Averages rise when batted balls’ velocity breaks 90 mph.
Almost anything new brings a learning curve. Baseball metrics are no different as fans try to put the information they’re given into context.
So it goes with exit velocities.
Last year for the White Sox, Jose Abreu (92.9), Eloy Jimenez (92.4), Nomar Mazara (91), James McCann (90.5) and Yasmani Grandal (90.1) had average exit velocities that topped 90. Hardest-hit balls were by Luis Robert (115.8) and Abreu (114).
Kyle Schwarber led Cubs hitters with an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph, while David Bote (92.4) and Ian Happ (91.1) also exceeded 90. Schwarber (114.9), Anthony Rizzo (114.5) and Willson Contreras (114.1) exceeded 114 mph on their hardest-hit balls.
It’s too early for 2021 data to have much meaning, but through Sunday, Robert led the Sox with a 92.6 average exit velocity, and Javy Baez topped the Cubs at 91.6.
For that to be more than trivia, we need context. Do higher exit velocities translate into greater chances of success at the plate? How hard does a ball have to be hit?
For that, we can turn to a table at Baseball Savant, https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/statcast_hit_probability?year=2020&type=ev
With year-by-year data starting in 2015, Baseball Savant’s information pairs exit velocities with measures that include batting averages and weighted on-base averages. In wOBA, offensive events are weighted according to their average impact on scoring. Average wOBAs have hovered around .320 in recent years.
In 2020, the Sox’ wOBA was .334, with Abreu 10th in MLB at .411. The Cubs were at .309, with Happ leading at .369.
Higher exit velocities have higher BAs and wOBAs than lower velocities. Some soft-hit balls go for base hits, of course. One 2020 hit exited at all of 13 mph.
Averages climb rapidly when exit velocities surpass 90 mph. In 2020, averages were .213 BA and .226 wOBA at 91 mph, then .248/.254 at 92, .253/.274 at 93, .283/.306 at 94 and .285/.319 at 95.
At 96 mph, numbers started to resemble star caliber at .316/.363. Average wOBA surpassed .400 with an Abreu-like .415 to go with a .353 BA at 97.
From there, the sky was the limit, with 100 mph bringing .451/.599. The top exit velocity with more than 100 fair balls plus foul balls resulting in either a putout or error was 111, with an astronomical .784 BA and 1.108 wOBA.
Data from other seasons tell similar stories. Hitters generate average production as they surpass the low 90s, then produce at star level from the mid-90s on up.
Exit velocities also equate to home-run probability. No home run was hit at less than 87 mph last season. The lowest exit velocity at which more than 10% of batted balls were home runs was 100, with 11.2%. At levels with at least 100 batted balls, home runs exceeded 30% at 111 (32.5), 112 (31.1), 113 (32.5) and 114 (31.1).
Fans will get used to hearing velocities instead of “hard hit,” but until it becomes second nature, understand that production doesn’t reach star level until about the mid-90s.