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Subjective data says Mariners hitting the ball harder than any other team

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The question now: does it mean anything?

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

I'll admit, I'm not a fan of subjective data. Whether it's Defensive Runs Saved and the Ultimate Zone Rating metrics in baseball, or the vaunted DVOA over in football, I'm skeptical. They have their value, and a lot of work goes into them, but any data created as a result of human review has its flaws and is vulnerable to confirmation bias.

But I'm going to write about subjective data anyway, because this set is newly available and it says something interesting about the Mariners.

That data is the hard-hit ball data from Baseball Info Solutions, now available to fans by way of Fangraphs. While the site has yet to pass along a definition of the newly available metrics, they're something ESPN's Matt Simon has been frequently posting on Twitter with an accompanying definition, so I'll share that here:

Hard-hit rate = Percentage of AB ending with hard-hit ball

Based on video review of every AB by game-tracking service

Balls categorized as hard-hit, medium-hit, soft-hit

Trackers are looking for when a hitter gets beneficial trajectory, velocity and contact on the barrel

The stat is a good guideline to gauge players who may be running into tough luck when used in conjunction with other statistics and observations

Average non-pitcher has a hard-hit ball in about 16% of AB [Ed. note: this says percentage of ABs, rankings below are percentage of balls in play]

Like I said, and the title gives away as I'm attempting to turn a tweet into a several hundred word post, this says something interesting about the Mariners—that they do, indeed, hit the ball the hardest. Here's the teams ranked by their hard-hit ball average, with soft and medium included for kicks.

Team Hard% Soft% Med%
Mariners 33.1% 16.3% 50.7%
Padres 32.6% 18.8% 48.7%
Rockies 32.4% 14.8% 52.8%
Cardinals 32.3% 16.7% 51.0%
Pirates 30.8% 18.6% 50.7%
Astros 30.7% 17.8% 51.5%
Blue Jays 30.6% 20.6% 48.8%
Diamondbacks 30.4% 17.2% 52.4%
Orioles 29.6% 16.4% 54.0%
Dodgers 29.5% 19.2% 51.3%
Brewers 29.5% 19.2% 51.3%
Indians 28.6% 18.5% 52.9%
Braves 28.6% 16.6% 54.9%
Marlins 28.6% 20.5% 50.9%
Giants 28.5% 18.3% 53.2%
Rays 28.4% 20.7% 50.9%
Athletics 28.2% 17.8% 54.0%
Rangers 28.1% 16.7% 55.3%
Red Sox 27.9% 21.5% 50.6%
Mets 27.9% 21.5% 50.7%
Nationals 27.2% 18.8% 54.0%
Tigers 26.9% 16.9% 56.2%
Yankees 26.7% 19.5% 53.9%
Angels 26.7% 19.8% 53.6%
Reds 26.4% 20.0% 53.7%
Cubs 26.2% 18.3% 55.5%
Twins 25.5% 17.9% 56.6%
White Sox 24.7% 19.1% 56.2%
Royals 21.7% 19.3% 58.9%
Phillies 20.9% 19.0% 60.1%

Well that's good. Right? Not only are the Mariners supposedly hitting the ball hard the most frequently, but they're also the second-best at avoiding soft contact. Now, if you've been paying close attention to this site and these Mariners, your mind might immediately jump to how they seem to have terrible luck, as demonstrated by fifth-worst .266 BABIP.

Thing is—well, besides a similarly-miserable line drive rate—is that hard-hit balls and BABIP don't actually correlate that well. I'm not great at crunching the numbers, so I have smart people like LL's own Eric Blankenship raise this point:

And Eric's not the only one to help provide a look at this.

Robby Ryan (@robbyryan14, give him a follow) ran the batted ball data for correlation on a number of different data intersections for all team seasons from 2005 to 2015. Those intersections were the traditional line drive/fly ball/ground ball and hard/medium/soft classifications against both BABIP and wRC+. As BABIP is bound to count all hits equal and wRC+ is not, you can see where there might be a difference, and there was. Here are Robby's notes on what he found:

  • The strongest correlation I found (.35) was between WRC+ and Hard-hit%
  • Surprised by the strong negative correlation between GB% and WRC+... Found that there have been very few teams in the last ten years who have had both a high ground ball rate and a high WRC+ (and those that did had unusually high BABIP)
  • That being said, there is almost no correlation (.05) between GB% and BABIP
  • The positive correlation between FB rate and WRC+ (.17) is equal in weight to the negative correlation (-.17) between FB rate and BABIP. Take that how you will.

In a vacuum, a .35 coefficient is not a massive one, but given the large sample and the context of it being weighed against the other coefficients here, it is interesting and—I figured—worth presenting. In doing so, here's a graphical look of what that .35 coefficient looks like:

Hard Hit Coefficient

Again, the correlation isn't enormous—but it is there, and it's interesting. It's interesting because, as should be noted, the Mariners are currently 18th in baseball in wRC+ despite, objectively, hitting the ball hard frequently.

And it should also be noted that they're objectively and quantifiably hitting the ball hard as well, as they're currently fourth in baseball for average exit velo gathered from StatCast.

It's early, and we're all getting a feel for just how meaningful this data is. But it's hard to argue that hitting the ball hard isn't a good thing. The last time I wrote on this, it was noteworthy that the data supported Logan Morrison was hitting the ball hard but running into some bad luck. Now he has a 140 wRC+ over the past two weeks, and almost a hundred points more than that over the last seven days.

So whether it's looking at things in the micro or the macro, there's reason to think their offense could improve. Then again, that's only half the game—their pitching gives up the ninth-most hard contact in the BIS numbers, and sixth-most based on StatCast.

There's a chance the offense does more to carry the pitching, but that wasn't really how this was all supposed to work out, and until the pitching numbers improve, we're not going to see the team we all anticipated seeing.