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Rating Mets hitters through Statcast by exit velocity and batted ball angles: May edition

Using MLB's new Statcast tracking system is a good way to get some more peripheral statistics on Mets hitters.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the quality of contact a hitter makes off the bat is a way to put together a good peripheral statistic to use as a component of hitter evaluation. Batters have significantly better results when they hit the ball at high exit speeds between specific angles. Hitting the ball hard on paper is not everything, though.

For one, it doesn't take into account defensive positioning; if a batter can't use the whole field, teams are going to position their defenders in areas where most of his batted balls go. It doesn't take into account hit placement, either, which some hitters with shorter strokes excel at. Hitters like Ichiro can be masters at placing the ball in areas that defenders aren't occupying.

But there is an element of randomness to the game of baseball, one that just looking at outcomes doesn't fully picture. Sometimes, batters hit lasers that would be extra-base hits if it they traveled a few feet to the right or left of a fielder. The conditions during the game can have varying impacts on how the baseball travels once it leaves the bat. The ball interacts with the air after it leaves the bat, and different environments can give the ball different levels of air resistance based on things like temperature during the game, humidity, wind patterns, and ballpark elevation.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a shot at Citi Field against the Marlins during the second week of April that probably would have landed near the second deck on a nicer day, but the strong inward wind jetting in from left field and colder temperature gave the ball too much resistance as it traveled through the outfield and kept it in the park. Cespedes struck the ball incredibly well off the bat, but due to factors outside of his control, the outcome changed from a home run to an out.

Even the individual baseball used can have an effect on how far a batted ball travels. In an experiment done by Baseball Prospectus, researchers found that different MLB baseball lots traveled different distances under the same launching conditions, primarily because each individual lot had a different impact on drag. There was even individual variation within the same ball lots, with distances varying sometimes up to 30 feet based on the individual construction of each ball. That could be the difference between an extra base hit or an out through no fault of the hitter himself. Different levels of mud, rosin, and pine tar that get on a ball may affect how the ball travels after leaving the bat, too.

With the debut of Statcast last year, more objective ways of measuring the type of contact hitters make are now available, like using the combination of exit velocity off the bat and trajectory based on launch and spray angles. Launch angles just went public in April.

Statcast classifies batted balls with vertical launch angles between 10 and 25 degrees as line drives. Below 10 degrees is a ground ball. Fly balls are above 25 degrees, with over 50 degrees considered pop ups.

Where launch angles are helpful is differentiating between different types of ground balls and fly balls. Two ground balls with the same exit speed are not the same if they're launched at significantly different angles. According to statcast, the league hit .438 on ground balls between 5 and 0 degrees but just .168 on ground balls hit between -10 and -15 degrees last season. The reason is because the more negative the launch angle, the quicker and more downward the ball slams into the ground after leaving the bat, slowing down the momentum of the ball through the infield and making it more difficult to go through past a fielder.

In addition to vertical launch angles, horizontal spray angles are also included by Statcast. -45 degrees is down the left field line. 0 degrees is straightaway center field. 45 degrees is down the right field line.

Checking the Statcast data, it appears that these categories are the best types of contact. Here's what I found two weeks ago at Fake Teams:

  • Exit velocities of 95+ mph hit between a 0 and 9 degree launch angle (hard ground balls)
  • Launch angles between 10 degree and 19 degrees (line drives at any speed)
  • Exit velocities of 100+ mph hit between a 20 degree and 40 degree launch angle (hard fly balls)
  • Exit velocities of 95-99 mph hit between a 20 degree and 40 degree launch angle with a horizontal spray angle within 20 degrees of the lines (well struck fly balls to LF or RF)

Category 1: hard ground balls: According to statcast, batted balls that left the bat with exit velocities of 95+ mph and a launch angle between 0 and 9 degrees had a batting average of .620 last year with an OPS of 1.300. A lot of singles fall into this category. The breakdown for batted balls hit in this range is 54% singles, 7% doubles, 1% triples and 0% home runs.

Category 2: line drives at any speed: Batted balls that were vertically launched at any speed between 10 and 19 degrees had a batting average of .700 with a 1.650 OPS. Even softly hit balls go for hits here; the league hit .660 on batted balls that left the bat at less than 85 mph between 10 and 19 degree launch angles.

Category 3: hard fly balls: Batted balls that left the bat at 100+ mph with a launch angle between 20 and 40 degrees had a batting average of .800 with a 3.600 OPS. Tons of extra base hits come here. The breakdown here is 1% singles, 15% doubles, 2.5% triples, and 61% home runs. This appears to be the highest value contact range.

Category 4: well hit fly balls to LF or RF: Horizontal angle can be important, too. The league hit .570 with a 2.500 OPS on batted balls hit 95-99 mph with a launch angle of 20-40 degrees and a spray angle within 20 degrees of the left field line last year. It came with a 38% home run rate. The league hit .400 with a 1.600 OPS and a 22% home run rate under these conditions to right field. The horizontal angle is important for fly balls under 100 mph because a ball that leaves the bat at 97 mph with a 35 degree launch angle to CF is usually a fly out, but if it's hit to LF or RF, it has a decent chance to go for a home run.

Here are the notable Mets hitters and how many times they've recorded a ball in play (BIP) that fits into the criteria above. It also has a percentage of their at bats that end in such a ball.

% of ABs
Yoenis Cespedes
David Wright
Lucas Duda
Michael Conforto
Neil Walker
Asdrubal Cabrera
Curtis Granderson
Juan Lagares
Alejandro de Aza
Kevin Plawecki
Travis d'Arnaud
Wilmer Flores
Bartolo Colon

The Mets have had some awesome power output from their hitters to this point, backed by how well their top hitters hit the ball. Their team isolated power (ISO) of .200 is best in all of baseball, ahead of slugging teams like the Cubs and teams that play in extreme hitting parks like the Rockies. MLB average ISO is .154.

Yoenis Cespedes unsurprisingly leads the way in the best type of contact for Mets hitters, and it's led to MVP type numbers so far through the first week of May. Cespedes has the highest ISO in baseball at .402, ahead of notable slugging outfielders Bryce Harper (.367) and Giancarlo Stanton (.340). He also has a 183 wRC+, 89% above the center field average of 94 and 83% above the major league average for all players of 100.

David Wright is tied with Lucas Duda for second in total balls in play, but is first on the team in percentage of at bats. Wright has been a very high level hitter so far. He has a .213 ISO, his best since 2013, when he had a .207 ISO. He also has a 142 wRC+, 33% above the MLB average for third basemen and identical to his 2012 season.

Michael Conforto ranks very highly. He has the most batted balls of 100+ mph between 5-40 degree vertical angles on the Mets, and his ability to strike the ball well has contributed to a .252 ISO and 145 wRC+, both all star type numbers for a left fielder.

Walker (.250 ISO), Duda (.240 ISO) and Granderson (.207 ISO) also have power output well above the MLB average.

Even Bartolo Colon has hit for power; his .250 ISO is tied for fourth best on the team. His home run was clocked at 96.89 mph off the bat, with a vertical launch angle of 34.86 degrees and a horizontal spray angle within 10 degrees of the left field line. Batted balls hit around this range had a 73% home run rate last year.

Again, hitting the ball well on paper isn't everything; it needs to be combined with other observations to paint a complete picture. But it can be a useful tool to point out which hitters are making the best type of contact, and the best type of contact usually leads to the best results.