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A very early look at the Mariners' batted ball data

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Though it will be unveiled tonight, StatCast data isn't fully available yet—but we're getting snippets of something we never have before: batted ball velocity.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Nelson Cruz is a powerful man. That much is clear, and has been over the past week, when the marquee free agent made watching the Mariners' cleanup slot look less like watching a pitcher and more like watching Balco-era Barry Bonds. A dinger was a possibility at any moment, and it happened absurdly frequently.

But that power plays beyond the homers—beyond extra base hits at all. In fact, the hardest measured ball Cruz has hit all year was technically a grounder. It was Sunday's walk-off single, a rifle shot into left that ended the game before Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre could take a single step.

That ball left the bat at 119 miles per hour. Through Sunday's games, that was the hardest measured ball hit so far this year. I've said twice now, and you might be wondering: "measured?"

Yes, we're getting data on that now. It's limited, and it isn't the full HITf/x suite we've long waited for, but it's something—and it's interesting.

As background, this data is being scraped from MLB's servers by Daren Willman's superb Baseball Savant. He's not getting all the data, as MLB is serving it up very randomly at this point, but he says he's still getting about 500 at bats worth everyday. For those interested, head over to the site's PITCHf/x Search and play around with the batted ball velocity toggles.

For our purposes, as the title gives away, let's look only at the Mariners. First off, I'll just give it to you straight before adding some observations. Here's how Mariners' batters rank by their average batted ball velocity on the ABs Baseball Savant was able to pull in, using data through Sunday's games:

Player

Average Velo

Sample

1

Nelson Cruz

92.95 MPH

19

2

Dustin Ackley

90.20 MPH

15

3

Logan Morrison

90.00 MPH

15

4

Robinson Cano

88.62 MPH

21

5

Mike Zunino

87.40 MPH

10

6

Kyle Seager

87.04 MPH

25

7

Austin Jackson

85.56 MPH

18

8

Seth Smith

85.36 MPH

11

9

Brad Miller

85.00 MPH

13

10

Justin Ruggiano

84.67 MPH

3

11

Rickie Weeks

78.75 MPH

8

12

Willie Bloomquist

77.60 MPH

5

What's interesting to me is that, even though the sample is small, this generally tracks with what you'd expect to see. The order at the top is maybe a little out of sorts—what with Dustin Ackley slotting in there second—but it isn't crazy. It's a tiny sample, and yet, it already looks about what you'd expect.

On top of the batted ball velocity, we're also getting distance. It's imperfect,as it seems to be tracking grounders and balls on the infield as traveling 0.0 feet, but it's a start. So with that, here's average batted ball velocity plotted against distance, for those batters with at least 10 measured balls in play.

Batted Ball plotted

I'll note, again, this is on data through Sunday. And it has already changed since. For updated rankings—once that have already begun to swing—see the results here, where you can click each player's name for a full listing for the measured balls in play.

The samples are so small, as evidenced by the changing totals, but there are some observations worth making.

  • While Robinson Cano ranks lower than people might imagine in average batted ball velo, he does hit the ball hard quite frequently—and actually leads the team with balls in play exceeding 100mph, with ten, which is also tied for fifth in all of baseball. What's even more interesting is that Kyle Seager is actually tied with Nelson Cruz on balls in play exceeding 100mph, with nine. From there, there's a bit of a drop-off to fourth, where Logan Morrison sits with six.
  • Speaking of Logan Morrison, if you think he's stinging the ball and just having terrible luck, you're not entirely wrong. After his single last night, he is now 1-for-6 on balls in play exceeding 100 miles per hour. That said, half were grounders and the fourth was a liner caught by Albert Pujols.
  • Conversely, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz are efficient magicians, as they're both 8-for-9 on balls exceeding 100mph.
  • Oh, and if you thought Cano was stinging the ball early but has started to "get hot" lately as balls find grass, that's true too. He was previously 1-for-6 on balls exceeding 100mph (with the error by Josh Reddick in there), but has since gone 4-for-4. And that's what you're going to find with batted ball data—that it's going to confirm a lot of your preexisting beliefs. Speaking of which...
  • People keep coming back to the Mariners having one of the worst BABIPs in the league, which they do, and some of that is probably luck, but they're also 23rd in average batted ball velocity. It seems consistently good contact has been the problem, as they actually do rank 11th in baseball in batted balls exceeding 100mph.
  • Speaking of confirming preexisting beliefs—and I didn't want to get into pitching quite yet—the Mariners are actually giving up pretty solid contact comparatively, actually getting hit 14th-hardest in the league. On top of that, they're also tied for eighth in the league in terms of giving up really hard contact, with 52 measured balls in play at 100mph or greater.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma, by himself, has 14 of those balls in play exceeding 100mph. That's second in all of baseball. Here, look at the pitch heat map on those, it's a big plate of meatballs.

That's all I've got for right now. As the title says, this is a very early look. As the sample grows, there will be time for more of an analytical deep dive, but for now, it's interesting nonetheless. Again, click on through to Baseball Savant's search results for all measured balls in play if you'd like to take a look for yourself.

On that note, enormous credit to Daren Wilman for pulling this all together. It's great that MLB Advanced Media has begun to make this publicly available, but without people actually parsing through it and making it all accessible, it wouldn't have nearly the impact it's bound to have.