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Roof Shots

This is a quiz. Name the statistic where the major league leader can go 0-for-4, striking out each time, and still continue to be the MLB leader?

Here's a hint. As of Sunday morning, Yoan Moncada, Franchy Cordero, Jorge Alfaro and Teoscar Hernandez all were in the top 10 in the category. We're familiar with Moncada, but who are these other guys?

I'll save you the trouble of investigating. Cordero is a rookie outfielder with the Padres; Alfaro, a catcher, has played a total of 53 games for the Phillies; and Hernandez roams the outfield for Toronto.

What we're talking about here is the stat du jour, otherwise known as exit velocity, just one of the analytic gems produced by cameras and radar that apparently are present in ballparks throughout the country.

Exit velocity - along with a host of other heretofore undocumented curiosities which have been part of the game forever - was introduced in 2015. Under the auspices of Amazon Web Services (AWS), how hard a batter propels a ball has become almost as popular as a red hot with extra onions at a Sox game.

Not a home run is hit without the fans watching on TV and often those in attendance finding out the exit velocity and distance almost before the batter crosses home plate. How amazing is that? And Amazon doesn't even have to screw the post office to deliver this information.

I relish a hard line drive as much as anyone. I care not whether it's a base hit to center or a home run into the left field seats. If either is a walk-off for the White Sox, I'm delighted. Nevertheless, exit velocity is primarily a useless statistic but one that keeps popping up because of the hype it receives from broadcasters, teams' publicity departments, and the geniuses in the Commissioner's office.

Don't tell me how hard you hit it, tell me how often you hit it.

All one has to do to understand the futility of exit velocity is check out the leaders. For instance, Cordero, a 23-year-old prospect with San Diego, is hitting an uninspiring .234 with six home runs. His on-base percentage is a limp .281. Alfaro shares the catching duties for the surprising Phillies. He was hitting .193 after Saturday's action, but when he does hit the ball, it travels at an average speed of 96.6 mph, well above the major league average of 89.12. Hernandez, who ranks seventh at 96.7, makes better contact. He's hitting .296.

Then there's Moncada, whose exit velocity is 98.2 after getting two hits and being robbed of another in Sunday's 5-4 loss at Kansas City.

After yesterday's game's, no one - not Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, nor Mike Trout - has a higher average exit velocity than Moncada. He's the best in baseball.

He's also the leader in another much less desired category. In the 26 games Moncada has played this season, there have been just two games when he hasn't struck out. He's whiffed 47 times, four more than any other hitter in the game. At this rate, Moncada will strike out almost 300 times this season. The all-time record is 223 set by Mark Reynolds in 2009. Three seasons later when he was a member of the White Sox, Adam Dunn came very, very close by striking out 222 times. But let's be fair. The Big Donkey did slam 41 homers that season with 96 RBI.

None of this is meant to disparage Moncada. He is a work in progress. You don't want to be taking a bathroom break when he comes to the plate. When he puts the ball in play - the ol' BABIP - he's batting .423, which ranks him fourth among all players. That's scary, and it tells us that if only the kid can make contact more often, the sky is the limit. It also tells us that his exit velocity comes in plenty handy once his bat meets the ball.

The player who arguably is having the greatest opening month is Yankee shortstop Didi Gregorius. He's hit 10 homers and driven in 30 runs in April with a slash of .340/.436/1.202. And his average exit velocity is 87.57, below the MLB average. But the key is that Gregorius has struck out just 13 times.

There are all kinds of players, past and present, not noted for exit velocity who either are in the Hall of Fame or headed there. Houston's reigning MVP Jose Altuve ranks 215th this season in exit velocity while Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is 129th. Ichiro is far past his prime, but it's a safe bet that not many of his 3,089 hits would have raised eyebrows on the exit velocity spectrum.

Talking about Ichiro, there have been 321 batted balls this season which have traveled at least 100 miles per hour. Ichiro has done it. He's number 321 at 100.1. Oops, there I go. Talking about exit velocity or EV for those in the know.

Long before AWS came along, the tape measure home run was responsible for asserting a ballplayer's masculinity and strength. Mickey Mantle was king. No one ever hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium, but on May 22, 1963 The Mick hit a game-winning shot that ricocheted off the facade of the third deck, just inches from going out of the stadium. Estimates of the distance are as lofty as 734 feet! And Mantle did accomplish these Herculean feats somewhat often. He's credited with six homers that traveled more than 600 feet.

Before its demise in 1991, hitting a roof shot at Comiskey Park was the standard by which White Sox hitters could be measured. A "Roof Shot" always was a big deal since it was 347 feet down the left field line, and the roof rose to 135 feet.

It took a real man to hit one onto or over the roof of the upper deck. In its 81-year history, there were 44 balls that disappeared beyond the reach of the fans. Babe Ruth was the first to do it. The Sox' Ron Kittle did it seven times. And Dave Nicholson, a Sox outfielder in the '60s known for his power but more so for his strikeouts, socked one estimated at 573 feet over the left field roof. That was a lot more fun than exit velocity.

There are many statistics in our saberworld that do have meaning. One is Weighted On-Base Average or wOBA. As Fangraphs explains, "Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes they are." What wOBA does is "combine all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value."

So . . . the Sox' Matt Davidson, who homered three times on Opening Day in Kansas City, continued last week to torture the lowly Royals. He hit two home runs in each game Thursday and Friday as the Sox took both contests in a five-game series in which the Sox won the first three before losing the last two. Davidson's two-run blast in the 11th inning on Friday turned out to be the game-winner. Feats like that contribute greatly to wOBA.

The average wOBA is about .320. Right now Davidson ranks No. 11 with a .418 mark. Part of his improvement is due to patience and fewer strikeouts. Last year his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a horrifying 37 to 4. This season he's still whiffing with regularity at a bit more than 32 percent, but his walks have risen to 13 percent of his plate appearances.

Most of the damage Davidson has inflicted so far has come against the Royals, where in seven games he's slashed .462/.563/.1.308 with seven homers and 12 RBI. Royal pitchers have struck him out only four times.

My apologies for filling this space with so many numbers, rankings and explanations, but this is the world we've been living in for some time now. Thankfully we still have a few ball parks with upper decks in the outfield awaiting the next towering blast that lands on or over the roof.


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

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