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NYT: New Way To Judge Hitters, Rocket Science


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Something is sweeping through Major League Baseball this season that makes the batting-practice cage, the stands and the suites of team executives feel more like the halls of NASA. Everywhere you go at the ballpark, it seems, people are talking about exit velocity.

In their quest to uncover data that better measures players? performances, the sport?s aficionados have decided that exit velocity ? not a space shot but rather the speed of the ball as it leaves the bat ? says a lot about a hitter.

?It?s really just physics,? said John Ricco, the Mets? assistant general manager. ?If you hit the ball hard, at a certain velocity and a certain angle, it?s going to be a home run.?

The Mets believe in exit velocity so much that they used it to help determine their first baseman of the future.


For months, their front-office executives debated the merits of Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. Davis was a former first-round pick whose career had been stymied by injuries and a plummeting batting average. Duda, a lower-round pick, had worked his way into the lineup but did not have a great batting average, either, or an extensive track record.


David Freese of the Angels hitting a sacrifice fly against the Rangers in April. Equipment was recently installed in all major league ballparks to track every ball, as well as every player on every play. Credit Brandon Wade/Associated Press

Both were left-handed power hitters, and they were close in age. But one clear advantage Duda had over Davis was better exit velocity when he connected. Given regular playing time, the Mets projected, Duda could develop into an elite slugger.

So a year ago they kept Duda and traded Davis, and Duda flourished. In 2014, he hit 30 home runs, drove in 92 runs and established himself as one of the team?s core players.

The challenge now for teams is how to consistently use exit velocity in a smart way. The challenge for fans is to become familiar with yet another of the advanced statistics that are rapidly changing the way people think about the game. Exit velocity is already being mentioned during game broadcasts.

The threshold for hitting a home run, analysts believe, is an exit velocity of about 95 miles per hour.

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This is just another way of expressing the Paul O'Neil Hard Hit Ball % Theory. The higher the % of hard hit balls, the better hitter, as long as the goal of hitting is getting a pitch you can hit and barreling it up. If its about getting walks then forget about it.

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