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Statcast suggests Twins hitters have been somewhat unlucky in 2018

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It turns out Statcast is good for more than just telling us that Byron Buxton is super fast.

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Dozier might heat up more as the season goes on,
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With data that stretches back to just the 2015 season, Statcast has risen to prominence quickly in MLB circles. Now, nearly every TV broadcast features exit velocities, projected home run distances, or sprint speeds at some point in the game. This data is even more prominent in online communities and social media, quantifying how hard a ball is hit or how fast a player can run. This information allows comparison between two base hits or two players sprinting down the line, something that was much more subjective just five years ago.

So what can these new stats tell us about the 2018 Twins hitters? Thanks to the folks over at Baseball Savant, we can a multitude of new stats have been divulged.

Here is a look at how the Twins batters stack up so far this season in terms of exit velocity. The league leader is Aaron Judge, with an average of 96.1 MPH, and the constant line is the median (88.9 MPH) for batters with at least 30 batted ball events.

Data from Baseball Savant

While it may be apparent through watching the games, this data confirms that the Twins aren’t exactly tearing the cover off of the ball early this season. However, it is noteworthy that one of the Twins most productive hitters, Eduardo Escobar, is last among regular Twins’ batters in average exit velocity. Brian Dozier has also displayed a lower average exit velocity than expected, and Logan Morrison’s and Max Kepler’s higher than average exit velocities may be a bit surprising as well.

While a harder hit ball obviously has a higher chance of being becoming a hit, launch angle is also an integral factor in the batted ball’s result. Much has been made about hitters purposely trying to increase their launch angle, including Logan Morrison’s breakout season last year. In a May 12th game against the Angles, Joe Mauer hit a Noe Ramirez pitch 103.4 miles per hour, but its -8 launch angel ended up with the ball traveling just 29 feet before hitting the ground and resulting in a ground-out. However, in the same game, Byron Buxton hit a ball at 77.1 miles per hour and ended up on second with a double. The 22 degree launch angle resulted in the ball traveling 259 feet, resulting in a hit probability of 81 percent (as Mauer’s batted ball had just a 38% chance of becoming a hit, according to Baseball Savant).

So what is an optimal launch angle? FiveThirtyEight used Baseball Savant data to come up with this graph, which explains that a launch angle between 22 and 28 degrees is ideal and a higher exit velocity doesn’t always produce the best results.

Meanwhile, a more recent Washington Post article featured the graphic below, with the darker areas representing balls more likely resulting in hits and the lighter areas likely becoming outs. The article claims that an optimal launch angle (specifically for home runs) comes between 25 and 35 degrees.

While Baseball Savant does not supply average launch angles for each player, they do have a stat called Barrels per Batted Ball Event. “Barrels” come on balls hit at least 98 MPH and have a launch angle typically between 26 and 30 degrees (with variation depending how hard the ball is hit). Here is a look at the Twins regulars when in comes to “Barrels”. The league leader for this statistic is Joey Gallo at 24.5%, and the constant line (7.1%) represents the median for MLB players with 30 or more batted ball events.

Data from Baseball Savant

This graphic is likely better correlated to each individual’s hitting success this season, and most notably Escobar makes a big jump in these rankings from the last set of data. Also, it is apparent that when Miguel Sano does put the ball in play, he is more likely to barrel it up. Despite an early season hitting streak, Dozier’s barrel rate sits at 5.3%, a drop from the 8.4% mark he put up last season. Morrison has experienced even a bigger tumble, as his barrel rate has gone from 12.8% in 2017 to 5.4% so far this season.

Finally, Baseball Savant also supplies data for expected stats based on exit velocity and launch angle. The most intriguing stat that they calculated was weighted on base average (essentially OBP with value for extra base hits), or wOBA. Subtracting expected wOBA (calculated using exit velocities and launch angle of each batted ball event) from each player’s actual wOBA finds differences. A negative difference means that a player should have a higher wOBA based on how hard and what angle they are hitting the ball, while a positive difference indicates that the player should have a lower wOBA. Listed below are the Twins wOBA differences.

Data from Baseball Savant

According to this graphic, it appears that Joe Mauer has gotten a bit unlucky so far this season, and Castro’s shortened season may have experienced some bad bounces as well. On the flip side, Mitch Garver and Eddie Rosario are likely due for some regression if they continue to hit the ball with similar exit velocities and launch angles. This graph also shows that Byron Buxton and Morrison’s slow starts may have been a tad unlucky, though their barrel rates show that they certainly have room to improve in hitting the ball well. Morrison’s numbers are also likely affected by the extreme shifts he sees as well, though that could be an entire article on its own.

Summarizing the statcast data on Twins hitters so far this season, they are bit below average when it comes to hitting the ball hard and barreling the ball up. However, the data also suggests that the majority of the team has a been a somewhat unlucky through the first month and half of the season. Due to past season’s numbers, they should also see improvement from Dozier, Morrison, and (gulp) Buxton as the season moves on.

If you are watching the Twins game and would like to know how hard a ball is hit just seconds after you hear Dick get over excited by a fly ball Dick describe a play, check out Baseball Savant’s gamefeed application, which also includes launch angles and hit probability percentages.