Can Exit Velocity Project Home Runs?

by Joe Bond
2022 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Hits Are Down but Home Runs Are Up

Exit velocity. If you have watched any game on TV over the last few seasons, or the Home Run Derby, you have seen it splashed on the screen many times. It is fun to look at how hard a player has hit the ball, especially for those towering home run shots. The question is, how can we use exit velocity to project home runs?

When I first thought of this topic I had an initial thought. It is that we often think if a player is a home run hitter, he must have a great exit velocity. Likewise, we hear he has a great exit velocity so he must be a home run hitter. I can understand why the comparison is made and honestly have made the same assumption myself, but we all know what happens when we assume things.

What does it really mean though for Fantasy Baseball? I'm going to answer that by looking at comparisons of exit velocity, 90th percentile exit velocity to home runs. It will hopefully give us a better picture of how exit velocity can help us determine who to trust in a given Fantasy Baseball season.

Can Exit Velocity Project Home Runs?

The dataset I'm using includes all qualified hitters from last season. This is anyone who had over 504 plate appearances, which is 120 MLB players.

Average Exit Velocity

First, we start with the average exit velocity. This is something you can easily see by going to Baseball Savant.

Let's take a look at home runs vs average exit velocity to see what we got.

wdt_ID Player HR HR Rank Avg EV Avg EV Rank
1 Salvador Perez 48 1 93.0 10
2 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 48 1 95.1 2
3 Shohei Ohtani 46 3 93.6 6
4 Marcus Semien 45 4 89.7 57
5 Fernando Tatis Jr. 42 5 93.9 5
6 Brandon Lowe 39 6 89.3 72
7 Matt Olson 39 6 91.6 22
8 Mitch Haniger 39 6 89.3 72
9 Aaron Judge 39 6 95.8 1
10 Adam Duvall 38 10 89.8 54
11 Joey Gallo 38 10 91.5 23
12 Rafael Devers 38 10 92.9 13
13 Pete Alonso 37 13 91.0 30
14 Jose Ramirez 36 14 90.0 48
15 Joey Votto 36 14 92.9 13
16 Max Muncy 36 14 91.2 28
17 Kyle Seager 35 17 89.0 79
18 Bryce Harper 35 17 92.5 17
19 Giancarlo Stanton 35 17 95.1 2
20 Nolan Arenado 34 20 89.0 79
21 Tyler O'Neill 34 20 93.0 10
22 Nick Castellanos 34 20 89.8 54
23 Jorge Polanco 33 23 89.4 70
24 Ryan Mountcastle 33 23 89.1 77
25 Yordan Alvarez 33 23 93.2 8
Avg = 91.6

The first thing that stands out to me is the range of average exit velocities among the top home run hitters. We have guys at the very top, with 95+MPH, which is expected. Then there are players at or below average for the category. I did not expect so many to be that low.

I expected to see everybody ranked in the top 30-40 or better for exit velocity. The most surprising is Marcus Semien. He has an average exit velocity of 89.7 (57th), but he is fourth in home runs in 2021 with 45.

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I will say this the top 20 hitters by average EV are all in the top 40 of home runs. With the exception of a few players that were injured.

Adding 90th Percentile EV

OK, so let us see what adding 90th Percentile Exit Velocity tells us?

This is a stat that I was introduced to by Alex Fast on The Fantasy Six Pack Hour. So I wanted to dig into it a bit more. I also found this article on Pitcher List that explains how important 90th percentile EV is.

wdt_ID Player HR HR Rank Avg EV Avg EV Rank 90th EV 90th EV Rank
1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 48 1 95.1 2 110.4 2
2 Salvador Perez 48 1 93.0 10 105.6 20
3 Shohei Ohtani 46 3 93.6 6 107.5 6
4 Marcus Semien 45 4 89.7 57 101.9 82
5 Fernando Tatis Jr. 42 5 93.9 5 106.8 11
6 Aaron Judge 39 6 95.8 1 108.6 3
7 Mitch Haniger 39 6 89.3 72 103.3 54
8 Matt Olson 39 6 91.6 22 105.8 17
9 Brandon Lowe 39 6 89.3 72 103.3 52
10 Rafael Devers 38 10 92.9 13 105.7 19
11 Joey Gallo 38 10 91.5 23 107.5 7
12 Adam Duvall 38 10 89.8 54 104.2 42
13 Pete Alonso 37 13 91.0 30 106.8 11
14 Max Muncy 36 14 91.2 28 104.9 29
15 Joey Votto 36 14 92.9 13 104.0 43
16 Jose Ramirez 36 14 90.0 48 104.6 33
17 Giancarlo Stanton 35 17 95.1 2 111.9 1
18 Bryce Harper 35 17 92.5 17 105.2 25
19 Kyle Seager 35 17 89.0 79 102.3 72
20 Nick Castellanos 34 20 89.8 54 103.3 54
21 Tyler O'Neill 34 20 93.0 10 106.1 14
22 Nolan Arenado 34 20 89.0 79 102.2 78
23 Yordan Alvarez 33 23 93.2 8 106.0 15
24 Austin Riley 33 23 90.1 42 106.0 15
25 Ryan Mountcastle 33 23 89.1 77 102.6 65
Avg = 91.7 Avg = 105.5

In my opinion, we don't get a much clearer of picture of the correlation of EV to home runs. Some players moved up in rank and some moved down in rank compared to their average exit velocity.

Like average EV, I expected to see most of the players near the top of the rankings. While we do get that with players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani, we also get players in the middle such as Brandon Lowe and Mitch Haniger.

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Say what?

If Marcus Semien's ranking makes his home run total even more confusing. His 90th percentile exit velocity rank is much worse than his average exit velocity. How did this man hit 45 home runs last season?

A player that stands out at the top of the 90th percentile EV rank is Yandy Diaz. Despite being at the top of the 90th percentile EV list he only hit 13 home runs.

Adding Launch Angle (LA)

Since I did not get a true answer as to what to use to help predict home runs with just exit velocity, I wanted to add one more stat. The one I choose is launch angle, to see if it would give us a clearer picture.

wdt_ID Player HR HR Rank Avg EV Avg EV Rank 90th EV 90th EV Rank LA LA Rank
121 Will Smith 25 58 90.1 42 101.6 88 19.4 10
122 Cesar Hernandez 21 75 87.4 102 101.0 96 10.7 85
123 Randy Arozarena 20 78 89.9 50 103.9 45 7.6 105
124 Chris Taylor 20 78 88.2 90 102.5 68 17.4 24
125 Enrique Hernandez 20 78 90.8 33 102.3 70 17.9 19
126 Carlos Santana 19 81 89.9 50 103.3 57 12.9 67
127 Ty France 18 82 88.5 89 102.3 69 11.0 83
128 Dylan Carlson 18 82 88.2 90 99.6 110 15.1 42
129 Tim Anderson 17 84 89.7 57 101.9 83 4.3 117
130 J.T. Realmuto 17 84 89.6 60 103.3 52 11.5 78
131 Mark Canha 17 84 87.3 103 100.7 99 13.5 62
132 Andrew Benintendi 17 84 89.6 60 100.2 103 15.4 40
133 Hunter Dozier 16 88 89.9 50 103.4 50 15.8 35
134 Kyle Farmer 16 88 87.3 103 99.8 107 15.9 33
135 Jake Cronenworth 21 75 88.6 88 101.0 95 12.5 70
136 Trey Mancini 21 75 88.9 81 104.4 37 9.7 95
137 Ian Happ 25 58 89.5 66 102.8 63 9.9 91
138 Trevor Story 24 63 90.6 35 103.3 54 17.5 23
139 Brandon Crawford 24 63 88.8 82 101.8 84 14.7 46
140 Bryan Reynolds 24 63 89.4 70 103.5 49 13.4 63
141 Robbie Grossman 23 66 87.8 96 100.3 101 21.1 4
142 Xander Bogaerts 23 66 89.6 60 103.9 44 12.5 70
143 Ryan McMahon 23 66 90.5 37 102.1 81 14.3 52
144 Mookie Betts 23 66 90.3 40 101.2 93 18.9 14
145 Luis Urias 23 66 87.9 95 100.8 97 14.2 53
Avg = 89.1 Avg = 102.0 Avg = 13.9

OK so maaaaybe we have a little something here.

I'll start with Semien. To me, this helps explain how he was able to hit so many home runs. His launch angle was one of the best in baseball. So where he wasn't hitting the ball the hardest, that mixed with his launch angle allowed the ball to carry.

Embed from Getty Images

A fun player to compare Semien with is Tim Anderson. Their exit velocities are near identical. If you were to look at that data then you might worry Semien won't be able to replicate the power. However, when you add in launch angle you see Semien is at 20 degrees and Anderson is at 4.3 degrees. You then understand why Semien is a much more reliable source of power.

Low LA, but Massive Power?

Then we see Guerrero Jr. who hit the ball very hard, but his launch angle was one of the worst on baseball. He didn't need the launch angle to help his ball carry he hit it so hard his line drives were going over the fence. Could that be a concern for him in 2022? If he doesn't hit the ball as hard this season, could we see a massive drop in home runs?

I'm not too concerned, but it does put a small cloud of doubt in my head.

Conclusion

What I determined from looking at this data is that exit velocity alone does not tell the whole picture. This is regardless of whether you look at the average EV, 90th EV, or together. You need to dig deeper to see what type of hitter you are really dealing with.

Launch angle is just one analytic stat you can use to help profile a player to determine if they are going to be a reliable source of home runs. Some other stats that I would consider looking at are line drive percentage, fly-ball percentage, HR/FB rate.

You can also look at if they pull the ball more and the ballpark they play in. If their ballpark has a shallow wall on their pull side, then that should help them.

TR/DL: Don't rely on just one stat to determine if a player can hit home runs. Exit Velocity is a good start, but by itself does not tell the whole picture.


Check out the 2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit from Fantasy Six Pack.

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3 comments

dude March 14, 2022 - 11:20 am

Is the LA only on HR’s? Josh Bell has the 3rd best LA #, but he’s an extreme GB guy. Trying to figure out what to make of him.

Reply
Joe Bond March 14, 2022 - 3:38 pm

He is definitely a strange case. Here is my take. You’re right he is an extreme ground ball hitter, over 55% last season. However he hits the ball very very hard so a good percentage of his fly balls are home runs, 25%, good for 13th best last season.

If he could get the ball in the air more he could lead the league in home runs. If he doesn’t do that then he’s likely capped around 30.

Reply
Joe Bond March 14, 2022 - 3:57 pm

I just realized that the LA data was wrong in this table. I fixed it.

Reply

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