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Bat speed leaderboard: What is it and who stands out?

As I'm sure you've heard/seen if you spend any time on Fantasy Baseball Twitter, there are new leaderboards on Baseball Savant that provide daily bat-tracking metrics. In data going back to April 3, Baseball Savant has tracked overall bat speed, the percentage of "fast swings" each hitter has, the length of their swings and so much more.

As with any data dump of new information, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out what the information is, why it matters, and what we should do with all of it. But fear not, we're here to go through it with you. Throughout the week, the Rotoworld Baseball staff is going to publish various articles breaking down the different parts of the new Statcast leaderboards and giving you all the information you need to know for your baseball fandom and your fantasy baseball success.

We'll kick it off today by looking at both bat speed and swing length together. I wanted to combine these two in part because I think the general concepts are the easiest to grasp, but also because I think they need to be looked at together to take away anything meaningful. So let's start by briefly going over what the two metrics are (if you're thinking, "Dude, I get it; it's not that hard" then, first of all, calm down, and second of all, scroll to the bottom of the article where I break down the leaders and laggers in terms and fast and short swings or slow and long swings).

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What is Bat Speed and Why Do We Care?

While Bat Speed is super self-explanatory, it's important to understand that Baseball Savant measures the speed of the swing at the sweet spot of the barrel, which is approximately six inches from the top, or head, of the bat. It's important to acknowledge this because the different parts of the bat move at different speeds and the sweet spot is where the batter is trying to hit the ball, so that's the most important part of the bat to track.

Having a fast swing is not just a useless skill either. As Mike Petriello points out in his article on MLB.com, "On balls hit in the air, every 1 mph of bat speed earns you approximately six more feet of distance." That's not nothing if you're looking to find power out of a hitter. We also know that, as pitchers' velocity continues to increase, hitters will need to have quicker swings to catch up (they'll also need to be shorter to the ball, hence combining these two metrics).

According to the Statcast data, the average speed of a Major League swing is 72 mph, and two-thirds are between 68-77 mph. Keep that in mind as we get to the leaders below.

What is Swing Length and Why Do We Care?

Swing length is also self-explanatory since the metric identifies whether a batter has a short or long swing. They calculate this by measuring the distance in feet that the bat travels during the swing. Long swings tend to also be described as "loopy" when you picture the path of the swing. Short swings are more "direct" and the coaching idiom behind it is usually to "keep your hands inside the ball," which leads a hitter to be short and direct. I was also told to think about "punching the ball" as a hitter. When you throw a punch, you want it to be quick and right at your target, not loopy and with wasted motion because they'll see it coming.

I also like the boxing analogy because "haymaker" punches in boxing or MMA are wild and loopy punches that tend to have lots of motion, but when they land, they usually lead to knockouts, which is exactly why long swings and lead to home runs but also swings and misses.

I love this graphic that Statcast has on their website comparing the swing path of Giancarlo Stanton and Luis Arraez because you can see that, while Stanton's swing is much faster, it's also much longer in terms of the path to the ball. We'll dig in more later but that's obviously why Arraez is a much better contact hitter and Stanton has far more power.

Swing Path
Swing Path

The average swing length is 7.3 feet, and Baseball Savant found that swings get longer as the season goes on with the average spread going from just under six feet to more than eight-and-a-half feet. This is likely due to swings getting longer as players fatigue when the year goes on but also because players may be focused on contact and timing early in the season and then start to try to hit for more power as the season goes on when they get comfortable and also the weather warms up so the ball travels farther.

Statcast also provided data to make it clear that shorter swings are better for contact but not as good for power production.

Shorter-than-average swings have:

.258 BA / .359 SLG / .268 wOBA / 19% whiff rate

Longer-than-average swings have:

.235 BA / .422 SLG / .282 wOBA / 30% whiff rate

Why Do We Need to Talk About Bat Speed and Swing Length Together?

OK, one final note before we get to the players themselves. Why am I combining these? Well, hitters who swing fast are great, but if their swings are also long then they run the risk of being prone to striking out since they won't make consistent contact. This is exactly why the top three names in terms of average bat speed are Giancarlo Stanton, Oneil Cruz, and Kyle Schwarber; all guys with elite power and questionable contact ability.

By finding hitters who have elite bat speed but also short swings, we're likely to find hitters who can BOTH hit for power but also make consistent contact. Those are the guys we should be targeting in fantasy baseball because they're the ones who should get to top-end outcomes more consistently.

Below I'll post two leaderboards: one of hitters who have quick and short swings and another of hitters who have long and slow swings. This should help us find targets to buy (if possible) or sell. So now let's let the fun begin.

Bat Speed/Swing Length Leaders

I took all of the hitters who had at least 100 swings this season and removed anybody who had below-average bat speed and a longer-than-average swing. I then sorted by average bat speed, so the list below is of the hitters with the quickest swings, who also have swings that are at least league average or better in length.

PLAYER

# SWINGS

BAT SPEED (MPH)

SWING LENGTH (FT)

Chapman, Matt

226

76.92186

7.341656

Soto, Juan

212

76.11027

7.275347

Henderson, Gunnar

249

75.56042

7.243357

Sánchez, Jesús

170

75.5445

7.207475

Witt Jr., Bobby

272

75.2324

7.022213

De La Cruz, Elly

202

74.99063

7.256127

Alonso, Pete

241

74.94735

7.334467

Greene, Riley

221

74.64419

7.285795

Tatis Jr., Fernando

235

74.57152

7.353425

Jiménez, Eloy

170

74.5032

7.318552

Butler, Lawrence

146

74.4511

7.08628

Abreu, Wilyer

192

74.43812

7.355182

Correa, Carlos

126

74.43173

7.357807

Carroll, Corbin

212

74.42834

7.062138

Cowser, Colton

182

74.32017

6.970653

Any time you see Juan Soto, Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz, Pete Alonso, and Fernando Tatis Jr. near the top of a list, you can feel a little bit better about the process. Having Matt Chapman as the leader also makes some sense because we talk every year about how hard he hits the ball. While his overall stats are not like the other hitters listed, his issue is not swings and misses since he has a career 11% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) and has been below that mark in two of the last three seasons. His issue is his called strike rate and his lack of pulled fly balls, but that's a conversation for another time.

Eloy Jimenez is another interesting name to see here, but his issue has always been health and not skill, so this doesn't change our evaluation of him too much. Same with Carlos Correa, who has always been a strong hitter but has seen his fantasy value diminish because he stopped running and because he's pulling the ball less and less as the years go on. Interestingly, him showing up on this leaderboard would seem to imply that his decreasing pull rate is not because of a "slow bat" but perhaps more because of a change in approach or his bat being slower in relation to his younger seasons and his inability to adapt in order to maintain his previous power numbers

Corbin Carroll being on here is good to see because we know how badly he's struggling right now. The 23-year-old still has above-average bat speed and a short path to the ball. That tracks with the fact that his contact rate is actually up from last year and his SwStr% remains an elite 8%. However, power production comes from more than just speed and a short path, it requires force which is often impacted by torque and weight shift. At just 165 pounds, Carroll needs to be far more perfect on his swing to generate power than a guy like Stanton does, so while Carroll has a good swing by these metrics, the power outage is connected to another source, which he has discussed publicly: his flat swing plane.

The flatter swing has caused Carroll to attack the ball at an angle where pitches he used to drive are now popped up since he's slightly under the ball more and not getting good backspin. That's why his launch angle is up but his barrel rate has plummeted because the pop-ups add to the launch angle but are not hit hard. While Carroll won't outright say this, I think he flattened his bat path because it puts less strain on his shoulder when he finishes his swing than when he had a steeper swing plane and his shoulder was stressed more on the finish. I still don't believe he's fully healthy, but this is 100% speculation on my part.

Riley Greene being on here is a nice recognition for his tremendous start to the season. He has nine home runs and an 18% barrel rate so far and while his strikeout rate is up, his SwStr% is down to just 10.2%, so we're in another situation where an elevated called strike rate has led to higher strikeout totals as he gets himself into poor counts while looking for pitches he can drive. I still think we're in the midst of a breakout season here.

Jesus Sanchez being fourth on this list is noteworthy. The 26-year-old has a career 11.4% barrel rate, so we know he can hit the ball hard but he's never gotten full-time playing time in part because his defense is not good and because he struggles against left-handed pitching. His 13.2% SwStr% isn't great but it's also not bad for somebody with his power, so his lack of overall success has a lot to do with his process. This season, he's swinging at pitches out of the zone 45% of the time, and while he can make contact often - because he has a quick and short swing - it's not always the type of contact we'd prefer to see. If you wanted a reason to buy in on Sanchez this year, he's playing against right-handed pitchers almost all the time and his xBA of .282 and xSLG of .456 are much higher than his .236 average and .321 SLG, which suggests that better days may be coming.

Lawrence Butler and Wilyer Abreu are two interesting names to see here. Abreu is having far more success so far in his MLB career but is also not starting games against left-handed pitching. He has a 12.9% SwStr% in 62 career games, which isn't that bad and his career 10% barrel rate supports that he can hit the ball with some thump. He's pulling and lifting the ball more this year and while he's gotten a little unlucky in terms of the amount of home runs he's hit, he's also popping the ball up more, which suggests he might be trying to lift too much. However, he's having a solid 2024 season and it doesn't appear to be a fluke.

Butler is a hitter I'm not quite able to quit. He's chasing far less out of the strike zone this year and making far more contact out of the zone, so his SwStr% is identical to last year because he's swinging and missing more in the zone, which isn't great. He's also taking far more called strikes, which has led to higher strikeout totals than we'd like to see most likely because he's gotten himself into poor counts. He's also hitting the ball on the ground more, which isn't helping his strong exit velocities. A fair amount of Butler's contact is squared up with quick swings, but he's not making enough contact right now, so the overall swings where he does damage aren't where we'd like them to be. A cursory glance tells me this is more about process than skills, and so I'm keeping my eye on Butler.

Lastly, we all know what Colton Cowser can do because we saw his hot stretch, but now people are backing off of him because he's gone cold. However, even though he's hitting .148 over his last 17 games, he still has a 17.6% barrel rate and 50% hard-hit rate over that span. His groundball rate has spiked a bit and he's striking out too much as pitchers have adjusted to him. However, we know he's hitting the ball hard and this data suggests that his swing speed and bath path are both in solid company. The skills are all there for Cowser, so it's now about him adjusting back to how pitchers are attacking him. I'm holding firm and banking on him to make the changes he needs. That plus natural regression to the mean with all those hard-hit baseballs should lead to solid results in the coming weeks.

Bat Speed/Swing Length Laggers

We won't go over many of the laggers here, but this leaderboard is the hitters who have swings that are both slow and long. There will be some exceptions for hitters who are able to make this work, but we likely don't want to have many of these hitters on our rosters.

PLAYER

# SWINGS

BAT SPEED (MPH)

SWING LENGTH (FT)

Urías, Luis

100

66.90639

7.628999

Paredes, Isaac

239

67.48973

7.962008

Espinal, Santiago

127

67.69654

7.39866

Ahmed, Nick

177

67.86992

7.323251

Semien, Marcus

252

67.95986

7.544598

Campusano, Luis

154

68.46608

7.328376

Candelario, Jeimer

183

68.60547

7.876468

Altuve, Jose

222

68.82718

7.885797

Gordon, Nick

162

68.86849

7.340182

Busch, Michael

228

69.27796

7.332184

Senzel, Nick

115

69.28257

7.533032

Arenado, Nolan

203

69.46689

8.159551

Fermin, Freddy

105

69.7727

7.464248

Perkins, Blake

159

69.81486

7.323751

Lipscomb III, Trey

139

69.84313

7.651647

I'm not going to lie, I'm shocked to see Jose Altuve and Marcus Semien here. However, they both have such a long track record of success that this shouldn't be an issue. Their long swings likely lead to power and, in Altuve's case, we know he's trying to get to pull power, so even though his swing isn't fast, his long swing and getting the ball out in front of the plate can help his power production. That's the same for Isaac Paredes, who has adapted his swing to his ballpark and made the most of his approach, so it shouldn't shock us that his raw tools/skills are not elite.

We also need to acknowledge that this data is just from 2024, so guys like Jeimer Candelario and Nolan Arenado, who are off to tough starts could have some of that impacted by their swing path, etc. We'd need to dig into changes to this to really decide if we should write either guy off and since Candelario has started to hit over the last two weeks, I might chalk these early numbers up to him trying to earn his new contract with his new team or changing his swing for his new stadium and now trying to recalibrate his approach.