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Major League Baseball publicly released a trove of bat-tracking data today that offers fascinating insights into what makes the best hitters good — and the worst bad. With everything from bat speed to swing length to sweet spot contact measured, it will have a similarly profound effect on hitters that ball-tracking data had on pitchers.

Using the Hawk-Eye tracking system that positions 12 cameras around every major league stadium — including five running at 300 frames per second — MLB has spent more than two years refining the bat-tracking model before releasing it on its Statcast platform. In measuring using the sweet spot about 6 inches below the head of the bat, every swing of every hitter is documented through objective data and ready for analysis.

Here are the basics. The average major league swing is 71.5 mph. The average length of the bat’s path on a swing, start to finish, is 7.3 feet. Hitters square up the ball on one-third of batted balls. The fastest swings typically belong to the most productive players — but not always. The average bat speed for the best hitter in the major leagues this season, Shohei Ohtani: 75.4 mph. The average bat speed for the worst hitter in the major leagues this season, Javier Baez: 75.4 mph.

Just as the advent of the pitch-tracking era prompted changes in training methods to juice velocity and spin, the ability to measure bat speed and paths will likewise change the approaches of hitters in future years. For now, though, in this nascent stage, the data is pure and unadulterated. And it tells us that when it comes to bat speed, there is one man, and then there is everyone else.


The king of bat speed

When Statcast debuted in 2015 and exit velocity jumped to the fore of baseball lexicon, Giancarlo Stanton, then with the Miami Marlins, topped almost every leaderboard. That season, there were 12 balls hit at least 117 mph. One from Mike Trout, one from Nelson Cruz, one from Carlos Gonzalez and nine from Stanton.

The now-New York Yankees slugger’s bat-speed numbers are similarly gaudy. Stanton’s swing, on average, comes in around 80.6 mph — nearly 3 mph higher than the second-fastest swinger, Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz. It’s also consistently fast. Statcast is characterizing all swings over 75 mph as “fast.” Just over 22% of swings reach the 75 mph threshold. Stanton is at 98.0%, nearly 25% ahead of the next best, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber, who swings 75-plus mph 73.9% of the time.

Stanton is also near the top of another category: swing length, where he’s second behind Baez. Height often influences swing length, and at 6-foot-6, it’s no surprise to see Stanton’s swing covering 8.4 feet.

Of course, as Stanton’s struggles in recent years have taught, exit velocity — and now, bat speed — do not by themselves make for a great hitter. Stanton has the single hardest-hit ball in MLB this season at 119.9 mph and the highest average exit velocity on his hardest-hit balls, but he has been only a slightly-above-league-average hitter, batting .230/.283/.452.

The lesson: You can have the fastest swing around, but by no means does it guarantee success.


The anti-Stanton

On the other end of the spectrum is San Diego Padres craftsman Luis Arraez, who can add a new title to his two batting crowns: the slowest bat in baseball. Arráez’s bat speed of 62.4 mph lags 2 mph behind the second-most languid, Cleveland Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan, and the two are perhaps the best examples of what players without elite bat speed can do to continue thriving in the big leagues.

Arráez and Kwan are part of the cohort of controlled, short swings that get squared up with a phenomenal amount of regularity. Arráez’s swing is just 5.9 feet and Kwan’s 6.4. In the group of sub-68-mph bat speed and sub-6.4-foot swing length are Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Brice Turang (128 OPS+), Yankees outfielder Alex Verdugo (107) and Toronto Blue Jays DH Justin Turner (111), all of whom are productive offensive players.

One might suggest it’s in spite of their swings, but perhaps it’s better to start treating it like it’s because of them. Arráez leads MLB by squaring up the ball on 43.9% of his swings. To determine whether a pitch has been squared up, the system takes two variables — bat speed and pitch speed — and determines the maximum exit velocity. Then it takes the actual EV on a batted ball and compares it to the peak. If it’s at least 80% of the top-end number, it is deemed to be squared up, because only balls that hit the bat’s sweet spot can produce 80%-plus velocities.

When hitters square up a ball, they bat .372 and slug .659. When they don’t, they hit .127 and slug .144. In other words, even if neither possesses much power, appreciate Arráez, Kwan and others for what they are: masters of the art of hitting.


The perfect marriage of bat speed and precision

Take Stanton, put him into one of those mash-up machines with Arráez, and what do you get?

Juan Soto. Just consider:

  • At 76.1 mph, the Yankees right fielder has the 10th-highest bat speed among the 221 qualified players.

  • He swings 75-plus mph 66% of the time, ranking seventh.

  • He has squared up 83 balls, the fourth most in MLB, and does so at a 48.3% rate, which is second.

  • He is second in blasts, a metric that adds an element of bat speed to a player’s squared-up rate, with 49. The top 10 players in blasts are a “who’s who” of great hitters: Jose Ramirez, Julio Rodriguez, Aaron Judge, Yandy Diaz, Gunnar Henderson, Salvador Perez, Bobby Witt Jr., Ohtani, Soto and a surprising No. 1 whom we’ll introduce next.

A swing length of 7.3 feet is the only place where Soto is average. He’s not like Corey Seager, Freddie Freeman and Wyatt Langford, who generate excellent bat speed with short swings. Nor is he like the majority of players who join him near the top of the bat-speed list and generate it using long swings.

No, Soto is just spectacular at what he does. And his outlier status in bat-tracking data validates his place there with production, too.


The best hitter in baseball nobody knows

He has more blasts than Soto and Ohtani.

Only four players have squared up more balls than him, and each is a multitime All-Star.

He doesn’t even swing, on average, as hard as his brother. But that doesn’t matter, because William Contreras — the Brewers’ catcher, younger sibling of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras — does plenty of damage with a 74.2 mph effort. Not only is the 26-year-old Contreras atop the list of blasts, it’s not particularly close: His 58 are ahead of Soto’s 50 and Ohtani’s 46, and his big league-best blast rate of 34.5% is 2½ times the major league average of 13.7%.

The reason for Contreras’ success is clear: He swings hard, hits the ball very hard and doesn’t strike out much (sub-20% punchout rate on the season). It’s an exceptional combination of skills, and to have maintained this offensive output playing every Brewers game, not to mention 33 of 40 at catcher, is MVP-caliber work.

Others this season whose bat skills deserve credit:


Whose profiles are alarming?

While MLB attempted to start tracking swings using Statcast in a limited number of stadiums during the 2022 season, the league only felt confident enough this year to release the full set of numbers. Thus, it’s impossible to know for certain whose swing has gotten faster or slower in recent years.

Here are five players whose swing metrics over the season’s first seven weeks are cause for concern.

Javier Báez, SS, Detroit Tigers: Never has bat speed been a question for Báez, and this season reinforced that. The issue — or one of the issues — is that he lugs his bat through the zone longer than anyone, Stanton included. Baez’s 8.7-foot-long bat path simply doesn’t generate the hard contact it once did, and his .172/.208/.233 line reflects that.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals: Right behind Baez and Stanton in swing length is the 33-year-old Arenado. Long swings can be a good thing — Michael Harris II, Aaron Judge, Willy Adames, Rhys Hoskins and Adolis Garcia all rank in the top 10 — but they’re tough on a pull-heavy hitter with well-below-average bat speed. Arenado has clocked in at 69.5 mph this season, and while he’s been an average hitter in a down offensive environment, only a few others (Isaac Paredes, Jose Altuve) have found success with long swings and slower bats. All three have low blast rates, which is worth keeping an eye on.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: The 25-year-old has the makings of a good hitter. An average bat speed of 75.6 mph (14th in MLB) and 34 blasts (22nd) portend well. The issue? Guerrero is squaring up the ball at an anemic rate: just 21% of swings and 26.9% of the time on contact. The blasts show that when Vlad does hit the sweet spot, he does significant damage. He just hits the weak part of the bat far too often.

Jorge Soler, DH, San Francisco Giants: As bad as Guerrero has been at squaring up the ball, Soler is markedly worse. His bad speed is the same as Vlad’s at 75.6 mph, but he has the third-lowest squared-up rate on contact. The blasts are even worse: Soler has been the only player in baseball who swings harder than 73.2 mph and can’t muster even a 10% blast rate. Perhaps the right shoulder strain that forced him to the IL a week ago was the culprit? No longer is that a question left to speculation. The data upon Soler’s return will answer it.

Brett Baty, 3B, New York Mets: At the bottom of the list is Baty, the clearest example of the anomaly that is high bat speed, weak contact. While Baty doesn’t swing as hard as Soler or Guerrero, his 73.2-mph swing is certainly above average. His MLB-worst 18.0% squared-up rate on contact, on the other hand, is not. Getting out-blasted by Arráez when swinging 11 mph harder than him is a difficult thing to do.

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Reds extend Dodgers’ skid to 5; Ohtani at ‘90%’

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Reds extend Dodgers' skid to 5; Ohtani at '90%'

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of their longest losing streak since 2019, but first baseman Freddie Freeman has no doubt that there’s no concern.

“It’s May, it’s baseball,” Freeman said. “Two weeks ago, we were winning every game. I don’t think anybody needs to question in our lineup. We’ll be fine.”

The Cincinnati Reds finished off a sweep of the Dodgers with a 4-1 victory Sunday, extending LA’s slide to five games — it’s longest since dropping six in a row April 8-13, 2019.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani went 3-for-12 in the series while dealing with a bruised right hamstring. He batted second Sunday and went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter, reaching on an infield single while scoring the Dodgers’ only run.

“It’s right around 90%,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Ohtani’s hamstring. “Assuming it will keep getting better, I feel confident that he can play smart and not push it. Talked to him about not trying to steal a base. Be smart. The value of having him in the lineup is everything.”

Los Angeles’ lineup has been hampered by inconsistency. The Dodgers scored six times in the series opener, and then scored two more over the next two games.They have been shut out twice this month while scoring two or fewer runs six times.

“When you’re not hitting, it certainly seems lifeless,” Roberts said. “Seems like we’re running cold. I know it’s not from care or preparation. Bottom line, it’s about results and we’re not getting them right now. They outplayed us this series and won three.”

Roberts hinted at a couple of changes to the lineup when the Dodgers begin a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

“Some guys might be pressing a little bit,” Roberts said. “Every time I write the lineup, I feel good that we’re going to put up some runs. It’s not a big picture-type thing. It’s certainly been two weeks where it hasn’t been good.”

Jonathan India and Nick Martini each drove in two runs for the Reds, and Brent Suter, Nick Martinez, Carson Spiers and Alexis Diaz combined for a five-hitter.

Martinez (2-3) pitched 4⅓ innings of one-hit ball on a bullpen day for Cincinnati, and Díaz got two outs for his 10th save.

“It starts with our pitchers,” Reds manager David Bell said. “They’re ready to take the ball. Starting with Brent Suter, who did his job. That’s where it starts. Nick Martinez took over. Nick continues to show when he executes his pitches how good he is. To pitch so well against this team really says a lot.”

Freeman hit an RBI double in the ninth, stopping a 0-for-22 slide for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position. Freeman then advanced on defensive indifference, but Díaz struck out Teoscar Hernandez and Andy Pages swinging.

The start of the game was moved up from 1:40 p.m. EDT to 12:10 p.m. due to the threat of severe storms that arrived in the sixth inning. The teams then waited through a delay for just over an hour.

Cincinnati scored four times in the third off Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-2). India had a bases-loaded single, and Martini’s bloop hit scored two more.

Yamamoto allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked two in five innings.

“They found a way to fight with two outs and find some outfield grass,” Roberts said. “They stayed inside the baseball. When you fight, you get those breaks sometimes. Outside of that, I thought Yoshi was fantastic. He was one hitter away from going five scoreless.”

UP NEXT

Dodgers: Right-hander Gavin Stone (4-2, 3.60 ERA) will oppose Mets right-hander Tylor Megill (0-2, 3.00 ERA) on Monday in the opener of a three-game series.

Reds: Left-hander Nick Lodolo (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will come off the injured list to start the series opener against the Cardinals on Monday. Lance Lynn (2-2, 3.68 ERA) starts for St. Louis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

DETROIT — Matt Vierling homered twice, including a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Jordan Romano in the ninth inning that gave Detroit a wild 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday after the Tigers wasted a five-run lead and recovered from a two-run deficit.

Vierling had four hits and tied career highs with two homers and four RBIs.

“My brother and I in the back yard, we’d always be doing situations like that,” Vierling said. “It’s kind of cool when it actually happens.”

Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and Spencer Torkelson hit a solo shot for Detroit, which led 5-0 after three innings, 8-3 after five and 9-5 after six. The Tigers set a season high for runs and tied their high with 17 hits.

Torkelson had three hits and scored three runs.

“He’s really easy to root for,” Torkelson said of Vierling. “To see him come through, we had all the faith in the world and confidence he’d get the job done there. That’s exactly what he did.”

Toronto’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa homered in the seventh off Tyler Holton, and the Blue Jays took an 11-9 lead with a five-run eighth when Bo Bichette hit a two-run single off Jason Foley and Daulton Varsho hit a three-run homer.

Toronto manager John Schneider drew some consolation by the way his team kept fighting back.

“It’s easy to kind of quit after that and the guys did the exact opposite,” he said. “Chipped away and came back with huge hits from Bo and Varsh.”

Mark Canha tied the score with a two-run single against Yimi Garcia in the bottom half, his third hit.

Vierling, who hit a solo homer in the fifth off Zach Pop, drove a full-count slider from Romano (1-2) over the left-field wall for his first big league walk-off hit. A two-time All-Star, Romano has allowed three homers this year, half his total last season.

“I was ready for that pitch that he threw me 3-2,” Vierling said. “I was kind of looking for it 2-2, as well, but it was low and I was able to check my swing enough. The next pitch was the same pitch, just a little more up.”

Mason Englert (1-0) pitched a hitless ninth for the Tigers (26-27), who won the last three games of a four-game series against the last-place Blue Jays (23-29).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his second four-hit game of the season for the Blue Jays.

Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs and eight hits in 4⅓ innings. Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings. Mize and Kikuchi are 0-3 each in their six starts.

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Braves’ Acuna leaves game with knee soreness

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Braves' Acuna leaves game with knee soreness

PITTSBURGH — Ronald Acuna Jr. left the Atlanta Braves8-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning Sunday with left knee soreness after his knee appeared to buckle.

The reigning National League MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuna started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee appeared to buckle. He remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

Acuna, a 26-year-old outfielder, is batting .250 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Adam Duvall shifted from left to right in the bottom half, and Jarred Kelenic entered the game in place of Acuna and played left.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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