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Astros boast 2016 leaders in hard-hit balls

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Having fun with Statcast - the Astros' most impressive batted balls of April.

This Preston Tucker home run was the hardest-hit dinger in the major leagues this season.
This Preston Tucker home run was the hardest-hit dinger in the major leagues this season.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Just for funsies, I was bopping around the new baseballsavant website over at MLB.com, checking out Daren Willman's recent work since joining the nerve central of professional baseball.

With such a slow start to the Astros season, and let's be more blunt--they have stunk, it's always good to find silver lining and remind ourselves that watching baseball is something we do for fun, even when the home team is inexplicably terrible.

FUN WITH STATCAST

Statcast is a new doohickey that supplemented Pitch F/X last season in measuring what happens during baseball games.  The major piece of new data that has been made publicly available by data-mining endless reams of online data files that feed MLB's Game Day app, is exit velocity of batted balls.

Exit velocity is en vogue right now because it drives discussion on whether pitchers who allow hard or soft contact can be successful despite lack of fastball velocity, the traditional measure of a pitcher's tools.  Likewise, it provides objective measurement of, "Wow, that batter made solid contact."

On with the show!

If you sort 2016's batters by average exit velocity, it's not a rosy picture for Astros hitters.  You have to scroll down approximately fifty spots to find Jose Altuve atop the Astros' leaderboard, at 92.81 mph, followed by Colby Rasmus and Preston Tucker a few tenths of an mph slower.  That's not really anything to be concerned about.  All three guys are ahead of perennial All-Stars J.D. Martinez, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, and Jose Bautista.  Not to mention the current batted ball velocity leaders are historically dominant players named Cameron Rupp, Ryan Raburn, and Yasmani Grandal.

But whatever.  The season is young, and average velocity probably doesn't mean much at this point.

On with the fun stuff:

  • The hardest hit ball of the entire MLB season came off the bat of Astros' third baseman Luis Valbuena, at 124.17 mph, against Mike Pelfrey on April 15th.  It was a ground-out.  That must have been some scorching ground out.  More than a few worms burned on that one.
  • Shortstop Carlos Correa had the 4th-hardest hit ball (another ground out) at 118.17 mph.
  • Right fielder George Springer ranks about 10th in hardest-hit individual balls this season, but this one was a rifled Home Run against Justin Verlander on April 16th.  BOOM.  That ball took maybe...one picosecond to leave the park, and was on pace to escape the Earth's gravitational pull until it hit the stands.
  • The slowest ball hit this year was by the Rangers' second baseman Rougned Odor, an 18 mph liner against...Doug Fister.  Everything about that makes me smile.
  • The hardest-hit Fly Ball / Line Drive in the majors came off the bat of Left fielder / DH Preston Tucker, a 104.61 mph second-deck bomb off Nathan Eovaldi on April 7th.  Here it is.  Glorious.  More, please.
  • In Max Distance, sadly a light hitting shortstop, Jordy Mercer sits atop the leaderboard with a hilarious 466.05 ft home run that is also his only home run of the season.
  • But #3 and #4 in Max Distance are Correa's 462 ft shot to straight-away center field off of Michael Pineda on April 6th and LF Colby Rasmus' Home Run against Wily Peralta only three days later, which registered as only one quarter of an inch shorter distance than Correa's, deep into the second deck of Miller Park.
  • Mercer's home run really is worth watching.  The commentators don't need Statcast to tell them it was an epic shot.