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Exit Velocity

Kids really do have it tough these days. Much tougher than we had it.

All we had to do was memorize batting averages, RBIs, home runs, pitching won-loss records and ERAs. If anyone wanted to know what Nellie Fox was hitting, we could immediately answer. Was Maris going to break Ruth's record? We had the up-to-the-minute information. Was it possible that Denny McLain could win 30 games? We were the guys to ask.

The kids I hung out with, for the most part, struggled with the Periodic Table, but we sure knew how close Ted Williams was to .400.

Pity the youngsters of today. They are deluged with Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), slash lines, Rbat (runs batting), Rfield (runs from fielding), and WHIP. We thought WAR meant the Russians were going to nuke us. Kids today ponder the real meaning of WAR: wins above replacement.

Baseball has always been a statistical smorgasbord, but the sabermetricians have gone slightly nuts.

Consider this year's All-Star game played in Miami a few weeks ago, won by the American League 2-1. The game reflected the character of Major League Baseball today in the sense that two of the game's three runs came via home runs, the second a game-winner off the bat of Robinson Cano in the top of the 10th. Keeping with a current theme, hard-throwing pitchers struck out 23 batters. described Cano's blast: "Connecting on a 1-1 curveball, Cano's drive was projected by Statcast at 395 feet with an exit velocity of 105.6." Not where it landed or whether it was a line drive or towering fly ball. Everything is codified, leaving nothing to the imagination.

The Statcast technology, not surprisingly, was created at MIT using a system of Doppler radar and cameras. However, every time exit velocity or pitch speed is revealed during a televised game, we're informed that Statcast comes to us via AWS which - also no surprise - stands for Amazon Web Services.

I like Amazon. I order stuff from them. I get it the next day. In fact, according to Business Insider, Amazon accounted for 43 percent of e-commerce in 2016, and that number is rising daily. However, the way this behemoth has infiltrated baseball to disseminate information about home runs and fastballs is a bit unsettling. I'd feel better if it was a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed. Why not let someone else have a chance other than Amazon?

In addition, exit velocity is vastly overrated. A hard liner caught by the third baseman who moves not an inch is hit just as hard - maybe harder - than a line drive that ends up in the bleachers. It helps to hit the ball hard, regardless of the result.

Yankee rookie Aaron Judge has accounted for the four hardest hit balls of the season. Two were homers, the others were a single and a double. Judge also won the Home Run Derby the night before the All-Star Game.

The kid has amazing power, and overall he's having an outstanding year, one which will result in him being named Rookie of the Year. His 35 home runs are second to the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, who has 36. However, 30 of Judge's homers came before the All-Star Game. Since winning the home run contest, Judge is hitting .182, dropping his average from .326 to .299. You also don't hear much about his 144 strikeouts, which rank third in MLB. But you sure hear about his eye-popping exit velocity.

Then consider Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, who will lead his Astros in a three-game series against the White Sox beginning Tuesday night on the South Side. He's also leading MLB in a few categories, like hits (154) and batting average (.364). He's fourth in doubles with 33, and his .424 on-base percentage is the same as Judge's. (It's a credit to Judge that he is a discerning hitter; he's second in drawing bases on balls with 79.)

Altuve just had one of the most offensively productive months in memory during July. He hit .485 with 48 hits in 99 at-bats. He reached base at a .523 clip, and his OPS was 1.251.

Sure, the little guy - he's 5-foot-6, 165 pounds - only hit four home runs, and, get this, not one of the balls he's hit this entire season has registered in the top 50 in exit velocity. When Judge was slugging monstrous shots prior to the All-Star Game, the distance and exit velocities of his home runs was national news. But singles and doubles, getting on base, and making contact aren't as tantalizing, image-producing, or as attractive as the big boys launching baseballs far into the night. Amazon can bring those to fans' attention, but who measures a bloop hit down the right field line in the late innings of a close game that sends a runner home from second?

In addition to heretofore statistics like exit velocity that weren't documented in the past, consider BABIP. Similar to their on-base percentages, Altuve is hitting .391 on balls in play while Judge's average is .390. Of course, the difference is that Altuve puts many more balls in play since he has struck out just 57 times this season.

In looking at the White Sox' current six-game losing streak, the boys simply aren't putting enough balls in play. In the six games, they struck out 65 times - or about 40 percent of their at-bats. Of course, this takes a whole lot of pressure off the opponents' defense, which needs to handle about 16 chances per game. A couple of pickoffs and a caught stealing eliminated three baserunners during their four-game sweep in Boston. A team like the White Sox, who have lost 23 of 27 games since July 4, can't afford to lose any baserunners.

They also can ill afford to lose any more players in addition to people like Melky Cabrera, who was traded along with his .295 batting average to the Royals a week ago. Matt Davidson hasn't played since last Tuesday after being hit on the wrist by a pitch against the Blue Jays, and Avi Garcia continues to nurse a sore thumb. Garcia, whose last game was July 25, took batting practice in Boston but remains on the disabled list.

The brightest news of the week was the promotion of Nick Delmonico from Charlotte to take Cabrera's place in left field, a position not all that familiar to someone who played primarily third base during six seasons in the minors. Delmonico led the team in hitting last week, going 8-for-23 with a homer and five RBI. doesn't list Delmonico, 25, among the Sox's top 30 prospects. Jose Altuve, who at 27 is in his seventh big league season, was ranked No. 28 among Astro prospects after the 2010 season. Just saying.

The big news this week appears to be the impending arrival of right-handed pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, rumored to be summoned from Charlotte to face Cabrera and the Royals on Friday night. Over 121 innings this season, Lopez, 23, easily has been the most effective pitcher for the Sox's top farm club.

Assuming that Lopez becomes a member of the Sox the final two months of the season, one of the current starters will experience his own exit velocity, one which won't be measured by Statcast.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021