Remember when I wrote about Javier Baez and the physics of the home run? I’m sure you do, but if you’d like a little refresher you can feel free to click the previous link; I even set it up to open in a separate window so as to alleviate the fear of having you become so engrossed that you fail to return to this post.
While I certainly won’t claim to have performed any measure of exhaustive research, I did actually do a little sifting through various forms of data. I’ve been criticized for not providing particularly good analysis in the past, but that’s mainly because that’s not what I’m good at and I have always been taught that you should write what you know.
I know sarcasm, big words, random pop culture, and bad puns about porta-potties and bodily functions. I leave the real breakdowns on the finer points of baseball to those who know it best, as I feel it’d be a disservice to my readers to wax intellectual on something I have only a cursory knowledge of (though that’s what got me through my Women in Fiction class at Hanover).
All that is not to say that I don’t enjoy dipping my toe in the analytical pool now and then, just that it’s not my forte, which is why I so much enjoy the work of people like Darren Willman over at baseballsavant.com. I’m not sure whether he’s a super-cool genius or just a huge nerd, or both, but Darren’s got a wealth of information on his (free!) site.
I’ve talked a lot about the violence and power of the swings of guys like Baez and Jorge Soler, but then I saw a tweet from Darren referencing the latter’s batted ball velocity on Opening Night and it sparked my interest.
Jorge Soler hit 2 pitches over 100MPH off the bat last night… One was 111.6 MPH. He was 0 for 4 to show for it. http://t.co/YzaQ4cm2z0
— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 6, 2015
Adam Wainwright isn’t exactly a fireballer, so that means Georgie boy really had to turn one of those pitches around with a lot more mustard than it had coming in. Based on FanGraph’s gamelog from Waino’s outing Sunday, his average fastball was just under 89mph. For the sake of easy math, let’s just say the pitch in question from above was thrown an even 90.
Before I continue with fresh material, I’d like to take a look at a salient excerpt from my earlier-referenced piece:
At the moment of impact, that millisecond during which those 4 tons of force are transferred from wooden cylinder to leather sphere, matter is shifted and compressed, creating that unmistakable “crack!”
The ball itself is actually distorted to one-half its original diameter and the bat is compressed by one-fiftieth. And when viewed in slow enough video, you can see the bat bending with the force of the swing and the impact, appearing as a springboard of sorts.
And while the velocity of a pitched ball slows by nearly 1 mph for every 7 feet it travels on its way to the plate (an overall loss of nearly 8 mph), the decision of whether or not to swing must take place in 4 hundredths of a second. 1/100th of a second too early and it’s foul to the pull side; that same split second late and the ball is out of play in the opposite-field seats.
So what kind of bat speed does it take to generate the force required to hit a home run? According to Big League Edge, the average bat speed of an MLB player is 88-95 mph. Fitting that the lower end of that range is what’s required to engage the flux capacitor for time travel.
But here we’re talking about forcing a baseball, not a Delorian, through space and time. BLE also lists the average MLB batted-ball velocity as fluctuating from 87-91 mph, while the average pitch velocity is 90-94 mph. So, in general, energy is lost in the confluence of bat and ball, roughly 1-4% on average.
Ah, but Soler isn’t exactly average now, is he? By turning a 90mph fastball into a 111.6mph liner, he actually increased the baseball’s velocity by 24% as he reversed its course through space and time. Theoretical physicists now believe that, along with gravity, a batted ball from the beefy Cuban is one of few forces that can traverse dimensions.
But you wanna hear something even more mind-blowing? Two players have actually hit harder balls thus far on the young season; David Peralta reached 115.27 and Carlos Gonzalez peaked at 117.07. I don’t have the data on the pitches, but if the one thrown to CarGo was 94.6mph or greater, the change in velocity would have been equal to that in Soler’s case.
The season is still very young and Tuesday’s rainout didn’t help, but only two Cubs have broken the triple-digit batted-ball barrier thus far: Soler and Starlin Castro, who hit one 103.95 the other day. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as Castro has always been able to hit the ball on the screws; when he’s on, he’s really firing lasers off the bat.
One interesting note from Willman’s Batted Ball Leaderboard comes to us courtesy of fan-favorite grinder Sam Fuld. The former Cub falls just a bit below Castro with a hit that reached 102.72mph, but also has the slowest-hit ball of the season at 40.59.
So what does this all mean? Well, nothing really. The sample size is so small that it’s nigh impossible to draw conclusions so early in the season. What we do know, however, is that a hard-hit ball is more likely to result in a hit, so reviewing this leaderboard should be a more telling practice as we move into summer and beyond.
At the end of the day, I thought this was a fun little statistical rabbit hole to climb down and I figured my readers would enjoy it as well. I’ve always found it interesting to assign stats to those events we just know intrinsically to be special when we watch them take place.
And Cubs fans could have quite a few of those events to look forward to this year, from the debuts of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to more matchup-specific instances like seeing Soler or Anthony Rizzo dig in against the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman. If Jorge turned Waino’s heater up to 111, just think what’ll happen if he gets ahold of Chapman’s.
We could actually see most of this take place as early as April 24th, when the Cubs visit Cincinnati. I’ll be there on the 25th, so come see me if you plan on attending as well. I’ll be the ridiculously, ridiculously good-looking chap in the Cubs Insider shirt and the Blue Steel pose, putting out the vibe in the left-field corner and grabbing Cubs home run balls by the bushel.