Average Exit Velocity: July Update (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
With average exit velocity being one of the quickest underlying metrics to stabilize, we can continue to rely on it as we near the All-Star Break. Here, I identify some studs and how they are driving the ball after returning from the Injured List, as well as some young guns and aging vets to see how their second halves might play out. This is a highlight of a sample of the top and bottom average exit velocity guys – if you have questions about other players, reach out to me on Twitter @cmaiorano3.
Remember to cherish this weekend with your family and friends – you never know quite how fragile life is. RIP Tyler Skaggs.
Epic Exit Velocitors
Aaron Judge (OF – NYY)
The new Sultan of Swat appears to be back at it again after his lengthy two-month stint on the Injured List with an oblique injury. Since returning on June 21, he has a 93 MPH average exit velocity (according to Baseball Savant), with a high of 116.3 MPH. While Judge is averaging 97 MPH for the year, this 93 MPH average exit velo would still rank in the top ten in all of baseball.
Similarly, per FanGraphs, Judge had an absurd hard-hit rate of 50% prior to going on the IL. Since returning, he has a 41.2% hard-hit rate. This hard-hit rate is over four percentage points lower than his lowest season-long rate (45.3% in 2017). Of course, three months is a small sample of data, much less ten days since his return to action. While Judge has been injury prone, it appears that he is healthy. You probably can’t buy Judge, but having the peace of mind that one of your superstars is healthy is enough of a takeaway.
Nelson Cruz (UT – MIN)
Where are the naysayers saying that Cruz is washed up? Cruz is averaging 94.1 MPH off the bat in 2019, despite missing three weeks with a wrist strain. Among batters with at least 50 batted balls, this ranks third in all of baseball. The ageless wonder’s average exit velo on just flies and liners is 99.2 MPH, good for second in baseball behind Joey Gallo.
From March-May, Cruz had a hard-hit rate of 51.7% – that’s extremely good. Even better than Judge. Once he returned from the IL on June 4, he had a 60.3% hard-hit rate in June. This has translated to a .618 xSLG, good for top two percent of the league.
If he can keep this up, he should get to 35 homers (currently has 16). Keep in mind that this data is reflective, not predictive, and that Cruz’s too-high 28% strikeout rate needs to drop before he realizes all of these gains. Still, it is safe to say that he is over the wrist strain and plugged in your lineups.
Kyle Schwarber (OF – CHC)
One of the biggest enigmas in all of baseball. Schwarber’s average exit velocity of 93.4 MPH ranks sixth in baseball, as does his 52.8% hard-hit rate. FanGraphs calculates hard-hit rate a bit differently than Baseball Savant, but his hard-hit rate on FanGraphs has increased from 42% in March-May to 43% in June. Consistent.
Yet, his xSLG is just in the 83rd percentile in baseball. Still good, but not elite. Based on this raw data, you’d expect more than a .474 slugging percentage. So, what’s his issue? It appears to be breaking balls. Per Baseball Savant, Schwarber is throwing breakers 33% of the time, and has just a .193 batting average and .364 slugging percentage. Unfortunately, the expected stats are .216 and .381, respectively, and he whiffs on over 40% of the breaking balls that he swings at. This is Javier Baez, 2016 territory. Until Schwarber fixes this, we can expect pitchers to throw curves and sliders more until he straightens out.
Josh Donaldson (3B – ATL)
Donaldson has gone bonkers in June, shortly after Austin Riley was called up. He has smashed 8 homers and is slashing .236/.322/.528 in the last month. His 2019 92.4 MPH average exit velocity ranks in the top 20. Donaldson is a gamer, and despite Riley playing the outfield for now, he doesn’t want his spot taken when Ender Inciarte returns.
Ah, but there is a surprise here. From March through May, Donaldson’s hard-hit rate was 52.5%, per FanGraphs. In June, that number has sunk over 15 percentage points, to 37 percent. Not awful, but certainly not what we’re used to seeing with Donaldson. So, how did he manage to have a successful month? The driver appears to be in the pitches he’s been thrown. He saw a nine percentage point drop in fastballs in June, with a corresponding uptick in offspeed pitches. While Donaldson is hitting just .182 with a .394 slugging percentage on offspeed pitches this year, he clubbed them in June, slugging .529 against them. Despite hitting just .176 off of them. The crazy thing is, is that Statcast says he earned that slugging percentage.
I’m not expecting Donaldson to keep up his torrid June pace, given the downward trending underlying metrics, and the fact that the metrics that were above-average are composed of a small sample. Owners are in a bit of a predicament, given that Donaldson has proven to be a better second half player in his career (149 wRC+ for his career in the second half, 131 wRC+ in the first half). Donaldson is one calf strain away from being sidelined, and it’s difficult to trust splits like these. I’m selling high.
Better Than You Think
Cavan Biggio (2B – TOR)
Many fantasy owners were frustrated with Biggo when he was initially called up, but he has proven to be a valuable real-life and fantasy asset over his 31 big-league games. With a 91.9 MPH average exit velocity, Biggio ranks just outside the top 30 in that statistic. While his .230/.361/.450 slash line doesn’t scream “fantasy superstar,” his 17% walk rate points to great value in OBP and points leagues.
Biggo is making the most of his above-average exit velo, hitting a combined 75% liners and flyballs. He rarely uses the opposite field, but with a 56.1% hard-hit rate, maybe you don’t have to. He has certainly earned his slugging percentage, if not been a little unlucky. At the end of the day, it’s tough to give actionable advice on Biggio – his 66 batted balls is not a large enough sample to make determinations on how he will fare in the second half. But, a 15/10 season is in reach (he has four steals), and if he can cut down on that nasty 28.5% K-rate (was just 16.1% in Triple-A this year), he could put together something even better.
They Haven’t Earned It
Paul DeJong (SS – STL)
Yes, DeJong is an All-Star. But, most of his production came in the first month of the season. Consider these splits:
- March/April: .342 average, 5 homers, 14 doubles (88.9 MPH average exit velocity)
- May: .200 average, 3 homers, 3 doubles
- June: .218, 5 homers, 3 doubles
- May/ June exit velocity: 85.8 MPH
His 86.7 MPH average exit velocity ranks 288th among all players with at least 50 batted balls. Flies and liners, you ask? 92.7 MPH, 212th in baseball. Further, his 47.6% hard-hit rate from March through May, is solid. But, his hard-hit rate in June has dropped to a pedestrian 35.1 percent. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is hiding an injury.
He still walks and even with this bad stretch, is about ten percent above league average. His ZiPs rest-of-season projection (.251 average, 11 dingers, 99 wRC+) paints a worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, this projection looks realistic. Your league mates have likely noticed his downturn, and you don’t want to sell low. If you are in good position for the playoffs and are in a head-to-head league, maybe see what the Luis Severino or Tyler Glasnow owner is up to.
Yadier Molina (C – STL)
DeJong’s teammate is also riding the struggle bus all year, posting well below average 77, 83, and 59 wRC+ in April, June, and July, respectively. Some of this can be attributed to his 1.5 MPH decrease in exit velocity from 2018 to 2019. His launch angle is also down over two degrees – his .370 slugging percentage is in line with his .406 expected slugging percentage.
From March until May, he posted an 87.4 MPH average exit velocity. In June, that number dropped to 84.9 miles per. Molina is 36 years old, is renown for being nicked up throughout his career, and may be falling off a cliff. His K-rate is over a percentage point better than last year, but his walk rate is two percentage points lower is well. Even if this is the current and future state Molina, there isn’t much on the waiver wire to replace him with. Sure, Christian Vazquez is hot now, but how long will that last? If he continues to have a bad July, I would look elsewhere. But now, I am in wait-and-see mode.
Andrew Benintendi (OF – BOS)
I’ll admit, Benintendi has never been a Statcast darling. Since coming up in 2016, his best average exit velocity was 88.4 MPH, in 2018. In 2019, he’s down to 87.6 miles per hour. His launch angle has shot up, from 12.6 degrees in 2018 to 18.9 degrees in 2019. His expected slugging of .441 is not bad, but it is certainly disappointing, given that Benintendi was drafted in the third or fourth rounds of drafts.
Since we are trying to identify actionable trends, let’s keep going with the first three two months’ analysis, and look at June separately. From March until May, his average exit velocity was 88.7 miles per hour. In June, it was 86.9 miles per hour. Benintendi has been diagnosed with heavy legs, which would certainly impact his average exit velocity. Hopefully, it’s not a coverup for more serious injury. My prediction is that Benintendi goes on a second-half tear after resting over the All-Star Break. He makes for a great buy low.