The newly public batted-ball data made available through MLB's Statcast program has been a boon for analytical baseball fans (and reporters). As everyone tries to figure out what's behind the Orioles' 8-3 start, the data is a good place to start to see if the Orioles' success can be sustained.
Some Orioles swear by this batted-ball data. Forget home run distances, they want to know how hard the ball was hit, and at what angle it was launched.
So what does it all mean? Well, harder-hit balls are more likely to land as hits, and -- if they're not hit right at someone -- more likely to go for extra bases. As expected, the Orioles are well represented on a leaderboard of players who hit the ball the hardest.
As of late Monday night, right fielder Mark Trumbo was hitting the ball harder than anyone in baseball with a 96.1 mph average exit velocity. His five home runs last week all got out in a hurry, but his hardest-hit ball was actually a single in the ninth inning of the Orioles' walk-off win on Opening Day. He hit that ball at 113.5 miles per hour.
Hard-hit balls are propelling him to a league-leading .386 batting average, one that's right in line with his batting average on balls in play. That suggests he's not hitting into better or worse luck than expected, but that his average is due for a regression. Still, Trumbo making this hard of contact all year would make him more than worth what the Orioles gave up for him and are paying him.
There's one other Orioles batter in the top-10 in average exit velocity, and he's someone who doesn't have the results to show for it: shortstop J.J. Hardy.
His line is up to .286/.333/.571, but Hardy is making great contact and reducing his ground-ball rate by 10 percentage points this season from last year's injury-softened numbers. His "hard contact" rate on Fangraphs, 53.3 percent, is over twice last year's 23.7 percent rate.
As the team waited to begin Saturday's game in Texas, they watched the Red Sox game in Boston and ribbed Hardy as the announcers talked about how short his home runs were down the right-field line at Fenway Park. But those home runs being, as the announcers called them, "cheap," doesn't take away from the fact that he's hitting the ball harder than ever.
That's a good sign for Hardy as he continues his quest to prove the last two years' drop-offs were due to injuries, not a decline in skills. These first two weeks suggest that's the case.
The other two players who show up on the hard-hit-balls leaderboard are third baseman Manny Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Machado is 22nd in the league with an average exit velocity of 93.4 miles per hour, and is being rewarded with a .383/.413/.750 line that places him just behind Trumbo in the AL hitting race.
That's a little harder than last year's 92.6-mph average launch speed for Machado. His batting average on balls in play this year is a little high at .412, but his other peripherals indicate it could be a good year for Machado, if not at this high a level.
Schoop's 91.9-mph exit velocity is well above the league-average of 89 mph this season, and through 11 games, Fangraphs has his "soft contact" rate at just 12.5 percent. That portends well for a jump in his batting average on balls in play, which is just .276 this year. His slash line is .282/.317/.615, and it could grow if he continues to hit balls as hard as he has been.
Schoop's BABIP is one of the things to watch this season, though it's far too early to read into any stats like that. It jumped from .249 to .329 from 2014 to 2015.