Yandy Diaz is making headlines around baseball for his ability to hit the ball hard and turning it into power in this young season. At FanGraphs Sung Min Kim wrote about the new and exciting Rays slugger, and Mike Petriello wrote about Diaz being on the verge of stardom at MLB.com.
These aren’t the only pieces floating around the internet talking about the Tampa Bay Rays ability to hit the ball hard, and even as the industry is currently focused on Diaz’s ability, he’s not the only one doing it.
The Rays are scorching the baseball.
Since last year’s trade deadline the Rays traded for 3 of the hardest hitters in 2018 in Tommy Pham, Mike Zunino, and Diaz. They also signed Avisail Garcia as a free agent, himself someone who can knock the cover off the ball.
The result is a team that has blistered the baseball early this season. The Rays have the second highest average exit velocity in Major League Baseball at 90.2 mph trailing only the New York Yankees 90.6 mph average. This is nearly two miles per hour faster than the MLB average of 88.3 mph.
Rays Exit Velocity Leaders include some surprises
Rays Exit Velocity Leaders with 20+ Balls in Play
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|Player||Balls in Play||Exit Velocity|
It might not be all that surprising that Austin Meadows leads the team with the numbers he has put up. He leads the team with four homers, and has gotten off to a fast .341/.420/.659 start putting up a 193 wRC+.
Tommy Pham’s penchant for destroying baseballs should also surprise no one. The only part that was surprising was that Pham carried a .000 ISO into the final game of the Chicago White Sox series before hitting two homers.
Kevin Kiermaier is the one that jumps out on this list, and if you were to filter all of MLB for 25 batted balls as of April 10th, you’d find KK 29th overall on the leaderboard. Unlike last year, Kiermaier has gotten off to a fast start at the plate, and how hard he has hit the ball has justified the hot start.
Before returning to his old stomping ground Avisail Garcia wasn’t putting up the results, but he was still hitting the ball hard. That all changed in Chicago going 8 for 15 with his first homer in a Rays uniform.
Diaz is hitting the ball slightly below last year’s 92.1 mph mark, but he’s doing a better job of raising his launch angle on well hit balls even if the overall launch angle hasn’t increased much as shown in Petriello’s piece. This has allowed Diaz to hit three homers in his first 48 plate appearances as a Ray after hitting one homer in 299 plate appearances as a Cleveland Indian.
Ji-Man Choi has yet to send one over the fence, but it’s coming. His exit velocity is up 0.5 mph over his run with the Rays last season.
Brandon Lowe is proof that power can come from small packages. It still is surprising to see the easy power especially to the opposite field from him. His exit velocity has increased 1.1 mph this season.
Mike Zunino has gotten off to a rough start at the plate, but has started to make more contact on this road trip. Zunino has always gone through stretches of looking almost useless at the plate due to a high strikeout, but when he makes contact good things happen far more often than not. Zunino’s double off of Alex Colome registered at 116.1 mph and is the hardest hit ball by any Ray this season by almost five miles per hour (Diaz’s 112.2 mph homer to dead center off Gerrit Cole).
Only Willy Adames and Daniel Robertson have posted below average exit velocities to date and along with Mike Zunino are the batters who have struggled out of the gate.
Adames had a brutal stretch to start the year, but has started heating up during the road trip. Robertson’s start has gone largely unnoticed due to Adames and Zunino’s slow starts.
Hitting the ball hard should lead to power... right?
Despite hitting the ball hard the Rays have posted a middling .146 ISO that is tied for 20th in baseball. The power started to show through the final two games in Chicago after hitting many balls well in San Francisco that just couldn’t get out of the cavernous park.
The season is still young, but the developing power from the team is something to be on the lookout for as the season progresses. The .224 ISO posted in the Chicago series could just be the beginning of things to come.