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SF Giants: What does Hunter Pence’s exit velocity mean?

Mar 16, 2016; Peoria, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) singles in the second inning against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2016; Peoria, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) singles in the second inning against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
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Hunter Pence hit a pair of home runs in the Tuesday in the San Francisco Giants’ Spring Training game against the Oakland A’s, including one that left his bat with an exit velocity of 114 mph. That registered as a blip on the daily-news-cycle radar, as that ball traveled faster than any ball Pence smacked in 2015, when his hardest hit registered at 113.5 mph.

Is this a sign of good things to come? Quite possibly.

Is Pence entering into elite power-hitting territory? No. Or, at least, such a determination probably can’t be made based on exit velocity.

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Giancarlo Stanton, the Aroldis Chapman of bat speed, hit nine of the 12 hardest balls in 2015, ranging from 117 to 120.3 mph, according to MLB.com’s Statcast. Stanton averaged 99.1 mph in his injury-shortened season, which was four mph faster than the second hardest hitter, Miguel Cabrera.

Okay, so the game’s most powerful hitter and its best hitter of the last decade rank first and second on the list. That must mean the best hitters have the best exit velocities, right? Not necessarily.

Emerging Minnesota slugger Miguel Sano ranked third, which is not all that surprising, considering that he garners comparisons to Stanton. But the rest of the top 10 doesn’t exactly play out as the who’s who of hitting prowess. While AL East power beasts David Ortiz and Jose Bautista are on there, so are Yankees first baseman Greg Bird, Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk and former Pirates fourth outfielder Jose Tabata.

Meanwhile, Chris Davis, who led the majors in home runs two of the past three years, ranked just 26th in average exit velocity in 2015, with 93.1 mph. Bryce Harper, who’s probably the best hitter in the game now (with all due respect to Cabrera), ranked 44th , with a 92.1 mph average exit velocity—a tad below Dustin Ackley, who carries a paltry career slugging percentage of .374.

As for Pence, he didn’t even rank in the top 60 last year, averaging a tad more than 90 mph. And his hardest hit ball of 2015 was way down the list.

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That 114-mph blast Tuesday night didn’t set any records or announce the onset of a late-career power surge. But, along with his gaudy spring numbers (1.609 OPS), it did hint at one thing: that the Giants’ best power hitter is healthy, and that he is, in all likelihood, the same player who belted at least 20 home runs in the seven seasons that preceded his injury-marred 2015.

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