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Blast Rate: What is it and who stands out?

Baseball Savant rolled out their groundbreaking bat-tracking leaderboards on Sunday and we’ve been covering the new available data here this week. While fascinating, impressive, and intriguing, there are fair questions as to how much we can apply this new and exciting information to our fantasy teams.

Eric Samulski covered Bat Speed on Monday and Matthew Pouliot dove into Squared-Up Rate on Wednesday. Meld those two stats together, and you get the topic of this piece: Blast Rate.

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What is Blast Rate and Why Does It Matter?

A Blast is when a hitter Squares-Up a ball and does so with a swing that can be considered fast. Again, Matthew Pouliot wrote this piece yesterday delving into Squared-Up rate but here is MLB.com’s definition of it:

“A swing’s squared-up rate tells us how much of the highest possible exit velocity available (based on the physics related to the swing speed and pitch speed) a batter was able to obtain – it is, at its simplest, how much exit velocity did you get as a share of how much exit velocity was possible based on your swing speed and the speed of the pitch.”

This graphic from MLB also does a good job of explaining it.

squared up.jpg
squared up.jpg

More simply, to square a ball up just means the player hit it on the sweet spot of the bat and maximized their contact. Think, efficient contact. Bat control guru Luis Arraez leads the league in squared-up rate (per swing) which should come as no surprise.

Yet, to square-up a ball a batter does not need a ‘fast’ swing. That is why the Squared-Up leaderboard contains some studs like Mookie Betts and Juan Soto but also Nolan Schanuel, Blake Perkins, and league-leader Arraez who has slowest average bat speed in MLB.

This is where Blasts come in: they are batted balls that are Squared-Up but with a “minimum amount of bat speed” per MLB. Where said ‘fast swing’ lies is a bit convoluted and you can check that out here if you’d like. Here’s another nice graphic from MLB that explains them in layman's terms.

blast.jpg
blast.jpg

Basically, so much has to go right that Blasts are hard to come by. Only 7.7% of swings this season have resulted in a Blast and the slash line is staggering. As of May 15th:

Blasts: .546 BA / 1.112 SLG / .704 wOBA

Those are preposterous numbers and a reason we should be chasing players with the most Blasts.

Blasts Rate Leaderboards

The league leaders in Blasts are lots of the game's biggest stars but also some contact-oriented players who’ve broken out along with talented phenoms and Lars Nootbaar, who seems to find himself near the top of every leaderboard that measures anything besides on-field production.

Blasts contacts.jpg
Blasts contacts.jpg
Blasts swing.jpg
Blasts swing.jpg

How is Blast Rate Different from Hard Hit Rate and Barrel Rate

This is where Blast Rate gets a little hairy. The only things that make a batted ball a Blast are whether or not it was Squared-Up and how fast the swing was without any distinction of exit velocity or launch angle. While 99% of Blasts were hit harder than 95 MPH, their launch angles vary dramatically.

So while many blasts look like this:

Some look like this:

Or this:

In total, 3,086 Blasts had a Launch Angle under 10°. Those batted balls still performed well just without the same gaudy numbers we just saw when accounting for all Blasts:

.466 BA / .525 SLG / .439 wOBA

There were also 79 Blasts with a Launch Angle above 50° that are considered pop-ups. Hitters went just 1-for-79 on those batted balls with the one being a home run by Lamonte Wade Jr., the only home run hit this season with a Launch Angle of at least 50°.

Both of those contact types would be weeded out by Barrel Rate which still has a better overall slash line this year than Blasts:

.686 BA / 2.283 SLG / 1.225 wOBA

Chris Clegg also regressed both Barrel Rate and Blasts per Contact Rate and found Barrels still have a much better predictive quality in correlation with xwOBAcon.

Basically, Barrels still seem superior to Blasts for most research purposes but there’s a lot Blasts can tell us that may not be as obvious in immediate results.

What Can Blast Rate Tell Us

We live in the golden age of baseball data with so much being available at our fingertips. It’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer volume of available stats and lose track of their necessary application. Over-analysis can sink a fantasy season just as easily as under-analysis.

While Blasts may not be as matter-of-factly helpful in finding us the home runs and RBI we need to climb the standings, they may offer insight to players’ innate bat-to-ball ability that all the data we had before bat tracking could not.

William Contreras leads the league or is near the top of it on most Blast leaderboards and Brewers co-hitting coach Connor Dawson, per Mike Petriello’s article, thinks a lot of it comes from pedigree.

“I do think a lot of [bat path and hand-eye coordination] is just an inherent ability that he has that others don’t. That’s a real thing. He doesn’t have to train that. It just exists… I think you’re born with some of that, no doubt. It’s in the blood.”

It’s all anecdotal but seeing players like Julio Rodriguez, Oneil Cruz, Riley Greene, Eloy Jimenez atop these leaderboards makes me think these guys have an ability others don’t, whether or not they’re producing at this moment. Or ever in Jimenez’s case.

Then at the bottom you have Arraez, Nick Ahmed, Steven Kwan and other players who you’d expect to see but also Jorge Soler, Gleyber Torres, Eugenio Suarez, and Ian Happ. That group has lots of tools, often look solid under the hood, but consistently under-perform or struggle through massive slumps.

This data is truly groundbreaking and I’m excited to watch it develop year over year, but for now it’s more fun to poke at it with context rather than being a necessary part of our team-building process.