Is Alcides Escobar Hitting the Ball Harder?

Five. Five dollar foot long. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Yesterday, sumajestad posted a Fanshot in which he wondered if Alcides Escobar is hitting the ball further and was there are way to tell. Here is his comment:

By just about every measure except for hits, Alcides Escobar has been the same offensive player in 2012 as he was in 2011. I won't waste space articulating it here, but compare his offensive profiles on fangraphs.com. Nearly identical walk rates and a slight uptick in strikeouts; for batted balls, nearly identical groundballs, a slight increase in line drives, and a moderate decrease in flyballs; on balls that leave the yard, his HR/F is up, but not all that much.

So, seriously, check it out. It's kind of eerie. The data suggests he's hitting the ball a little bit harder (Higher LD%, HR/F%, and K%), but the margin is slight. And yet he's added about 50 points (.050) to his batting average this season and seen his BABIP surge to near .360.

I think it would be lazy, and even erroneous to write off his improvement this year as a BABIP mirage, as stat. geeks are wont to do. And really, a player with Escobar's speed should put up better BABIP numbers than .264 (2010) and .285 (2011) if he can hit the ball with any sort of authority. My guess, and I'm sure many of you feel the same, is that Alcides has established a new BABIP threshold to expect from him.

But this is where the discussion of hit f/x comes into play. If teams are charting batted ball velocities and trajectories, it's not information available to the general public. The discussion on Alcides' improvement is open to everyone, but I'm certainly curious if anyone has any expertise to offer on the subject.

I typed up a response, but figured it would actually make a decent article.

Response:

At my website Baseball Heat Maps, I can measure the distance and angle that batted balls are fielded. It is the same points that are used on the MLB Gameday graphic and at such websites like texasleaguers.com. Since it measures where the ball is fielded, line drive distance is not a good indicator for power. Instead I use flyball and HR distance since most fly balls are fielded where they land.

With all that said, here are Escobars FB and HR distances from 2010 to 2012:

2010: 274 ft

2011: 253 ft

2012: 266 ft

So yes, he is hitting the ball a little farther this year, but not as far as in 2010.

A second item I like to look at for changes in power. What is the average batted ball angle for HR, FB and HR? Basically, what direction is he hitting the ball. Changing the batted ball angle is how Jose Bautista turned his career around. If a hitter is pulling the ball more, they are not behind on pitches and have more bat speed.

Negative values are for left field and positive values are for right field.

2010: +4.8

2011: +4.1

2012: +0.6

Escobar is showing some signs of the pulling the ball more this year and therefore has more bat speed when he hits the ball.

A final way to see if he is performing according to his batted ball distribution is to look at his xBABIP compared to his regular BABIP.

2010

BABIP: 0.264

xBABIP: 0.322

2011

BABIP: 0.285

xBABIP: 0.315

2012

BABIP: 0.357

xBABIP: 0.340

In 2010 and 2011, he had an xBABIP around the 0.320 level. This season it has increased to 0.340. Not a huge jump, but still decent. Also, instead of under performing his xBABIP by 30 to 40 points, he is over performing by 20 points.

I know that is not a definitely clear answer, but he seems to be hitting the ball a little better, he is getting better results and he is a tad lucky.

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