The SF Giants offense has been surprisingly strong this season, and it is due to several factors including impacting the way they are hitting the ball.
Measuring the way a ball is hit is a relatively new concept in baseball with the advent of Statcast. The SF Giants are excelling in two of those metrics.
Earlier this week, we took a look at how the Giants have improved their plate discipline and how it has made a difference. Now, we are changing gears to look at how Giants hitters are impacting the ball compared to the rest of baseball.
There is a science to hitting a baseball, and the baseball nerds have found a way to record how well a ball is hit with metrics that we now use daily. If you asked me what exit velocity was in 2014, I probably would have told you it is the velocity at which I drink a beer, but times have changed.
And the Giants have caught up with the changing times.
The most surprising part of this season so far is how well the Giants are hitting as a team. The table below compares some of the Giants key stats in 2020 to 2019:
These numbers confirm what we are seeing. The SF Giants are a much better hitting team in 2020 than they were in 2019. On top of this, they lead the National League in hits, are fourth in runs scored, and second in doubles and triples.
Seemingly overnight, the Giants have become a competent hitting team, but what has led to that change. Before the start of the season, San Francisco brought in three new hitting coaches in Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele, and Dustin Lind.
Despite being light on coaching experience, all three coaches were well-versed in biomechanics and the analytics and science behind hitting a baseball. The Giants took on a risk by putting together this hitting staff, but it is beginning to pay dividends.
SF Giants Hitters Improvement: Exit Velocity & Launch Angle
So, what is leading to San Francisco’s resurgence at the plate? It comes back to how they are hitting the ball: exit velocity and launch angle.
On the year, Giants hitters have impacted the ball with an average exit velocity of 89 MPH. Only six teams have a higher average speed, including the San Diego Padres (90 MPH) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (89.8 MPH).
Of the teams that are in front of them, the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs (89.4 MPH), and the Oakland Athletics (89.7 MPH) are in first place in their respective divisions. So, the fact that the Giants are in the same company as some of these teams is a good sign, and maybe San Francisco will join those teams for some October baseball.
Last season, the Giants generated an average exit velocity of 87.8 MPH, which was the third-worst mark in baseball. Yes, you read that right. The Giants have the same roster essentially but are getting wildly different results.
On that same note, San Francisco’s +1.2 MPH change from last season to this year is the biggest improvement in baseball.
In addition to this, Giants hitters are striking the ball with a more power maximizing launch angle. Ground balls have become a four-letter word in baseball as hitters consciously aim to put the ball in the air to generate more extra-base hits.
Last year, Giants hitters had an average launch angle of 13.2 degrees, right in the middle of the pack relative to the rest of baseball. However, their average launch angle this year is 14.8 degrees, the fourth-best mark in baseball.
Two of the three teams ahead of them, the Athletics (18 degrees) and the Philadelphia Phillies (15.5), are primed for a playoff run.
The Giants +1.60-degree change in launch angle over last season is the fifth-best improvement in baseball.
When you combine the exit velocity and launch angle improvements you get something that looks like this:
Stay hot Brandon Belt pic.twitter.com/SyqeYUgiVR
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 6, 2020
After a handful of rough seasons at the plate, Giants hitters are beginning to turn the corner and join the rest of baseball when it comes to the new way to hit a baseball.
The Giants have shown major improvement in several surface-level stats, but it is the underlying numbers such as exit velocity and launch angle that are a driving force.
If they are influencing these improvements that prove to be sustainable throughout the rest of the season, then manager Gabe Kapler deserves credit for bringing them on board. While many have been critical of his first year at the helm, his hitting coach hires might deserve a lot of credit.