David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“He has a Plan B if baseball doesn't work out”

 

April 13, 2016

MONEYBALL: STRIPLING'S BROKER LIFE

Ross Stripling has been leading a double life: stockbroker by day, the Dodgers' fifth starter by night.

By Dani Wexelman

Last Friday, Ross Stripling came oh-so-close to making history as the first pitcher in the modern era to hurl a no-no in his Major League debut. The Dodgers rookie hurled 7 1/3 no-hit innings before manager Dave Roberts pulled the right-hander due to a high pitch count

"I didn't have any bad feelings at all." Stripling told Sports on Earth this week. "To be honest, I didn't even know if I was gonna go out there for the eighth. I think the decision makes perfect sense."

Spend a few minutes talking to Stripling, and you'll understand why the 26-year-old Southlake, Texas, native -- who was drafted in the fifth round by the Dodgers in 2012 -- has such a healthy perspective on things. He has a Plan B if baseball doesn't work out.

"I'm actually a licensed stockbroker," Stripling said. "I work for a company called Wunderlich Securities in the offseason and do money management."

A finance major at Texas A&M, Stripling invested his signing bonus into stocks and bonds like Facebook, Under Armor and Apple. But he decided to take things one step further.

After coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Stripling was added to the Dodgers' 40-man-roster last November -- and, at the same time, he began studying for the Series 7 test to earn his license to trade. Three months later, he passed the seven-hour test just before arriving to Spring Training.

Stripling's Wunderlich boss Matthew Houston said, "We joke in the office that he probably studied too hard because his score was so high ... close to his fastball."

This past offseason, Stripling was the first in Wunderlich's Houston office every day, arriving at 6:30 a.m. to turn on the lights. He would also study until noon and then go through four hours of workouts in preparation for Spring Training.

"Our whole office is Astros fans and everyone's now a Dodger fan," Houston said.

"[The people at Wunderlich] seem excited to have me, and they see that I have a niche as far as getting some clients that they like," said Stripling. "They're not pressuring me to do anything right now."

Of course, facts and figures have benefits beyond the pitcher's portfolio.

"Math was always my better subject, so when I'm looking at a scouting reports and averages -- and nowadays you have sabermetrics, it's about exit velocity more than it is even average -- so that's something I can remember when I'm on the mound," Stripling said.

His skills may come in handy in the clubhouse as well, especially with the tax deadline almost upon us.

"Baseball players play in 20 different states and it gets confusing," said Stripling. "You can write off clubbie dues, restaurants on the road, and I think even tickets to games."

So would he make teammates like Clayton Kershaw pay for advice when it comes to stocks?

"He's a guy I would charge."

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/172100646/ross-stripling-dodgers-rookie-stockbroker

 

 

"this is also an institutional problem"

 

 

 

 

 

69 Years After Jackie Robinson Broke The Color Barrier, Where Are The African Americans In Baseball?

BY LINDSAY GIBBS  APR 15, 2016 12:12 PM

 This Friday is the 69th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

While his legacy as a trailblazing athlete and advocate is certainly worthy of reflection, it’s also important to note that the statistics regarding African American involvement in the sport are moving in the wrong direction, on the field and off.

According to the 2015 MLB Racial and Gender Report Card by the Institute for Diversity in Ethics in Sports, only 8.3 percent of the players on opening day rosters in 2015 were African American. Thirty years ago, that number was close to 20 percent.

This year, there are only two African American managers in MLB — Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals and Dave Roberts of the Seattle Mariners. While this is an increase of one over last year, it’s a sharp decline from 2002, when there were eight African American managers in the league.

 

 

The statistics get more dire the longer you look at them. According to USA Today, there 19 major league teams with two or fewer African Americans on the entire team. Three teams — the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels, and Colorado Rockies — don’t have a single black player on their roster.

Furthermore, African Americans comprise just 1.6 percent of major league pitchers.

Officials within Major League Baseball are working to improve the issue. In 2013, the league launched an On-Field Diversity Task Force to try and improve the pipeline, and recently it named Tyrone Brooks the senior director of the new Front Office & Field Staff Diversity Pipeline. Last year, the first round of the MLB draft had the highest percentage of African Americans selected in 24 years, and many clubs are starting programs to reach out to African American children in their communities.

 

But while re-establishing a pipeline is good, this is also an institutional problem. The league has no African American majority owners, and only three African American minority owners. There is one African American executive vice president, one general manager, and zero CEOs or presidents. Simply put, there aren't enough African Americans in hiring positions to really make a difference.

"There are [African American candidates] that are out there are not even getting a sniff," Baker told the Washington Post. "I think about Jackie Robinson, and there’s probably times Jackie wouldn’t be pleased right now very much.”

http://thinkprogress.org/sports/2016/04/15/3769760/jackie-robinson-day/

 

"This game is made to make you feel like you suck. There’s so many mental minefields. "

 

 

 

 

 

From gurus to grainy video, new information age dawns for MLB sluggers

 Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY Sports April 13, 2016

Hitting a baseball is a task of childlike simplicity — see it, hit it. At the game’s highest level, however, it remains perhaps the most torturous burden in sports, further complicated by the modern environment of harder-throwing pitchers and advanced defensive alignments.

Major league hitters, though, are not merely accepting these conditions. Rather, a growing number of sluggers are leveraging tools afforded by the information age — seeking out modern statistics, video and outside counsel to turn the odds ever so slightly in their favor.

Call it a confluence of body, mind and data management that’s redefining the notion of a high-information hitter.

“There’s definitely a movement out there,” says Bobby Tewksbary, who could not advance past independent ball as a player, but has gained renown among major league players as a hitting guru.

“The awareness that mechanics can make a difference is up. Guys are starting to seek things out. There’s a definite change happening.”

On this April afternoon, Tewksbary is speaking by phone from the visiting dugout atTropicana Field, where the Toronto Blue Jays opened the season against the Tampa Bay Rays. Tewksbary, 32, isn’t on the Blue Jays’ payroll, but his fingerprints were all over the major leagues’ most prolific offense in 2015.

 

It was Tewksbary who helped invigorate the career of Chris Colabello, whose inspiring rise from independent ball to a major league debut at the age of 29 came after he stubbornly accepted some advice from his old Worcester (Ma.) Tornadoesteammate.

Through a mutual friend, Colabello connected Tewksbary in 2012 with a strugglingOakland Athletics catcher named Josh Donaldson, whose superior athleticism and rabid competitiveness were hampered by an inability to hit with consistency.

“There comes a point in each individual’s career,” says Colabello, “where they decide they have to adapt. Or the game will move past them.”

Three years and one trade to Toronto later, Donaldson was the American League MVP, and thanked Tewksbary for his services by having him pitch to him at the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby.

That a minor leaguer in Oakland’s system could figure it all out thanks to an independent league washout from New Hampshire is perhaps the greatest testament to baseball in the Internet age.

Information is limitless, easily disseminated and shareable. And help is everywhere — unbound by geographic barriers or other impediments. No longer is a dog-eared copy of Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting or a long-distance phone call from a parent or amateur coach the primary sources of counsel.

Now, players have the power of choice as they ponder enhancing — or salvaging — their livelihood.

That point for Colabello came in 2010, when he was stuck for a sixth season in the independent Canadian-American Association ball, nursing a broken hand and rejecting unsolicited — and vociferous — advice from an old friend.

Tewksbary, released in 2007 after batting .229 over two seasons in the Can-Am Association, suddenly had time on his hands, and dived into hitting instruction. He also found an important ally — YouTube.

The swings of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig, among others, came to life. Tewksbary found himself challenging many of the modern concepts of hitting, finding gold in the powerful rotational movements, leg load and swing plane of the Babe and others.

He also watched video of Colabello. Seven times, he approached his friend about making changes, and seven times, he was rebuffed, often loudly.

On the eighth try, Colabello finally relented.

“He finally decided to show me one of my own swings,” says Colabello, who eventually debuted with the Minnesota Twins in 2013 and signed with the Blue Jays before the 2015 season. “It was one of the best balls I’d hit in five years; I just happened to have a side view video of it.

“I looked at it and go, ‘Hmm.. It doesn’t look like I’m doing the things I thought I was doing. At that point I said, ‘OK, let’s talk about this stuff.’”

Tewksbary wants hitters to understand the relationship between body and bat barrel. “Everything your body does,” he says, “affects how the barrel moves.”

 

While wary of oversimplifying what can be an extremely complex process, Tewksbary stresses three elements: Swing plane, depth of swing, and path of swing. A batter’s goal: A launch angle of 10 to 15 degrees, which he believes is ideal for making hard contact and elevating the ball.

With the advent of Statcast, major leaguers are able to easily track exit velocity and launch angle, providing immediate validation.

Some of Tewksbary’s concepts, however, run head-on into what many hitters are taught for years: To swing down at the ball, to stay short to the ball, and in some cases to leave untapped power on the table.

“It means that everything you think you know about hitting might not be true,” says Tewksbary. “It’s hard to be open minded.”

Donaldson’s rise opened a lot of minds.

He finally stuck for good in the majors in the summer of 2012, after working with Tewksbary the previous winter. Three consecutive top 10 MVP finishes followed, culminating in last year’s 40-home run masterpiece.

And Donaldson might have changed Tewksbary’s life when he brought him to Cincinnati for the All-Star Game.

The man who spent hours poring over tapes of Albert Pujols was suddenly sharing a clubhouse with The Machine, and stalking his batting cage sessions.

“I was like, what am I doing here?” he recalls. “It was a very unique and special opportunity, and I’ll be forever grateful to Josh.

“I geeked out on Pujols. I told him researching him changed my life. He signed a bat for me.”

After his turn in the spotlight, Tewksbary found one significant difference: “People don’t argue with me. Now, there’s an element of validation.”

Tewksbary now works with about 20 major league hitters, and 50 pros overall, from every franchise. This past winter, he escaped New Hampshire to work with pro clients in Florida.

It can be a delicate tango — both in convincing the world’s greatest hitters they can actually be better, and avoiding conflict with the player’s ballclub.

In many cases, millions of dollars are at stake.

“You have to understand where they’re coming from,” says Tewksbary. “Major league baseball players are really great athletes who have a lot to lose — in terms of their career and their ability.

“If a guy is hitting .250 with 14 homers, you might look at their swing and think it’s terrible. But if they’re comfortable in where they are in their career, they may not want to change.”

 

They also have major league hitting coaches, who are almost always first to get fired if a club struggles. Tewksbary says he does most of his heavy lifting in the off-season, a period more conducive to making major changes or rebuilding a swing. Disseminating scouting reports or formulating strategy against a specific pitcher falls squarely with the major league staff.

“Really, there’s no interference here,” says Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “Hitting coaches have the toughest job, because it’s the toughest thing to do. It’s so volatile. You see hitting coaches get replaced all the time, and most of the time it’s unfair.

“But I think the attitude is, if so-and-so can give them a little something, who knows?”

Sometimes, that little something comes between the ears.

The Belief Coach

Steve Springer has personally witnessed baseball’s crossing into the digital age, which he finds somewhat ironic.

“I’m borderline dumbass,” he says, “other than baseball.”

Springer, 55, got four major league hits — “Two in each league,” he notes — and 1,500 more in 14 seasons of minor league ball. For the past 15 years, he has peddled a recording called, simply, “Quality At-Bats,” which preaches an unrelenting message of positivity that often spills into Springer’s everyday speech.

As the message spread from cassette tape, to CD to digital downloads — some 50,000 have been sold, he estimates — Springer’s star has risen, too.

He still counsels area players in his native Southern California, still delivers speeches to collegiate teams and parents of youth players, as he has for years. But his power of positive thinking was strong enough that two years ago, then-Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos moved Springer off his part-time scouting gig with the club.

Now, he’s the Blue Jays’ roving mental hitting coach, spending spring training with the major league club in Florida and the balance of the season bouncing through their minor league affiliates.

 

Yet Springer, in a sense, went viral well before he amassed nearly 40,000 Twitter followers.

Dozens of major leaguers have heard his tape, many as amateurs. Springer worked with sluggers such as Mark Trumbo and Nolan Arenado when they were teenagers. Arizona outfielder A.J. Pollock became a Springer believer while at Notre Dame, and eventually passed the recording on to Diamondbacks teammate Paul Goldschmidt.

Now, an autographed picture of Pollock, Goldschmidt and Arenado from the 2015 All-Star Game adorns Springer’s web site.

When they do reach out, it’s not to talk launch angles.

“When Abner Doubleday said, ‘You have to get the ball by eight guys,’ that’s when the mind screw was invented,” says Springer. “Batting average is by far the biggest trap in the game. We base everything on hitting .300, but I could do everything right and go 0 for 4.

“You lose confidence, and suddenly we’ve got the wrong guys playing. This game is made to make you feel like you suck. There’s so many mental minefields. We have to identify them.”

Trumbo, an All-Star in 2012 with three seasons of at least 29 home runs, remains close with Springer. He says both body and mind must be in sync to succeed, but given a choice, would rather have his mental game on point.

“I think you can trick yourself into doing a lot of things if your mind is in the right place,” says Trumbo, who has 10 hits in his first 24 at-bats this season with theBaltimore Orioles. “(Springer) brings the unique perspective of the bigger picture. The ability to see the forest through the trees. It’s a calming type mindset. It takes the pressure away.”

Springer likes to preach a message of “162 opening days,” because the mental approach of Game 1 is unfettered by the failures of yesterday. His many pupils have now fanned out into the thicket of the regular season, and in Trumbo’s case, he’s slugging home runs for a division rival.

“I understand he’s got a job to do, and he’s working with the Blue Jays,” Trumbo says. “I know the message by heart. Sometimes, it’s nice to get a reminder from the man himself.”

The future

As the flow of information increases, and the manner in which it’s disseminated evolves, so, too, will the development and evaluation of hitters. An 0 for 4 doesn’t have to merely mean .000 if a player can take solace in the exit velocity produced by four hard-hit balls.

“I think that’s the beauty of what the Internet has done, is create the opportunity for people to educate themselves,” says Colabello. “Nowadays, as individuals, we’re able to get any information we want and learn that there are different theories and thoughts about things.

“It’s irresponsible to think you know everything in life. Guys are using technology more and finding resources where they thought there were none.”

Tewksbary, for one, believes the baseball establishment will be slow to change, noting that “there’s a lot of tradition, and a lot of people whose job is to be right. When you introduce something that’s different, the natural reaction is not to be open about it.”

Yet he sees fans taking out their smartphones at games, shooting video of major league swings at 240 frames a second. The evolution only figures to continue.

“It’s very easy to get video now,” he says, “and very hard to ignore what’s happening.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2016/04/13/bobby-tewksbary-major-league-hitting-guru/82972506/

 

“In baseball’s brave new world, sometimes it’s better to be the catcher with the worst arm than the one with the best.”

 

 

DEC 3, 2015

Why The Rays Traded For A Catcher Who Can’t Throw

By BEN LINDBERGH

RICK YEATTS / GETTY IMAGES

On Wednesday night, the Houston Astros traded backup catcher Hank Conger to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations, just minutes before the midnight deadline to tender 2016 contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The glass-half-empty take on the trade is that the Astros, who gave up two MLBready players to acquire Conger from the Angels last offseason, decided he wasn’t worth the $1.8 million he’s projected to earn in 2016, which is less than half of last season’s average major league salary. The positive spin is that the Rays, who aren’t known for their cash flow, decided he was worth that sum, plus the convenience fee they sent to the Astros. And that’s curious, considering that Conger’s 2015 season made him, by one measure, the most incompetent catcher of all time:

YEAR

CATCHER

STEAL ATTEMPTS

CAUGHT

2015

Hank Conger

43

2.3%

1999

Brian Banks

28

3.6

2012

Rod Barajas

99

6.1

1970

Bill Sudakis

32

6.3

1983

Luis Pujols

46

6.5

1959

Clint Courtney

30

6.7

1990

John Russell

28

7.1

2009

Chad Moeller

27

7.4

2010

Mike Redmond

27

7.4

2010

Craig Tatum

27

7.4

By all accounts, the 27-year-old Conger is a good guy: He just won an award that says so. Conger iswell-liked in the clubhouse,politically conscious and a masterof memes. He’s also really, really bad at throwing the baseball. Conger’s 2015 caught-stealing percentage sits atop a deeply undistinguished list of catchers who couldn’t control the running game. Forty-three runners tried to steal a base with Conger behind home plate. Forty-two succeeded, including 11 from the division-rival Rangers.

Three questions present themselves. First: How does one go about being history’s very worst catcher at throwing runners out? Second: Who was the one guy Conger caught? And third: Why would any team want to trade for the real-life catcher with a glass arm?

1. Just how the hell?

The first is easy: Conger got rid of the ball very slowly on steal attempts, and he didn’t make up for lost time with any extra oomph.

 

EXCHANGE

ARM STRENGTH

POP TIME

Conger

0.71s

76.6 mph

2.12s

MLB avg.

0.62s

79.4 mph

1.97s

According to Statcast data provided by MLB Advanced Media, Conger’s average throwing speed ranked 56th among 61 catchers with at least 10 tracked throws to second base last season. His average exchange speed (the time elapsed between the catch and the throw) ranked 60th, and his average pop time (the time elapsed between the catch and the throw’s arrival at the second-base bag) ranked dead last. Compare Conger’s release (right) to that of Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (left), who erased nine of the 20 runners who tested him in 2015 and led all catchers with an average pop time of 1.83 seconds and an average throwing speed of 86.0 mph:

By Bethancourt’s standards, Conger seems to move in slow motion: He comes out of his crouch less quickly, looks less balletic with his footwork, and doesn’t get the same whip with his arm.

2. OK, who was it?

So how did he end his 0-fer? The magic occasion came on May 29, against White Sox outfielder J.B. Shuck, Conger’s former Angels teammate.

Conger got the throw off more quickly than usual (pop time of 2.01 seconds) with just a little more juice than usual (77.6 mph). But he also had help from Shuck. The runner’s speed was in line with the MLB average for attempted steals of second, but he got a bad jump, which isn’t visible in the video. Shuck’s first step was slow, and his primary and secondary leads — his distances from the first-base bag when the pitch was released by pitcher Josh Fields and caught by Conger, respectively — were between half a foot and a full foot off the league average. As a result, it took him almost two-tenths of a second longer than the typical runner to reach second. That slow start might explain why Shuck has been a bad base-stealer overall, going 7-for-12 last season and 19-for-27 over the past three years.

 

PRIMARY LEAD

SECONDARY LEAD

FIRST STEP

Shuck (5/29)

11.2 ft.

19.5 ft.

.306s

MLB average

11.6 ft.

20.4 ft.

.217s

It took a perfect confluence of events — a fast Fields delivery (1.33 seconds), a bad jump by Shuck and an accurate, unusually rapid release from Conger — to put the catcher on the scoreboard. And the Rays just made him a trade target.

3. So what gives?

The Rays may believe that Conger’s arm will bounce back: According to Inside Edge, his pop time was 0.11 seconds faster in 2014 than in 2015, and he owned an almost-respectable 22.4 percent career caught-stealing rate heading into last season. Moreover, while the Astros have a durable starter in Jason Castro, an array of young understudies who’ll make the league minimum, and even Evan Gattis, who dabbles behind home plate, the Rays ranked 25th in catcher wins above replacement last season and would otherwise be relying on René Rivera, last season’s worst-hitting catcher, and Curt Casali, who’s never made more than 32 starts in a big-league season. As a matter of roster balance, there’s some logic here.

More importantly, though, the Rays seem to be banking on one of this decade’s central catcher-defense discoveries: Throwing just doesn’t matter that much, relative to other aspects of the position that Conger can handle. Baseball Prospectus recently revamped its fielding stats for catchers to account for the pitchers they work with and the runners they face. Researchsuggests that pitchers are far more responsible for base-stealing behavior than their battery mates, so in theory, the spread in catcher throwing runs should be small. That’s exactly what BP’s numbers reveal: The range between the best- and worst-throwing catcher in 2015 was only 6.3 runs, slightly smaller than the range in blocking runs (6.9), and a fraction of the range in framing runs (44.2). Conger, who ranked among baseball’s best framers from 2013 to 2014 — which may have made him attractive to theframing-friendly Astros — declined sharply last season but remained above average as both a blocker and a receiver, more than making up for his league-worst throwing-runs rate. And because Conger has been a roughly league-average hitting catcher over the course of his career, the Rays aren’t sacrificing offense for framing the way they did with out-machine Jose Molina in 2014.

Further, Astros pitchers deserve a good deal of the blame for Conger’s historic base-stealing struggles. Weighted by batters faced, the pitchers Conger caught averaged 1.49 seconds to home plate from the stretch, according to Inside Edge, which was barely above the 1.47-second MLB baseline. But although Astros pitchers weren’t especially slow to the plate, they were oblivious to base runners. The Astros’ staff attempted only 23 pickoffs per 100 stolen-base opportunities, which ranked last in the league, well below the MLB average of 40 per 100. Pickoff attempts aren’t just for show, so it’s not surprising that Astros pitchers also had the AL’s worstSwipe Rate Above Average, a measure of their impact on runner success rates, independent of Conger. In other words, had Conger thrown just as poorly on a team whose staff paid more attention to runners, he wouldn’t have had such an eye-catching caught-stealing percentage.

Conger’s continued employment, then, is to some extent a sign of the times. Where once a strong arm was the ultimate signifier of a catcher’s defensive prowess, greater understanding of stats has taught teams that most catchers’ arms are almost an afterthought. Which brings us back to Bethancourt, who has a cannon but doesn’t do anything else well: He can’t hit, and he’s also a below-average blocker and framer, which means he wasworse than Conger on defense — and spent most of last season in the minors — despite his sublime pop time and caught-stealing percentage. In baseball’s brave new world, sometimes it’s better to be the catcher with the worst arm than the one with the best.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-the-rays-traded-for-hank-conger-a-catcher-who-cant-throw/

 

"These two numbers together can tell us a great deal about what’s likely to happen after bat meets ball."

 

 

 

 

 

BASEBALL 4:50 PM APR 13, 2016 

The New Science Of Hitting

Statcast is already giving us clues on the best way to hit a baseball.

By ROB ARTHUR

In broadcast booths, on scoreboards and on Twitter, there’s a wave of new information sweeping across Major League Baseball. It tells us that Carter Capps’s leaping delivery increases his effective velocity and that Giancarlo Stanton hits the ball really hard. (OK, so we didn’t need Statcast to know that.) Those numbers are all courtesy of MLB’s Statcast system — which uses an array of radar equipment and high-resolution cameras to track every object and person on the baseball field — and they’re finally being released to the public this season.

Although MLB has made only a limited portion of that information available,1 Statcast’s new metrics have enormous potential to change our understanding of baseball, telling us not only what happened, but also how it happened. On the other hand, they’re largely unfamiliar to fans used to thinking in terms of old-school metrics. So today, I’m going to dive into two of Statcast’s new statistics — launch angle and exit velocity, both of which long existed only in the dreams of sabermetricians — and explore what they can tell us about hitters.

Launch angle measures the vertical direction of the ball coming off the bat; a launch angle of zero degrees would be a flat line, with positive numbers indicating an upward ball flight and negative ones indicating a ball driven into the ground. Hitters with high launch angles tend to be sluggers who produce lots of fly balls (and, sometimes, pop-ups). Kris Bryant was one of the league leaders in launch angle in 2015, with an average angle of 19.2 degrees. Conversely, low launch angles tend to be the domain of quick, slap-hitting middle infielders who generate lots of ground balls. Dee Gordon, for example, was toward the low end of the spectrum with an average launch angle of 2.9 degrees.

Exit velocity, on the other hand, represents the speed at which a ball leaves the bat. Although it was unofficially available from some websites last year, MLB officially packaged and released exit velocity alongside launch angle on April 7, effectively giving us a detailed measure of how hard each ball was hit. Unsurprisingly, at the top of last season’s exit velocity leaderboardsyou’ll find the game’s greatest sluggers — such as Stanton (99.1 mph), Miguel Cabrera (95.1) and Jose Bautista (94.3) — pounding out average exit velocities well north of 90 miles per hour.

We learned last season that exit velocity alone was modestly useful, but it becomes exponentially more powerful when combined with launch angle data. These two numbers together can tell us a great deal about what’s likely to happen after bat meets ball.

  

The relationship between a batted ball’s launch angle, exit velocity andlinear weights scoring value (a measure of the runs a play adds relative to average) is complicated.2 The very best hitters in MLB tend to smack lots of balls with launch angles around 25 degrees and exit velocities above 90 miles per hour, corresponding to the area of the plot rich in such valuable plays as home runs and doubles. Worse hitters, by contrast, have a tendency to make contact at sharper angles, where positive run values are harder to come by. That’s because balls hit with extreme launch angles (positive or negative) usually find their way into fielders’ gloves as either pop-ups or groundouts, doomed to be outs no matter their exit velocities.

 

Meanwhile, the success of a ball struck at a more intermediate angle is extremely sensitive to its exit velocity. For instance, at a launch angle of about 25 degrees,3 run values can vary sharply depending on how fast the ball leaves the bat. Low exit velocities tend to result in short-hoppers to the infielders, which are easy outs. But as batters hit the ball slightly harder, those liners get progressively stronger, eventually sailing over infielders’ heads for bloop singles. Then the run value drops again, as those line drives begin to travel within reach of the outfielders. At a certain point, though, run value skyrockets again as hard-hit balls become doubles and, eventually, home runs.

(The valley in the chart above, with bloop singles on one side and doubles on the other, has been dubbed the “doughnut hole” because it’s surrounded by combinations of exit velocity and launch angle that are more productive.)

Except for those few line drives just before the doughnut hole, more exit velocity is generally better for batters. Although exit velocity most directly affects slugging percentage — harder-hit balls go farther and turn into extra-base hits more often — it is also correlated with almost every other positive indicator of offensive performance. It even affects how pitchers approach a given hitter; it’s positively associated with walk rate, presumably because pitchers fear throwing balls in the zone to high-exit-velocity hitters.

There are many things we can’t know from these two metrics alone, of course. Anyone who’s ever seen Billy Hamilton leg out an infield singleknows that speed plays a significant role in what happens after a ball is struck. In fact, we can see the importance of swift base running by looking at ground balls and grouping batters according to their speed score, a Bill James-designed composite of stolen bases, triples and runs scored. The higher the speed score, the faster the runner.

 

For grounders,4 there’s a big difference in scoring value depending on how quick the batter is on the base paths. Exit velocity being equal, the fastest third of batters always produce more value on ground balls than the slowest third. And the difference is especially pronounced with high exit velocities: At 94 miles per hour, a grounder is a net negative play for a slow runner, just about neutral for an average runner, and positive for the fast group. Because of this difference, low exit angles are much more harmful for lumbering first basemen than for speedy shortstops. The effect of speed starts to fade only when launch angles exceed 10 degrees, as exit velocity begins to take over as the biggest determinant of a batted ball’s fate.

Even with these preliminary principles from Statcast, there’s much we still don’t know. The statistics have just been released, so sabermetricians haven’t had time to fully digest them, much less conduct full-scale analyses. But every time new data finds its way into baseball, it teaches us fresh lessons. In the years after PITCHf/x was installed in 2006, we learned about the importance of catcher framing, a skill that had been regarded as largely fictitious. Who’s to say what novel theories will be born from Statcast data, now that we finally have our hands on it?

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-new-science-of-hitting/

 

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