
Hitting the ball hard is a good skill to have. I mean, duh. Hit the ball hard and it’s more likely to go for a hit. Hit the ball hard in the air and it’s more likely to do serious damage, meaning extra-base hits. Last season the league hit .730 with a 1.098 ISO — that’s ISO, not SLG — on fly balls and line drives with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph. For real.
Not surprisingly, the home run record-setting Yankees led MLB with a 93.6 mph average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives last season. With that in mind, let’s look at where each projected member of the 2019 Yankees hit the ball the hardest last year. Specifically, let’s look at where in the strike zone they produce their best contact. Some guys are low ball hitters, others are high ball hitters, etc.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to consider “best contact” to be fly balls and line drives with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph. Why 100 mph and not, say, 95 mph or 97.6 mph or whatever? No real reason. Round numbers are cool so 100 mph it is. Here is each projected 2019 Yankee, listed alphabetically, and last year’s “best contact” profile.
(All spray chart are shown with Yankee Stadium’s dimensions even though not every batted ball was hit at Yankee Stadium, which is why there appear to be more homers than were actually hit.)
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 92.7 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 65 (13.5% of all balls in play)
I am legitimately surprised Andujar’s exit velocity numbers are not better. His average exit velocity on all batted balls was 89.2 mph, which ranked 72nd among the 186 hitters with at least 300 balls in play last year. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives ranked 128th (!), right behind Manny Margot and one-tenth of a mile-an-hour better than JaCoby Jones. Huh. Didn’t expect that.
Anyway, the strike zone plot above shows Andujar makes hard contact pretty much everywhere. That makes sense. He seems to get the fat part of the bat on the ball no matter where it’s pitched. Most of his 100 mph or better fly balls and line drives are to the pull field, like most hitters, though Andujar can drive the ball the other way. I’m still a bit surprised his exit velocity are numbers are relatively low (but still better than average). Didn’t see that coming. Maybe that means he’s due for bad regression?
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 93.6 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 39 (20.1% of all balls in play)
Yes, Bird did make some quality contact last year and it was fairly frequent too. One out of every five balls in play was in the air with 100+ mph exit velocity. (And yet, Bird’s season was terrible.) His strike zone plot/spray chart is interesting. He did his most damage on pitches on the outer half of the plate, yet he was still able to pull those pitches to right field. Looks like pitchers can crowd Bird inside and not worry about getting beat. At least that was the case last year. Don’t miss out over the plate. Bird will put a ball in orbit if you do that. Pitch on the inner half and he can be neutralized.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 90.1 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 26 (9.0% of all balls in play)
Decent chance Ellsbury never plays another game for the Yankees. He did not play a game for the Yankees last year, so that’s his 2017 exit velocity information. The last time he was healthy, Ellsbury was a low ball hitter. Middle third of the zone and below was Ellsbury’s wheelhouse, and he could go to all fields with that. That said, fewer than one in ten batted balls were a fly ball or line drive at 100 mph or better, so the best contact didn’t come all that often. Shrug.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 93.8 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 20 (17.7% of all balls in play)
We don’t have much data on Frazier so that is his 2017 and 2018 information combined. Frazier has yet to show he’ll punish pitches in the upper third of the strike zone — his best contact came on pitches in the lower two-thirds and outer two-thirds of the zone — though we’ve seen opposite field pop. I’m looking forward to seeing Frazier get consistent at-bats at the MLB level. Should happen at some point this year. All we have right now are a few short and scattered looks across the last two seasons.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 90.9 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 29 (6.8% of all balls in play)
Gardy partied against pitches right out over the plate. Outer half more than inner half, and mostly belt high, though he golfed a few low pitches and tomahawked a few high pitches as well. Leave a pitch out over the middle and Gardner can still hammer it, usually to right field but also to the opposite field once in a blue moon. Exit velocity really isn’t Gardner’s game. Every once in a while he’ll ambush a fastball. Otherwise he shoots soft line drives over infielders more than anything.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 89.5 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 38 (8.6% of all balls in play)
It’s amazing Sir Didi’s home/road splits aren’t more pronounced. Over the last two years he’s hit .275/.328/.499 (116 wRC+) with 31 homers at Yankee Stadium and .280/.324/.472 (112 wRC+) with 21 homers on the road. Similar to Bird, Gregorius likes the ball middle-away, and he makes his best contact when he pulls the ball to right field. He’s not much of an exit velocity guy at all though. Less than 10% of his balls in play last year were a fly ball or line drive at 100 mph exit velocity or better. That’s actually up from 6.4% in 2017. We won’t see Gregorius until sometime this summer because of the whole Tommy John surgery thing. Maybe he’ll come back with superpowers and become an exit velocity king. That’d be cool.
Average FB+LD exit velocity as LHB: 92.4 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD as LHB: 40 (15.1% of all balls in play)
Hicks is a switch-hitter, so we have to examine him from each side of the plate. As a left-handed batter, he’s pretty much a dead pull hitter who mostly likes the ball in the top half of the strike zone. I like that Hicks managed to hit a few pitches off the plate away over 100 mph in the air, and didn’t shoot them down the line to left field. That’s some plate coverage. Hicks as a righty is a bit more interesting:
Average FB+LD exit velocity as RHB: 95.2 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD as RHB: 21 (18.8% of all balls in play)
As a righty, Hicks has his most power — that’s essentially what we’re looking at here, right? the ability to hit the ball hard in the air is power — back up the middle and the other way. It’s worth noting Hicks has said he has different stances on each side the plate to help take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch. He’s open as a lefty hitter and looking to pull the ball. As a righty, he’s more closed and looking to go the other way. You can see that in the spray charts.
Hicks is sorta all over the place in the strike zone with his best contact from the right side of the plate. It’s scattered throughout the zone. He has a higher average exit velocity on air balls as a righty than as a lefty, and he produces great contact more often from the right side of the plate. It could be a sample size issue — Hicks had 2.5 times as many plate appearances as a lefty than as a righty last year — though he had a similar exit velocity split last year, so maybe not.
Also, that one random dot in the lower left of the strike zone plot? The pitch way out of the zone? I just couldn’t leave that there without looking it up. That 100.6 mph batted ball was this fun play and one of Hicksie’s cool baseball things:
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 91.2 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 8 (11.9% of all balls in play)
As with Frazier, I’ve combined Higashioka’s 2017 and 2018 data to give us a larger sample. All things considered, a third catcher who can produce 100 mph or better exit velocity in the air in more than 10% of his plate appearances seems pretty good. Higashioka likes the ball up in the zone, clearly. He’s not going to reach down and golf something. Up in the zone and he can drive it with authority back up the middle and to the pull field. Based on this, pitchers should attack Higashioka down at the knees. Leave it up and he’ll surprise you.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 97.7 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 67 (25.2% of all balls in play)
Swoooooon. Pitch Judge up in the zone and you can survive — then again, up in the zone to Judge is over the head to most batters, and it’s not easy to pitch there — otherwise he’s going to crush the ball. Anywhere in the zone and to all fields. That red dot on the pitcher’s mound? That was a 108.9 mph line drive that nearly took Jake Faria’s head off last September:
Before Wrist Injury
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 98.2 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 61 (25.6% of all balls in play)
After Wrist Injury
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 95.1 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 6 (21.4% of all balls in play)
The great contact definitely came with less frequency following the wrist injury. That said, even the pre-wrist injury numbers are down from 2017. In 2017 he posted a 100.2 mph (!) average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, and 34.3% of his balls in play were a fly ball or line drive at 100 mph or better. Is the decline a cause for concern? Eh, I think it’s more likely 2017’s numbers were so outrageous that they were simply not repeatable. It’s not often a player hits the ball like Judge in 2017. Doing it in multiple seasons seems impossible. Judge remains among the elite of the elite when it comes to exit velocity, even if his 2018 numbers were down a tick from 2017.
One other thing: In the strike zone plot, a good chunk of Judge’s air balls at 100 mph or better are bunched in the lower left quadrant, or down and in to the right-handed batter. It is remarkable a guy that size can handle pitches in that location. Not just handle them, destroy them. Judge doesn’t need to extend his arms to make pitchers pay. What a ballplayer.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 93.2 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 61 (13.3% of all balls in play)
If I had shown you that exit velocity spray chart without telling you who it belonged to, how many players would you have guessed before LeMahieu? I’m guessing at least 50. Exit velocity does not get inflated by Coors Field. A 95 mph live drive will carry farther at Coors Field than it will at Yankee Stadium because of the thin air, but 95 mph is 95 mph. LeMahieu’s an exit velocity guy and he covers pretty much the entire strike zone — the hole is inside, right in on his hands — and he sprays the ball everywhere. You can see what the Yankees like him about, right? Excellent defense with the ability to hit the ball hard all over the field. There are worse skill sets to have. Now, if LeMahieu could only hit more than 13.3% of his batted balls in the air at 100 mph or better …
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 91.9 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 23 (13.0% of all balls in play)
Believe it or not, Romine had a higher percentage of 100+ mph air balls in 2017 (14.4%) than 2018 (13.0%). Never would’ve guessed. (I mean, 1.4 percentage points is nothing, but still.) Anyway, Romine seems to like the ball in the lower two-thirds of the strike zone and he’s pretty good at taking the ball to right field. Give him credit. Romine’s done a very nice job tailoring his game to his home ballpark.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 97.7 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 47 (20.3% of all balls in play)
Even with an apparently achy front shoulder, the problem for Sanchez last season was not exit velocity. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives last year was better than 2017 (95.9 mph) and his rate of batted balls that were line drives or fly balls at 100 mph or better was roughly the same (21.7%). When Gary squares the ball up, forget it, he hits it as hard as anyone. And he covers the plate well too. His wheelhouse is mostly middle-away, from the top of the zone (and above!) to the knees. His great contact was still great and it came as often. It was everything else that was the problem. When Sanchez didn’t square it up, things didn’t go well.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 99.7 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 101 (24.3% of all balls in play)
Me when I looked up Stanton’s exit velocity data:
Know what’s freaky? Giancarlo’s numbers are nearly identical to his 59-homer 2017 season. That year his average fly ball and line drive exit velocity was 99.7 mph, and 24.7% of his balls in play were hit in the air at 100 mph or better. His strike zone plot looks nearly identical as well. You can pitch Stanton up and in. Anything in the lower two-thirds of the strike zone though, on either side of the plate, and he will crush it. That spray chart is absurd. It looks like it belongs to a hard-hitting switch-hitter with both side of the plate on one plot. Goodness.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 91.2 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 48 (15.3% of all balls in play)
Gleyber’s exit velocity data is similar to Andujar’s in that it’s not overwhelmingly great or as good as I expected. That doesn’t take away from their seasons, of course. I guess on a team with monster power hitters like the Yankees, it can be easy to lose sight of what is what isn’t impressive when it comes to hitting the ball hard. Being on the same team as Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez has its disadvantages.
Anyway, Torres is quite adept at spraying the ball to all fields with authority, and most of his best contact comes on pitches down in the zone. He can handle the pitch up, sure, but near the bottom of the zone is where he really thrives. This is the kinda home run that makes Gleyber so special:
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 90.8 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 17 (8.4% of all balls in play)
No, Tulowitzki did not play last season, so that’s his 2017 data. It is, uh, not good. Less exit velocity than you’d like and less great contact that you’d like. Tulowitzki’s 2017 numbers are slightly better than 2018 Gardner’s and everyone was ready to send Gardner to the glue factory this winter. It’s been 20 months since Tulowitzki played a big league game and I doubt being 20 months older means more exit velocity is coming. Then again, if he’s healthy now (he wasn’t in 2017), an uptick could be coming. We’ll have to wait and see. In 2017, Tulowitzki drove pitches out over the plate and that’s it. It had to be on a tee.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 96.7 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 45 (24.6% of all balls in play)
Voit played a little more than a month with the Yankees last season, so that’s his 2017-18 seasons combined. Just to give us a bigger sample. The quality of his contact is roughly as good as Judge’s. The exit velocity and frequency with which his balls in play are in the air at 100 mph or better are elite. He hits the ball very hard and he hits it hard in the air quite often, and it seems he likes the ball mostly in the middle of the plate and away more than in.
Brian Cashman said the Yankees had Voit on their radar for a long time, since the 2017 trade deadline, and when you see the exit velocity, you can understand why. Voit crushes the ball and that’s a pretty big reason why it’s okay to believe he is for real and not a small sample fluke. This dude is not getting by on bloops and seeing-eye ground ball singles. Hopefully it lasts. Would be cool.
Average FB+LD exit velocity: 88.1 mph
Number of 100+ mph FB+LD: 2 (2.5% of all balls in play)
The players are listed alphabetically and it’s kinda fitting we close with Wade given his utter lack of hard contact. Over the last two seasons (that’s his 2017-18 seasons combined) he’s hit two balls in the air with a 100 mph exit velocity or better. Two. And they were both cookies out over the plate that he pulled to right field. One went for a double and the other went over the fence. Neither of those balls in play came at Yankee Stadium. If they had, Wade would probably have two career home runs right now rather than one. Better luck this year, Tyler.