HITf/x Contrast of HR and non-HR Hitters

As Matthew told us about a couple of weeks ago a new age of baseball data is upon us. Sportsvision and MLBAM released the HITf/x data from April 2009, which gave us information on the speed and angle of the ball of the bat for all batted balls. One thing I was interested in is how the swings of high strikeout high home run hitters differ from those of non-home run low strikeout hitters. Since the data only covers one month we do not have enough data to analyze individual hitters in depth, so here I pooled two groups of hitter to get more data. I choose the most extreme strikeout/home run hitters and none home run/stikeout hitters to highlight the differences.

In the home run group I choose five hitters from last year with greater than 25% HR/FB and greater than 25% K/AB: Ryan Howard, Jack Cust, Adam Dunn, Jim Thome and Chris Davis. The non-home run group was five hitters with less than 5% HR/FB and under 10% K/AB: Placido Polanco, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jason Kendall,Ichiro Suzuki and Ryan Theriot. For each group I plotted the speed of the ball off the bat versus the vertical angle of the ball off the bat, the vertical angle ranges form -90, a ball hit straight into the ground, to 90, a ball popped straight up. With a 0 angle hit being parrallel to the ground.


The non-HR hitters hit balls with a below 0° vertical angle slightly harder than HR hitters, but for balls with above 0° vertical angle HR hitters hit the ball much harder, with the difference increasing as the vertical angle increases. I guess that is not terribly surprising, HR hitters hit balls in the air very hard and non-HR hitters don’t. Balls on the ground they hit about the same.

One interesting difference is the angle where the speed peaks. I think that you can roughly interpret this as the vertical angle of the swing of the bat as it hits the ball. The greatest speed of the ball off the bat happens when the ball is hit squarely and this should result in the ball coming off the bat at the same angle as the swing of the bat. If you believe this interpretation it looks like the angle of the non-HR hitter’s bat as they hit the ball is just above 0°, roughly parrellel to the ground. While for the HR-hitters the angle is around 10 or 15°, a slight upper-cut.

When data from more months are released we will be able to analyze individual hitters in the same manner.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

17 Responses to “HITf/x Contrast of HR and non-HR Hitters”

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  1. FairweatherFan says:

    Who is that outlier who absolutely murdered the ball @ approx 40* ?

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    • Matt Harms says:

      Yeah, I’m curious who hit the ball at ~ (40, 120), too.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      That was the double that Adam Dunn hit off of Ricky Nolasco on April 6th, 128mph. He also hit a home run that day that left the bat at 106mph at 31°. It is so much higher than the others I am not sure if it correct or a mistake with the system.

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      • Brian says:

        Hit tracker has that hr on 4/6 at 32 degrees, 107 mph. The highest speed off the bat is pujols at 119. I think you’d need a metal bat to get 128.

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  2. Nick says:

    Perhaps a dumb question, but it seems to me that HRs balls generally leave the bat at around 100mph. If this is the case, is it feasible for a pitcher who can throw that speed to “throw” a home run? Seems ridiculous when you think of it, but the numbers suggest it is true… Would they throw less hard if releasing at an upward angle?

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    • Davidceisen says:

      According to Wikipedia, Glen Gorbous threw a baseball 445 feet in 1957.

      I think a lot of pitchers could ‘throw’ a home run. Think about out fielders throwing a baseball to the home plate. They often do it on one bounce.

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      • gnome says:

        Robert Fick threw a ball a few years back from relatively deep in right field into the backstop in Spring Training.

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    • FairweatherFan says:

      As an engineer I can say w/ confidence that a ball travelling at a given angle and speed will go the same distance, regardless if it came off the bat or out of someone’s hand.

      I think the real challenge would be throwing with that kind of velocity at the appropriate angle. Most of a pitchers velocity is tied up in their lower body/delivery. I’m not sure how feasible it is to harness that power while trying to throw up.

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      • Poseidon's Fist says:

        “I’m not sure how feasible it is to harness that power while trying to throw up.”

        I’m sure that it is quite difficult to throw a HR while vomiting.

        Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Don’t you need to account for top spin, side spin and under spin?

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  3. Nick says:

    Wow. That’s impressive.
    Yeah, I thought about the outfielders and realize that they can do one bounce whilst throwing on a flat trajectory, but I doubt they do that right from the wall (and getting it over the wall would require significantly more distance). Anyway, I suppose it is possible then. I should have searched for the record before posting. Thanks!

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  4. colbyjack says:

    I play d1 college baseball and I can throw a ball from home plate over a 330ft left field wall pretty routinely whenever I attempt it after long toss. I know Andy Benes could throw one out to center standing on home plate, and I have heard of hard throwing pitchers playing foul pole to foul pole long toss. I bet Justin Verlander or any of the hardest throwers in the MLB could throw some pretty impressive tape-measure shots.

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    • Richie Abernathy says:

      I was about to say that myself, colbyjack. I was a lowly d2 outfielder in my playing days, but was always blessed with an above average arm. I threw “homers” down the right field foul line every now and then, so I know MLB outfielders with famous arm strength could do it to bigger parts of the field.

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  5. Michael says:

    Very interesting stuff Dave. Not a ton of surprises, but it’s nice to see the data support what most people think. Looking forward to a whole lot more Hit f/x awesomeness.

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  6. Kendall says:

    Here’s Vladimir throwing a home run before a game at Yankee Stadium (sorry for the lack of HTML):


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  7. Brian Cartwright says:

    Back in the 1970’s it was said that Pedro Borbon, a relief pitcher for Cincinnatti, had thrown a ball from home plate over the centerfield fence, about 400 feet.

    Playing right field in a college summer league, once an inning I would like to throw a liner over to the left fielder.

    Playing outfield, one of the amazing things our brain does is being able to know what angle to throw the ball, at the maximum velocity, to hit the target up to 300 feet away.

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