Analysis

Statcast Hitting Extremes of 2019

Over the 2019 regular season, Statcast tracked and registered over 700,000 pitches. Batters made contact with just over 200,000 of those pitches, and about 125,000 of those became balls in play. Batted balls come in all shapes and sizes, from long home runs to swinging bunts, infield popups, and grounders down the line. Luckily, Statcast has a ton of unique ways to measure them. Just the presence of metrics like exit velocity, projected distance, and expected batting average brings up plenty of interesting questions — fastest exit velocity? Longest flyout? Luckiest hit … unluckiest out?

After the 2016 and 2017 seasons, MLB.com put together articles that explored Statcast’s most extreme home runs of the year, in terms of numbers like distance, exit velocity, and launch angle. Remembering those pieces, I was inspired to search for the most extreme batted balls of the year, regardless of the result of the play. In each of the following categories, we’ll look at the most extreme result on each end of the spectrum. There was no shortage of interesting pitches, plays, and batted balls this year, so let’s get into some of the most extreme ones from the 2019 regular season:

EXIT VELOCITY

Highest: Giancarlo Stanton, 120.6mph (March 28 vs BAL)

Giancarlo Stanton has always dominated the exit velocity leaderboards. Statcast has only ever measured four batted balls faster than 120.6mph, and three of those belong to Stanton. In 2018, the Yankee slugger owned ten of the twelve highest exit velocities in Major League Baseball (the other two top spots came from teammates Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez).

Despite appearing in just 18 games in 2019, Stanton managed to top the leaderboard once again with this Opening Day rocket into the right-center gap. This was the first of three games he played before heading to the IL as one of the first casualties of the Yankees’ injury-stricken season. While he did it in only 72 plate appearances, the 30 year old outfielder still managed an .894 OPS (139 wRC+) when he made it on the field. He’ll look to stay healthy and put up some big power numbers in 2020.

Lowest: Willi Castro, 7.6mph (September 19 @ CLE)

This nasty Mike Clevinger curveball gets the best of the light-hitting Willi Castro, resulting in Statcast’s lowest exit velocity of 2019. Not only does the 77mph curveball bounce before making contact with Castro’s check-swing, but it comes off the bat at just 7.6mph.

To put that number in perspective, Statcast has several higher “exit velocity” readings from tracking the ball after a hit-by-pitch. According to Statcast, this 96mph Luke Bard fastball bounced off of Marcus Semien at 9.7mph:

Anyway, Castro spent 2019 as the Tigers’ backup shortstop, hitting .230/.284/.424 (63 wRC+) in 110 plate appearances. At just 22 years old, he still has time to develop, but projects as more of a defensive asset than a big bat at this point for Detroit.

Clevinger, on the other hand, will throw hundreds more of those curveballs for the Indians in 2020. After falling short of the playoffs in 2019, Clevinger will probably start on Opening Day and lead a Kluber-less Cleveland rotation.

Fastest out: Aaron Judge, 118.1mph (April 4 @ BAL)

Judge takes this unlucky honor, with a 118mph rocket that turned into a fielder’s choice forceout (and almost a double play). Tim Beckham could barely handle the line drive heading straight for his face, dropping the ball before flipping it to second for the out. At a launch angle of 7.1 degrees, not only was this one of Judge’s 48 barrels on the year, but it also had an expected batting average (xBA) of .762.

Judge led the MLB last year with a 95.9mph average exit velocity. Despite being limited to 102 games in 2019 with a significant oblique strain, he batted .272/.381/.540 and remained one of baseball’s most valuable players on a per-game basis. With the retirement of CC Sabathia, Judge will become one of the leaders of a contending Yankees team in 2020.

Slowest hit: Trevor Williams, 20.1 (September 15 @ CHC)

A career .107 hitter and the owner of a -27 wRC+, Trevor Williams’s offensive prowess will forever be a part of his Pirates legacy. In 2019, he led all Pittsburgh pitchers with 4 RBI, including this March 31 game in which he logged an RBI single and bases-loaded walk alongside six shutout innings. This mid-September bunt is just another example, with an xBA of .140:

After watching the replay, it probably would have been called an error if it weren’t for Anthony Rizzo doing this to his ankle while running after the ball:

Rizzo left the game immediately after this play and wouldn’t rejoin the Cubs lineup until September 19th, four days later. Still, the consistent Rizzo put together another great year — his .924 OPS was his best since 2016 (.928). Unfortunately, his bat wasn’t enough to stop the Cubs from sliding out of the playoffs in the final few weeks, ending the season by losing 10 of their final 12 games.

Williams, all jokes aside, didn’t have such a great 2019. After a successful 2018 season that saw him throw 170.2 innings with a 3.11 ERA, he regressed to a 5.38 ERA last year. With a low strikeout rate (6.98 K/9 in 2019) and an unpromising 4.73 career xFIP, Williams might not return to the same level of success.

LAUNCH ANGLE

The highest and lowest launch angles of the year are almost all your typical, unremarkable popups behind home plate and soft groundouts to the pitcher. Here’s the highest launch angle of the year, at 89.5° off the bat of Tyler Naquin:

Lowest launch angle, a groundout to the pitcher from Pete Alonso at -87.2 degrees:

Highest hit: Manny Machado, 76.8° (June 19 vs MIL)

This play has a little more flavor than the other launch angle extremes. Manny Machado launched a high popup that landed right in between four Brewers players. It was ruled a single because nobody touched it, and Machado eventually came around to score as part of a three-run inning for the Padres that would eventually decide the game.

DISTANCE

Longest out: Brandon Drury, 427 feet (July 21 @ DET)

Blue Jays utilityman Brandon Drury had a rough 2019, batting just .218/.262/.380 in 447 plate appearances. Among the 207 batters with at least 400 plate appearances in 2019, his 66 wRC+ is fifth worst. This play by Tigers CF JaCoby Jones certainly didn’t help him out:

This 104mph barrel came off Drury’s bat at an angle of 26 degrees, and had an xBA of .938. The center field wall at Comerica Park is listed at 420 feet, making it one of the farthest center field fences in baseball. Alongside Comerica, “The Triangle” in Fenway Park and Coors Field’s 415-foot center field accounted for 11 of the 12 longest flyouts in 2019.

Farthest FAIR ball: Nomar Mazara, 505 feet (June 21 vs CWS)

Coincidentally, this homer came against Mazara’s future team — he was traded to the White Sox in December, and will probably start in right field for them going into 2020. Pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, who gave this one up, allowed the fourth-most home runs in baseball last year.

This one ended up in the very back of the upper deck at Globe Life Park. Since Statcast started tracking distances in 2015, this Mazara homer is tied with Trevor Story for longest home run in the Statcast era. After four straight mediocre offensive seasons (92 career wRC+), we still don’t really know whether Mazara has a true breakout season in his future. But, every once in a while, he shows off his potential with long home runs like these.

Because Statcast not only tracks all balls in play, but also every foul ball in a game, I was also able to uncover two foul balls last year that had projected distances farther than Mazara’s 505-footer. Both would have broken Statcast distance records if they hadn’t landed on the wrong side of the foul pole:

Farthest FOUL ball: Josh Naylor, 526 feet (August 20 @ CIN)

On a 1-0 count, Padres outfielder Josh Naylor turned on this inside fastball from Sonny Gray and pulled it into the upper deck. It was clearly foul, but Statcast has it projected at 526 feet, which would be the longest home run in the Statcast era by over 20 feet (breaking the mark that Mazara tied in June).

Fortunately for Naylor, Sonny Gray never learned his lesson. For some reason, Gray kept throwing him fastballs and Naylor homered literally two pitches later:

Honorable mention: Vladimir Guerrero Jr, 525 feet (September 23 vs BAL)

Down by one run in the 12th, Guerrero hit this ball 115.5mph and a projected 525 feet, only a few seats away from tying the game. Blue Jays announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tables agreed it was one of the best swings they’d seen in over a month from Guerrero, who was breaking out of an early-September slump. Guerrero eventually reached on an error and would come around to score, extending the game. The Jays would go on to win in 15 innings, 11-10.

Heading into 2020, his age-21 season, Guerrero will almost certainly build on a respectable rookie performance in which he batted .272/.339/.433 with 15 HR in 514 PA. It wasn’t the type of breakout rookie season that most expected, but Guerrero’s raw potential is undisputed and there’s no doubt he’ll be contending for MVP awards soon enough.

EXPECTED BATTING AVERAGE (xBA)

Unluckiest out: Billy McKinney, .988 xBA (April 5 @ CLE)

McKinney launched this ball 390 feet, right into the glove of Leonys Martin. It came off the bat at 106.6mph and was one of McKinney’s 12 barrels in 2019. According to Baseball Savant, there were over 130 batted balls with the same exit velocity and launch angle as McKinney’s fly ball, and only four of them were not home runs. The only other out was a Roberto Perez sac fly in April. In other words, McKinney really got the short end of the stick.

Luckiest hit: Rhys Hoskins, .002 xBA (April 26 vs MIA)

An expected batting average of .002 means that the odds of this pop fly dropping are about 1 in 500! Apparently, April 26 was a windy day in Philadelphia, and what seemed like a popup to second just kept drifting farther into the outfield. Phillies announcer Tom McCarthy said after the play, “[Starlin Castro] had it line up, and the wind just took it!”

Honorable mention: Machado’s popup that dropped, mentioned above in the launch angle category, also had an xBA of .002, tying Hoskins’ double for luckiest hit of 2019.

Featured Photo: Tom Szczerbowski, Getty Images

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