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Is Velocity More Important Than We Think?

There is a reason that one of the first things scouts look for in pitching prospects is velocity. Higher velocity leads to a higher whiff rate, which leads to more strikeouts; it goes without saying that striking out batters is a good starting point to becoming a successful pitcher. While there are many other essential components to pitching, high velocity is always a plus. But does high velocity have other benefits besides improved whiff rate?

In my research I compared batted ball distance to velocity, using only hits classified as fly balls or popups. I used intervals of 1 mph between endpoints of 82 and 100 mph. Only pitches classified as four seam fastballs, two seam fastballs, cutters, and sinkers were used. Baseball Savant was my source, using the complete sample of their applicable PITCHf/x data, from 2008-2014.

Velocity (mph) Batted Ball Distance (ft.)
100+ 229.78
99-100 229.53
98-99 234.92
97-98 235.97
96-97 236.23
95-96 239.78
94-95 240.14
93-94 240.47
92-93 240.60
91-92 242.90
90-91 244.02
89-90 244.80
88-89 245.65
87-88 243.76
86-87 244.21
85-86 244.36
84-85 242.59
83-84 245.45
82-83 244.28
0-82 239.06

Velocity vs. Batted Ball Distance

On an individual level, there will always be large discrepancies due to sample size, but when we apply all the data we have, there appears to be an obvious trend. Higher velocity generally leads to lower batted ball distances on fly balls/popups. Once below the 88 mph threshold, it is unclear whether less velocity makes a difference in terms of batted ball distance, as the distances start to plateau and even take a significant drop in the sub-82 mph sample. But the trend is very clear above 88 mph that higher velocity leads to less batted ball distance.

Now that we see this trend, I have two theories as to why this might happen. The higher velocity could lead to a horizontal exit angle directed more towards the opposite field, where hitters have less power. Or the higher velocity could be harder to square up, leading to more weak contact and popups. Perhaps it is a combination of both.