Who exits fastest? Phils on board with Statcast

Who exits fastest? Phils on board with Statcast

PHILADELPHIA -- The only thing Cameron Rupp knows is that he has hit the ball hard.

Rupp does not know the velocity of the baseball as it leaves his bat. He does not particularly care that he is 39th out of more than 300 hitters in average exit velocity at 92.1 mph, according to Statcast™. But he likes to know that his average exit velocity confirms what he is feeling at the plate -- he is making solid contact more often than not.

"There's no need to change anything if I'm hitting the ball hard," Rupp said.

Major League Baseball's Statcast™ system is in its second full season, and more and more players are becoming aware of the numbers as they appear on TV and online in stories. Sports Illustrated just featured one about Statcast™, reporting that Tampa Bay Rays players are told on the first day of Spring Training that they are measured by exit velocity, not batting average.

"It's a term they use exclusively, like nothing else matters," a Rays player told SI.

It also reported these interesting tidbits: In 2014, the Mets' front office chose Lucas Duda over Ike Davis as the club's first baseman largely because Duda had a far better exit velocity. One front office reportedly balked at trying to acquire Royals closer Wade Davis before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline because it noticed a drop in the spin rate on his pitches. Davis landed on the disabled list with an elbow injury a short time later, although he is pitching again.

Teams clearly are using the information, including the Phillies.

"If there is information available to us that can help to improve our decision making, then we will absolutely incorporate it," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "Exit velocity data certainly falls into that category. Is it powerful? Yes. Are we using it? Absolutely. But is it the only thing we're looking at? Of course not."

Tommy Joseph is 62nd in the Majors with an average exit velocity at 91.3 mph.

"I do check on it," Joseph said. "It's not so much a number for me. It's a number that I look at for other players around the league, just to see how they're doing it to try to put the swings together -- 'OK, what makes him that good of a player?' I think that's how anybody is. Any big left-handed hitter is going to look at other big left-handed hitters. Guys like me, I'm going to look at Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado."

A friend recently told Joseph that his stats page at MLB.com broke down his hitting zone based on his average exit velocity.

Naturally, he hopped online to look.

"The down-and-away one was pretty low," Joseph said with a smile. "The ones out of the strike zone weren't real high, either. That stuff didn't surprise me, but it was neat to know. Like, 'OK, I handle a pitch there really well. But maybe there the contact isn't as hard.' So from that perspective it tells you, 'OK, here's an adjustment I need to make, because I'm not making as solid contact as consistently in that area.' I love those stats."

Ryan Howard makes more hard contact than anybody else on the Phillies. He is 33rd in the Majors with an average exit velocity at 92.5 mph. Of course, he is hitting .198 with 19 home runs, 43 RBIs and a .697 OPS in 286 plate appearances, so hard contact has not translated into consistent success. But Howard has hit .312 with eight homers, 18 RBIs and a 1.021 OPS in 81 plate appearances since July 1.

Other things might be at play for Howard's recent improvement. First, those hard-hit balls are finally falling. His batting average on balls in play was .150 before July 1. It is .348 since. Second, Howard is making more contact. His strikeout rate has dropped from 31.7 percent before July 1 to 28.4 percent after July 1. Put more hard hit balls in play and those balls have a chance to find a piece of turf in the outfield. Howard is also hitting line drives 25.9 percent of the time he puts the ball in play since July 1, compared to 21.8 percent beforehand.

"If you're hitting balls hard and you don't really have a lot to show for it because balls aren't falling, yeah, I guess you're trying to find a positive out of it," Howard said. "If you're making hard outs, hopefully they start finding their way through. That's what you want to do: make solid contact. It's not like I hit it and I say, 'Hey, what's that velocity?'"

Of course, no player asks that question. But they do know when they crush one. And that is when Rupp pays closer attention to the Statcast™ numbers.

"When they say how far they go," he said with a laugh, "I want to know how far my homers went."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.