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An Overview of the New Baseball Savant Bat Tracking Data

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees; CC'ed by License 2.0

This year, Statcast published, for the first time, publicly available bat tracking data. It’s been a lot of fun to play around with, and some interesting research and insights are already being published in the public sector. If you want to check out the bat tracking data in its entirety for yourself, you can follow the link here which will take you to Baseball Savant and the leaderboards they have published. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be breaking down some of the metrics that are available as well as analyzing which of these metrics are most important. Along with this, I’ll be looking at which players do the important things really well.

If you want a more in-depth explanation of what is currently publicly available, it can all be found in this article by Mike Petriello on the league’s official website. For the basics, essentially we are now able to see how hard a player swings a bat and how long the player’s swing was. A notable metric to keep in mind is that the league average swing speed is 72mph. Why do we care about how hard a player swings? Well, due to the laws of physics, if all things are held equal, and one bat is moving faster than the other, the one that is moving faster will hit the ball harder and further. We know that hitting the ball harder and further is generally a good thing that yields positive results, so, it makes sense why we would want to know this information. However, bat speed is not the end-all-be-all hitting metric. If it was, Cubs legend Javier Baez would not be ranked 17th on the bat speed leaderboard averaging 75.3mph. The swing length is also of significance. If you can swing extremely hard, but it takes the barrel a long time to enter the hitting zone, you’re going to struggle to recognize breaking balls and offspeed offerings, and your plate discipline as a whole will struggle. I hate that Javy is catching so many strays in this piece, but he does have the longest swing in the league, which could be why we see so many absurd swings from him at times. Now, sometimes external factors such as having just a large frame can lead to a longer swing. See Aaron Judge for an example, who has the 5th longest swing. That’s a pretty good hitter, who also has a longer swing. The shortest swing in the league is probably the best pure bat-to-ball hitter in the league, Luis Arraez. There are various ways to be a good hitter in MLB, and swing length and bat speed do not tell the whole story. Where you make contact is important. Hitting the ball on the barrel is important. The bat speed and swing length numbers just give us a bit more of a detailed insight into why some guys might be struggling, and how some guys might be able to improve. 

The release of this data has also come with some new stats being coined by Statcast. My personal favorite is the Blast. Essentially, a blast is a hit that is squared up (on the sweet spot of the barrel) while the bat is moving at a minimum bat speed. They classify bats by taking the average of the sweet sport percentage, where they measure how close it was to being perfectly in the sweet spot, and the bat speed. Anything that is over 82 on average is considered a blast. When analyzing the data, the creators of the stat found that in the first month of play, Blasts produced +32 run value/100 while non-Blasts provided -6 run value/100. Hitting the ball on the barrel while swinging hard usually leads to good results. I know it’s intuitive, but it’s still a very interesting stat that can provide a lot of information on a hitter. The Brewers’ William Contreras is currently leading the league in Blasts with 80 so far this year. Aaron Judge, however, leads the league in Blasts per batted ball, hitting a Blast 28.2% of the time he makes contact, which is wildly impressive. His teammates Juan Soto and Giancarlo Stanton as well as Contreras trail him slightly, hitting them at a 27.4% clip. In my mind, Blasts offer a lot of information about a hitter and is probably my favorite new stat that Statcast has introduced. If you’re more of a Pitching Ninja fan and prefer watching hitters look silly, look no further than the Swords statistic, with Zach Neto leading the way with 18 on the year. It really has no predictive value, but it is fun to know! 

There seems to be a misconception or a misunderstanding between some members of the older generation and the younger generation when it comes to hitting philosophy, and the new bat-tracking data has not done much to ease this tension. Some of the older generation despises the swing and miss and strikeout rates that are prevalent in the league today and see the new bat tracking data as encouraging players to swing harder, and thus swing and miss more. You could point to a player like Luis Arraez for some validation behind these thoughts, as he has the slowest swing speed and the lowest whiff rate in the league. It’s easy to point to any one example and find evidence to back it up. However, if you take a more full-picture approach, you’ll find that these claims are more or less baseless. There is no statistically significant correlation between bat speed and whiff rate because when plotted on a graph, the R squared is .231. This shows us that bat speed is not some boogeyman who’s haunting us with more and more strikeouts. Bat speed is an important part of the much larger puzzle of hitting. Another interesting thing to note is that bat speed had a weak correlation with the percentage of swings that lead to a ball being squared up or on the barrel. This shows, to me, that barrel accuracy and bat speed work almost independently of each other. There was also a very weak correlation between bat speed and run value, which makes sense as most swings don’t have a positive result throughout a season. The strongest correlation I found was between bat speed and Blasts on swings that produced contact, one of the stats discussed earlier. This is fairly intuitive but could show that adding more bat speed is beneficial in terms of producing run value and improving contact quality. 

All in all, there are some cool new metrics that Statcast has allowed the public to view. However, they should be taken with a grain of salt and seen in the context of the bigger picture. There’s no one right way to be successful in the big leagues, and the players today are evidence of that, and the new data has done nothing but support this claim. If you’re a struggling player in need of some development, should bat speed be trained to try to increase contact quality? Absolutely! But, it is not the end all be all. These stats are here to try to help paint a fuller picture. They were never meant to be taken to the forefront to cover the entire canvas.  


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