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Exit velocity and trajectory: an introduction to hard hit% for the 2015 baseball season

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, ESPN stat guru Mark Simon popularized a statistic called hard hit rate (HH%). I fell in love with the stat, and throughout the 2015 season I will be posting some notable performances in hard hit%, both hitters and pitchers, on a weekly basis. The stat unfortunately isn't available to the public yet, so I'm going to post out as much as I'm allowed to by the video tracking service that provides it to us.

For those who haven't heard of it, hard hit% is the % of a player's at bats that end in a hard hit ball. Hard hit balls are classified by video trackers as batted balls with exit velocities of 90+ mph with strong trajectory and contact on the sweet spot of the barrel.

The baseball industry is more interested in measures like exit velocity and trajectory than actual statistical production in trying to predict future performance for players, so I think this is the direction the fantasy game needs to go, too. Hard hit% bridges that gap.

We want to target hitters with a high hard hit% and pitchers with a low hard hit% because the harder a ball is hit, the more likely strong offensive production occurs. The batting average on hard hit balls is over .700. Approximately 100% of home runs, 80% of triples and 70% of doubles are hard hit, while only 30% of singles are hard hit.

The stat can help give us a better idea of the process behind a hitter's production, and can show which players may be hitting into either good or bad luck.

It can also help give us an idea of whether or not a pitcher is legitimately outperforming his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) based on his skillset, rather than something he can't control like defense behind him or fortunate batted ball placement. Knuckleballers are a good example of this: they limit hard contact because the extreme movement on their knuckleball is tough to square up, so FIP doesn't accurately describe their true production. Clayton Kershaw is another good example. Kershaw's hard hit% has been significantly lower than league average throughout his career and it's been reflected by him consistently outperforming his FIP.

Hard hit% needs to be combined with other statistics to paint a complete picture of player evaluation, but it's an excellent tool by itself to point us towards players to target.

Here were some of the best and worst performers in the stat from the 2014 season, both hitters and pitchers:

These 10 hitters squared the ball up most often in 2014:

1. Troy Tulowitzki, 24.1%

2. Paul Goldschmidt, 23.7%

3. David Ortiz, 23.7%

4. Miguel Cabrera, 23.3%

5. Devin Mesoraco, 23.3%

6. Victor Martinez, 23.1%

7. Andrew McCutchen, 22.9%

8. Adrian Beltre, 22.9%

9. Edwin Encarnacion, 22.4%

10. Corey Dickerson, 21.8%

These 10 starting pitchers limited hard contact most often in 2014:

1. Chris Sale, 9.3%

2. Garrett Richards, 10.3%

3. Marcus Stroman, 10.9%

4. Dallas Keuchel, 11.1%

5. Sonny Gray, 11.1%

6. Clayton Kershaw, 11.2%

7. Charlie Morton, 11.2%

8. Francisco Liriano, 11.2%

9. Carlos Carrasco, 11.5%

10. Alex Cobb, 11.5%

These 10 hitters hit the ball hard least often in 2014:

1. Adam Eaton, 8.6%

2. Billy Hamilton, 9.2%

3. Ichiro Suzuki, 9.5%

4. Mike Aviles, 9.6%

5. Jean Segura, 9.6%

6. Norichika Aoki, 10.0%

7. Emilio Bonifacio, 10.2%

8. James Jones, 10.3%

9. Everth Cabrera, 10.4%

10. Logan Forsythe, 10.6%

These 10 starting pitchers gave up the most hard contact in 2014:

1. Edwin Jackson, 20.6%

2. Nick Martinez, 20.2%

3. Colby Lewis, 20.0%

4. Chase Anderson, 19.7%

5. Josh Collmenter, 19.2%

6. Ricky Nolasco, 19.1%

7. Nick Tepesch, 19.0%

8. Hector Noesi, 18.8%

9. Vidal Nuno, 18.8%

10. J.A. Happ, 18.7%