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Blast Zone Launch Angle – Climbers and Fallers

In the introduction to Blast Zone Barrels (BZB), I determined the parameters for the metric based on barreled balls that result in home runs at the highest frequency. I ran correlations and concluded that while it certainly (and quite obviously) has a strong correlation to power, it also has a moderate correlation year over year. I also took a look at outliers over the last three seasons. While Part one covered the genesis of the metric, part two will expand the metric by looking at all batted balls hit within the Blast Zone launch angle band (23-35 degrees). It’s a similar concept to what my colleague, Dan Richards wrote over at Pitcher List last season. Give the article a read, it’s very intriguing. 

Part Two of this series will hopefully provide a little more value for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. First, a quick reminder of the parameters of a BZB. It’s a barreled ball hit between 23 degrees and 35 degrees of launch angle. But, what it ignores is the balls hit at those launch angles that do not qualify as a barrel. In other words, balls that are hit at ideal launch angles for home runs without the extremely high exit velocity. The table below displays the league-wide average exit velocity of all batted balls between 23 degrees and 35 degrees.



AVERAGE EXIT VELOCITY ON BALLS HIT WITHIN BLAST ZONE BARREL LAUNCH ANGLE (23 -25 DEGREES)

2017 (AVG EV) 2018 (AVG EV)

2019 (AVG EV)

90.6 MPH 90.9 MPH

91.3 MPH

As a whole, balls are being hit harder at ideal launch angles over the last three seasons. Part of that can be attributed to the juiced ball. It’s also likely that players are “swinging for the fences” more often which has increased power production but has attributed to the league-wide elevated strikeout rate. Knowing this, let’s look at some three-year trends. I set the parameters for at least 40 batted balls hit within the launch angle band of 23 and 35 degrees for each of the last three seasons. To be fair, I relaxed the qualifying threshold to 25 BBEs for a single season if a player qualified with 40+ BBE in the other two seasons. 

What trends would we expect in regards to average exit velocity on balls hit in this range based on age? Well, naturally, we would expect the trend for aging veterans to be declining, right? You also might expect younger hitters to improve their exit velocity. If that’s what you assumed, then you’d be correct. Shocker! Of the sample I conducted, the list featuring the largest fallers had an average age of 34.7. The List featuring the largest climbers were a hair younger than 30 at 29.7 years to be exact. Below is the list of climbers with over the last three seasons and their current age.

Average Exit Velocity of Balls Hit at Launch Angles Between 23 - 35 Degrees - Climbers

PlayerAge2017 (MPH)2018 (MPH)2019 (MPH)Diff (19-17)
Yoan Moncada2594.890.995.91.1
Starling Marte3187.092.796.89.8
Shin Soo Choo3791.394.995.84.5
Nick Castellanos2892.693.194.01.4
Nelson Cruz4096.397.399.93.6
Mike Trout2893.894.095.31.5
Kyle Seager3290.691.495.14.5
Kole Calhoun3290.891.993.42.6
Josh Bell2791.094.294.53.5
Eugenio Suarez2889.992.093.63.7
Anthony Rendon3091.992.094.72.8
Alex Bregman2690.692.694.13.5
Christian Yelich2890.793.996.45.7
Didi Gregorius3087.288.892.45.2
D.J. LeMahieu3187.59295.58.0
Jason Jeyward3086.987.690.33.4
Kris Bryant2890.991.293.82.9
Matt Chapman2794.493.998.84.4
Xander Bogaerts2785.193.7948.9



A couple of quick points. Mike Trout continues to be the best player and baseball AND is still getting better! There isn’t much he can’t do. Nick Castellanos is my boy! I covered him extensively in Part 1 and love his new landing spot. He’s going to ball out in Cincy and is essentially a J.D. Martinez clone. I included Yoan Moncada because of his huge boost in exit velocity from 2018 to 2019. Was he hiding an injury in 2018? He smoked the ball in his debut back in 2017 but fell way back in 2018. Either way, he absolutely crushed the ball at all launch angles last year and is still just 25 years old. He’s my dark horse to win the AL MVP.

Can we talk about Nelson Cruz and Shin-Soo Choo for a second who appear to be defying the aging curve? Without these two old heads, the average age of the climbers falls to 28.7 which sounds more reasonable. Now, we all know Cruz is a monster and lights up the Statcast page but how has he gotten even better from age 37 to age 39? Averaging a tick under 100 mph within the blast zone launch angle puts him third behind only Joey Gallo and Miguel Sano (both averaged over 100 mph). If you’re expecting a decline from him this year, don’t. Only an injury or God forbid COVID could stop him from crushing in the shortened season. I bet you didn’t expect to see Choo here. On average, he actually hits the ball harder at ideal launch angles than Mike Trout! Think about that for a second. Given the short season, maybe move him up a few spots. He’s certainly is not finished just yet.


Let’s touch on a couple of other veterans who could be sleepers in 2020. Kyle Seager and Kole Calhoun have both steadily increased their exit velocity on ideal launch angles. Calhoun’s playing time could be spotty and news recently came out that he tested positive for COVID. At this point, he’s slight fade until we have more information. However, Seager should hit third or fourth in Seattle, albeit in an awful lineup. Even still, he should provide pop with decent run production. Did you notice Jason Heyward in the mix here? I almost fell asleep writing his name. His metrics aren’t great but he’s shown steady improvement over the last three years. He improved his walk rate and ISO last year and his defense should keep him in the lineup most days. Maybe he can put it together for two months in 2020?

Christian Yelich is just ridiculous. At age-28, he should continue to be an MVP candidate for the next three to five years. He’s my top pick going into the abbreviated 2020 season. Would you look at Alex Bregman? His barrel rate may be brutal and he scored poorly on my Blast Zone Barrels metric, but here we are. The reason he’s been so good in addition to his unbelievable plate discipline is this. He has improved on consistently hitting batted balls at ideal launch angles with authority. He doesn’t need to hit the ball 105 mph to hit a home run. I’m fading him less as a result of this research. 

The steady growth from Eugenio Suarez over the last four seasons has been fun to watch. He’s been successful in a similar manner to Bregman but without elite plate skills. Still, given his home park and this metric, I’d expect another great season from him. Josh Bell has arrived! He didn’t quite put it all together in 2019 but had an MVP-like first half. I’m a believer that he’s closer to the first half Bell than the 2018/second half Bell we saw. I’m buying and might jump him over an aging first baseman I’ll cover below.

Finally, can we talk about the elephant in the room? Starling Marte, WTF!?! His average exit velocity on balls hit between 23 and 35 degrees jumped nearly 10 mph from 2017! That was the year he was busted for PEDs. Hmmm? Unfortunately, his ground ball rate continues to hover around 50%. But, his career-best 18.5% HR/FB rate in 2019 was certainly justified. Even with some negative regression, Marte could still provide plenty of pop. Will Marte transform into a power hitter late into his career? It would require a launch angle adjustment but could certainly prolong his career as his speed declines. Xander Bogaerts’ presence on this list is largely due to a wrist injury in 2017 that sapped his power. He’s essentially been the same guy the last two seasons and at age-27, it doesn’t appear anything is going to change. Oh, hello there D.J. LeMahieu! The research I’ve done on D.J. points his results from 2019 being mostly sustainable. Bet against him if you will but he hits the ball as hard as Trout at ideal launch angles and has the short porch in right field.

Below is a graphical representation of the largest risers covered above.

Average Exit Velocity of Balls Hit at Launch Angles Between 23 - 35 Degrees - Fallers

PlayerAge2017 (MPH)2018 (MPH)2019 (MPH)Diff (19-17)
Daniel Murphy3591.088.485.9-5.1
Yuli Gurriel3689.689.788.4-1.2
Yadier Molina3793.391.290.3-3.0
Whit Merrifield3191.790.687.8-3.9
Paul Goldschmidt3297.393.493.3-4.0
Justin Smoak3394.894.093.0-1.8
Josh Reddick3388.589.286.9-1.6
Joey Votto3691.393.490.1-1.2
J.D. Martinez3296.396.094.3-2.0
Albert Pujols4092.493.690.3-2.1
Kurt Suzuki3693.891.186.7-7.1

This is a shorter list. I won’t spend too much time on these guys because many of them aren’t fantasy relevant outside of deeper formats. Kurt Suzuki had a nice run in his mid-30s, but he may just be cooked. Yadier Molina isn’t far behind. He may be able to contribute with moderate power this year but after 2020, I think his career is just about over. Same for Albert Pujols and potentially Joey Votto. Everyone knows about Pujols but the metrics on Votto are just as ugly. Even in the favorable home park, I will not be betting on bounceback. FREE KYLE TUCKER! It’s getting embarrassing with Josh Reddick and the Astros. He’s hardly a plus defender anymore and can’t hit with a 94 wRC+ and a .134 ISO last season. Come on Astros.

Daniel Murphy’s 2019 can be attributed to a finger injury, but even the metrics from 2018 are pretty scary. Coors Field could help but I’m not betting on a power resurgence. Then again, if health is on his side for the short season, I could envision Murphy putting together a fortunate .350 BA – 7 HR type season. Yuli Gurriel’s Statcast metrics have never been great and at age-36, his exit velocity is declining. He was unbelievably fortunate in 2019 and I’d be surprised if he hit more than seven homers in 2020. Justin Smoak is interesting. He’s 33 years old and has shown natural regression in terms of BZ launch angle exit velo. However, 93.0 mph is still well-above the league average. He’ll get a boost with the DH and with his new home park, so I wouldn’t give up on him just yet, just don’t expect much in 2021.


Now to the fantasy-relevant players. J.D. Martinez went from being elite to very good. Should we be concerned? He’s 32 years old and there’s some evidence of player’s declining at that age. The Red Sox are still stacked even without Mookie Betts, but that means fewer RBI opportunities. Remember how I mentioned earlier that Nick Castellanos was J.D. part two? Well, if the trend continues, Nicky C could outperform JDM in 2020. Bold or not? Paul Goldschmidt falls into a similar category as JDM. They are the same age and have shown signs of declining. Not only has Goldy’s BZ EV fallen quite significantly since 2017, but he’s also a full mile per hour lower on average than JDM. I absolutely hate Busch Stadium for home runs and will very likely dock him given this information. I mentioned Josh Bell earlier and could see Bell outpacing Goldy in 2020. To Bell’s dismay, his surrounding lineup is awful, so I think Goldy bests him in run production. That being said, I’ll take Bell in batting average and home runs.

Finally, there’s Whit Merrifield. The late bloomer who helped players win championships in 2017 and 2018. He came out of nowhere in his late twenties to hit 19 homers and steal 34 bags back in 2017. Then as an encore, hit 12 bombs and stole 45 bags with a .304 BA in 2018. In 2019, the average stayed and the power returned (somewhat to 16 HR) but his steals were cut in half. The trend in the table above is extremely worrisome. He was saved by the juiced ball last year but now at age-31, I don’t think his power will play. His sprint speed is still in the top 15 percentile but is clearly falling. Over a full 162, I’d be hard-pressed to project more than 10 homers and 20 steals. What does that mean over 60 games? How about 4 homers and 8 steals. Yikes. He’s teetering very close to contributing an empty batting average. I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s nearly undraftable in 2021.




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Weekly Rundown – You Spell Khrush with a K

Player’s Weekend is upon us and I think my favorite nickname is Rich Hill who has been dubbed, “Dick Mountain.” You really can’t top that. I read somewhere that Brock Holt coined that nickname for Rich back in his Red Sox days. Turns out Brock Holt is useful! The next best nickname is Brad Boxberger’s in which the back of his jersey simply displays an emoji of a cardboard box and a cheeseburger. Clever. Ok, let’s dive in!

Hot Hitters
Kendrys Morales has woken up in the month August and is hitting a blistering .500 with 6 homers with 9 RBI as he’s your Flavor of the Week. Over at BaseballSavant, he’s the hitter who has underperformed based on xwOBA-wOBA more than any other hitter in the league. While I don’t fully trust MLB’s expected numbers, Morales is clearly starting to catch up to his career numbers. I understand that’s cliche, but look at Morales’ last four seasons, he’s a .260 hitter with mid-20s pop at this point in his career.  

Khris “The New Krush” Davis is at it again against the Rangers, well, all teams really. This beast has an MLB leading 39 homers thanks to 5 homers this past week. He also has 10 RBI in that span with 103 on the season. Davis has cut his K rate by nearly 5%, upped his hard-hit rate by 5% (although everyone has), and increased his fly ball rate by 6%. He’s likely going to slow down (well obviously), he has 18 homers in 32 games since the break! I think he’s a lock to go in the second round next year as he finally gets some well-deserved respeKeD.

David Peralta is hitting nearly .500 with 3 homers and 6 RBI this past week. Peralta has always been a guy who has shown moderate power with a little bit of speed and good contact skills. He’s a guy that always seems to be available on shallow league waiver wires. Until this year, of course. Is this for real? The answer, kind of. He’s only increased his fly ball rate slightly from the high-20s to 30%. Meh, but his hard contact is WAY up to 47% and has doubled his HR/FB from last year. He’s also hit fewer infield flys, so do I think he’s a .300, 30 HR hitter next year? Not quite, but a.290 with 22-25 HR hitter, yes sir.

Xander Bogaerts has been an RBI machine with 10 RBI in the last 7 days with 2 homers and a .357 average. Bogaerts was sick of his soft contact ways of 2017 where he barreled 1.3% of his batted balls in 2017 (brutal) and is up to 10.5% this year. I was down on Bogaerts coming into the year because his fly ball rate was low, his hard contact was bad, and his IFFB% was way up. This year, he’s improved in all three aspects. At 25, Bogaerts looks like a .300-25-10 guy for the foreseeable future.

Whit Merrifeld and Jose Peraza both have two homers and two steals apiece with .400 averages. I lump them together not only because their stat lines are so similar this past week but are they really that different? Sure Merrifield has shown more power in the past with 19 home runs last year so he’s not quite a White Rabbit. Merrifield has 9 homers and 28 steals in 548 plate appearances this year. Peraza has 8 homers and 20 steals in 540 plate appearances. Sure, I prefer Merrifield, but Peraza is a nice consolation prize going into 2019 and he’s five years younger.

Justin Turner just hit his third home run in the last seven days to go along with 9 RBI and even threw in a stolen base! Is Turner the Red Rocket or is Kole Calhoun? I think Turner’s nickname is just Red. Anyways, Turner is Red-Hot! Ok, I’m done. Seriously though, it took Turner a little while upon his return to get his power back, but since the All-Star break, Turner is .390 with 5 homers, 8 doubles, and a triple in only 89 plate appearances, good for an ISO of .325! If you waited it out with Turner, you have been handsomely rewarded.

Hot Pitchers
David Price has given up only 2 earned runs with a 0.67 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in his last two starts. He’s starting to look like the top 25 pitcher I envisioned in my preseason rankings. Since Price’s July 1st 8-run blow up, he’s essentially been an ace. His fastball and cutter have combined for a 12.0 pitch value in only 8 starts! That’s insane. Unfortunately, he has no other good pitches. I don’t think Price is an ace anymore but he’s a smart veteran pitcher who can be your #2.



Now, this is an ace! Aaron Nola is Str8 Ballin’ and making his case for NL Cy Young with a 0.60 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in his last two starts. Nola does so many things well, but the best skill he has is home run suppression with his 0.46 HR/9. He’s rocking a 50% ground ball rate and an elevated IFFB rate which is how he can limit those dingers. In addition, Nola has boosted his swinging strike rate by nearly 2% but his K rate remains slightly lower than 2017. You know what this means? I’m expecting a strikeout bump next year, and Nola will be in my top 5 SPs going into 2019.

Walker Buehler really has lived up to the hype as he’s gone 20 innings giving up just 1 earned run with a 0.85 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in the last two weeks. Yes, that’s cheating, but his last two starts have been dominant as well, I just wanted to point out how great he’s been. Buehler threw just about 100 innings last year and is currently at 103 IP this year. We are dealing with the Dodgers, so we have to be careful with Buehler and an innings limit which I think will be about 130-140. If the Dodgers believe Buehler will be part of their Postseason rotation, he could be skipped a couple of times before the regular season is done. Owners, be aware.

Cole Hamels continues his dominance with the Cubs who desperately needed pitching help. He’s rocking a 0.56 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP in his last two starts. He’s not getting the strikeouts, but that’s fine, he’s basically the Cubs ace right now. It’s odd because Hamel’s four-seam fastball has not been good this year but he’s finding a way to be successful with it since joining the Cubs and is actually throwing it more! Maybe, it’s location, when he’s up in the zone with the pitch, it’s yielded some positive results. Let’s hope it continues because velocity is not his game anymore.

CC Sabathia is 38 years old, has dealt with issues with alcohol, went to rehab and is still killing it in the mound. Yes, he qualifies as a Return of the Mac. In his last two starts, CC has 15 Ks, a 1.50 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in 12 IP.  Sabathia now has 2,960 strikeouts in his career which is 17th all time just behind John Smoltz. He’s also 6 wins short of 250 which I think are milestones that get him into the Hall of Fame. Congrats on a great career CC and being fantasy relevant at almost 40.

Freezing Cold Hitters
Mookie Betts is ice cold everyone. I know, it’s sad, but he’s hitting just .172 with no homers or steals this past week. He’s even got eight strikeouts to only one walk, this isn’t the Mookie-VP we know and love. Other than a few extra strikeouts, I’m not seeing anything in Mookie’s profile that concerns me. This is just a mini-slump got Mookie before he makes his MVP-push in September.



Ozzie Albies is 3 for his last 26 with no homers and no steals. This is not just one cold week for Albies, it’s been the better part of two months now. Albies is a player I’m worried about because his overall season numbers look solid (especially for a 21-year-old), but remember he was the hottest hitter to start the season in April. Since the All-Star Break, Albies is hitting .237 with 1 HR and 3 steals. His hard contact is down and he’s expanding the zone too much. He’s still making enough contact, but I think he’s being too aggressive. He might be over-drafted next year and should set up for a discount in 2020, I know I’m thinking way too far ahead.

Jose Ramirez is hitting just .160 without a home or an RBI this past week but has chipped in with a steal thanks to a healthy walk rate. Remember when Ramirez was hitting like .160 in April thanks to an extremely low BABIP? Yeah, this is the same situation. Since August 4th, he’s got a .222 BABIP but he’s still walking more than striking out and is making MORE contact. His quality of contact is down a bit, but that’s the only issue. Jo-Ram is just fine, he’s already given you 140% of his projected stats, be happy.

Rhys Hoskins is hitting just .192 with no HRs, no RBI, 2 runs, and a steal in the last 7 days. It’s essentially been a month-long slump for Hoskins as his .196 BABIP is the culprit. His hard contact is down and his line drive rate is at 15%. Hoskins hits a lot of fly balls and doesn’t run well, so unless he can maintain a 20+% HR/FB, he’s a .250-.260 hitter. Combine that with 30 homers and 90-100 RBI and you have a poor man’s E5. That’s a top 100 pick but not much higher. OBP leagues, he’s still borderline top 50 though.

Kole Calhoun, the red rocket, has fallen back on hard times after a blistering month and a half. Kole is hitting .182 with no homers or steals and carries a 43.5% K rate in the last 7 days.

I had to include a graph of Calhoun’s 15-game rolling averages because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a wOBA fluctuation from 0.089 to 0.525 in the same season. Fear not, the hard contact continues to trend upwards. I’m not telling you to buy him, but continue to hold unless the strikeout rate gets out of control.

Starling Marte again! Yes, he’s hitting .160 with zeros across the board. Oh, he did have stolen base last night though, so that’s good. His K rate is up and he’s expanding the zone with a nearly 40% O-Swing (swings outside the zone) in August. You know what helps in these “Dog Days” of summer? PEDs! Ouch, low blow bro! I’m sorry, but Marte was a guy who struggled to stay healthy for 162 and we all know how healthy Ryan Braun has been since getting busted. I’m going to be out on Marte next year, he turns 30 and he’s not getting faster. He’ll be over-drafted thanks to around 20 HR and 35 steals this year.

Freezing Cold Pitchers
Lance Lynn’s success with the Yankees has halted quickly where he’s been punished by the Blue Jays and Marlins of all teams. He’s given up 10 earned runs 19 baserunners in his last two starts. It was starting to look like Lynn was the saving grace after the horrific run by Sonny Gray. I can’t judge (All Rise) Lynn’s performances with the Yankees yet because his getting 11.6 K.9 with a 49% groundball rate but also has a .375 BABIP and a 66.4% LOB. His SwStr% is nowhere near matching his elevated K rate either. I’m chalking this up to small samples and using him as a streamer against weaker opponents.

My boy (he’s not my boy) Big Game James Shields is back to getting roughed up after a mini-resurgence with a 6.59 ERA, 19 baserunners and 3 homers in his last 13.2 IP. I admit I did recommend him once as a streamer this year. The start was OK, it didn’t kill your ratios or your week. The reason I was optimistic was his home run rate has been down (for him) and he’s getting more swings and misses but with a lower K rate. I think my (slim) optimism is gone. Good-Bye Big Game James, it’s been real, it’s been nice, but it hasn’t been real nice.

Zack Godley’s stretch of good starts is long gone as he’s given up 11 earned runs and 19 baserunners in his last two starts that spans 10 innings. The lone bright spot is his 14 strikeouts. Why is Godley bad this year? Well, his walks are up, his BABIP is 50 points higher, and he’s stranding fewer runners. His home run suppression remains intact but he really only has one plus pitch this year, the curve. Last year, his cutter was utilized much better, currently, it’s received a pitch value of -8.6 compared to 7.3 PV last year. I don’t trust him anymore.

Andrew Heaney has struggled in his last two starts posting an 8.74 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP in that timeframe. His last month has actually been relatively poor. He currently has thrown 146 innings this year coming off only about 50 innings last year and 6 IP the prior year. I just think Heaney is out of gas. He’s got a good changeup and breaking ball, so I think Heaney will be on my sleeper list for next year. At this point, he will probably throw a couple more starts then be shut down for the rest of the year. I like him to reach 175+ next year with solid ratios.

Clayton Richard’s nightmare season continues. In his last 8.2 IP, Richards is sporting an 11.42 ERA with a 2.31 WHIP with only six strikeouts. I understand Richard isn’t all that fantasy relevant but last year against lefty-heavy lineups, he was a solid streamer. Then there’s the home/road splits, his 3.94 ERA and 1.22 WHIP at home is playable but the 6.67 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP on the road is just brutal. Am I really recommending Richard as a streaming option at home against lefty-heavy lineups? I guess so, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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