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The Rays Through Hit f/x (sort of)

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"Kevin Goldstein says I don't have huge power. That makes me sad." http://twitter.com/#!/Kevin_Goldstein/statuses/116695157335797760 (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
"Kevin Goldstein says I don't have huge power. That makes me sad." http://twitter.com/#!/Kevin_Goldstein/statuses/116695157335797760 (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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Who, in all of major league baseball this year, had the hardest hit home run?

If you're like me, you probably thought of the shot Willy Mo Pena, he of batting practice legend, hit off James Shields, he of giving-up-home-runs-at-a-rate-nearly-sufficient-to-make-rational-men-abandon-DIPS legend.

But at 117.5 mph off the bat, that was only the ninth hardest hit home run this year. No, the absolute most viciously struck ball of 2011 was by one of the few heroes of yesterday's game, our very own Sean Rodriguez (118.4 mph!).

I once wrote that Roddy has a terrible batting eye, but Joe Maddon steadfastly maintains that he has immense offensive upside, on account of some very serious power. Seems like Maddon knows what he's talking about, at least concerning the power. I don't, of course, have access to hit f/x data, but ESPN Home Run Tracker (formerly Hit Tracker) is a fun tool. After the break, I'll try to make it do something for which it wasn't designed.

To my thinking, the important number in identifying power is speed off the bat. The distance of a home run depends on the angle at which it's hit, the conditions at the park, and a host of other reasons. But over the course of a season, most major league players should make solid hard contact at least a few times, and that just might be enough to figure out their raw power. To establish that there is in fact a relationship between how many home runs a player hits, and the average speed off the bat of their home runs, I divided all hitters into bins by their home run total in each year. (Note: I wouldn't expect the relationship to be very strong—there really is a difference between raw power and game power (poor S-Rod).)

I'm really not sure what was going on in 2008—maybe the massive tectonic shift in the baseball world as the Rays ascended to greatness threw everything off—but for the other years, the relationship seems pretty clear. If you're able to hit the ball harder when you catch it solidly a few times, you hit more home runs overall. Here are the Rays in 2011:

Row Labels

HR Total

Max of Speed off Bat

Average of Speed off Bat

Brignac, Reid

1

96.9

96.9

Fuld, Sam

3

101.8

99.2

Guyer, Brandon

2

104

99.5

Chirinos, Robinson

1

99.8

99.8

Kotchman, Casey

10

106.3

100.3

Johnson, Dan

1

100.4

100.4

Johnson, Elliot

4

103.7

101.5

Zobrist, Ben

16

109.1

102.2

Damon, Johnny

14

109.4

102.9

Joyce, Matt

18

109.7

102.9

Longoria, Evan

28

108.2

103.0

Ruggiano, Justin

4

112

103.0

Upton, B.J.

21

112.8

103.4

Shoppach, Kelly

8

109.2

103.6

Jennings, Desmond

9

106.8

104.0

Jaso, John

5

108.6

104.1

Lopez, Felipe

2

105.9

104.9

Rodriguez, Sean

7

118.4

107.1

 

What do I see in this table? Not much.

  • John Jaso has a little bit more thump in his bat than I would have thought.
  • While Desmond Jenning's has shown more power than most of us expected in his limited time up, it's not as if he's gotten his home runs on cheap swings.
  • When B.J. Upton and Kelly Shoppach run into one, they hit it hard.

There's a lot of noise, though, along with a pretty obvious selection bias (hit tracker noted all long fly balls in 2007, but hasn't since). We know that Longoria has very good power, and that he leads the team in home runs by a fair margin, but his average speed off the bat is middle of the pack. Looking at his home runs individually, there are four with speeds off the bat under 100 mph bringing his average way down. Three of them came in Fenway, one in Yankee Stadium, both of which are pretty strong hitters' parks. Obviously there's a pretty large park effect that interacts with the selection bias. It will need to be adjusted for. Still, I think there's some information that can be found here if one is clever about how they slice the data. I'm including my spreadsheet of raw data and pivot tables from 2008-2011, if anyone else wants to take a stab at making something useful. Hit Tracker Data