In 2002, the Sabremetric revolution started with Billy Beane in Oakland. Now, teams are able to access a ton of data involving pitch descriptions, quality of contact, spray charts, etc. With MLB installing Statcast the last few seasons, some of the data that MLB teams have used for years is available for fans to read and digest. Like any other stat, a number without context is just a number and nothing else. However, I do think the data is very useful if you know what you’re looking for.
In the individual game feeds on baseballsavant.com, each batted ball has an exit velocity, launch angle, and hit probability attached to it. Hit probability isn’t that useful because it doesn’t account for the defense’s positioning at all. However, the exit velocity is really useful because it quantifies how well a ball jumps off the bat. In the equation for distance using exit velocity and launch angle, the distance of a batted ball is proportional to the exit velocity squared. A batter who generates better exit velocity on a consistent basis are the ones who put up large extra base hit and ISO totals.
Another useful stat for hitters is what Statcast calls barrels. The concept is very simple to understand, a ball that hits the barrel of the bat will generate the best exit velocity and distance off the bat. Statcast highlights the batted ball in a blue-green color in their feeds, so they’re easy to find. A player who is able to consistently barrel up the baseball will put up large extra base hit totals. Those are examples for why Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas are solid power hitters. For example, Jake Lamb led the team in barreled balls as well as extra base hits in 2016.
One major talking point this offseason was about defense, particularly in the outfield. Statcast also has a catch probability number and a category of outs ranging from 1 star to 5 stars. Catch probability is dependent on positioning and the batter outcome of exit velocity, launch angle, and initial trajectory in order to determine how much time the ball is in the air and how far an outfielder has to run to catch it. For example, this sliding catch by David Peralta was considered 52% catch probability and a 3-star out.
Right now, we’ve hit a new age in baseball where we can now quantify what our eyes tell us. You don’t need Statcast to tell you that Yasmany Tomas is a poor outfielder or Paul Goldschmidt is a very good hitter right now, but what it can tell you is if they’re playing better or worse than the initial results. We live in an era where information comes at our fingertips and baseball is no different now. With all this information, the problem now becomes explaining it in a way for everyone understand.