Giancarlo Stanton Probably Already Has the Hardest Hit of the Year… Again

Once Major League Baseball made the necessary decision to dramatically shorten its 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the chances that there would be a few more statistical oddities than usual significantly increased. The potential exists for the numbers themselves to be goofy, like a player hitting .400, but the players who top leaderboards this season might also surprise. For a 60-game stretch in 2018, the batting title belonged to Scooter Gennett; for another, the home run leader was Matt Carpenter. And with this morning’s disturbing news of an outbreak in the Marlins’ clubhouse, this season could wind up being even shorter than we believed just a few days ago, cut off at a point so early that its statistics would be rendered utterly meaningless. But even if we don’t end up 60 games worth of baseball, one data point will likely hold up to historical scrutiny: Giancarlo Stanton had the hardest hit ball of 2020.

You don’t need to know any of the numbers to appreciate that home run. It’s a cool home run. It has all the aesthetics of a good Stanton dinger — a mistake pitch up in the zone, a direct, powerful swing from a truly massive human being, and then that same human being slowly strutting up the first base line while he watches an obviously crushed ball land in a place most guys can’t reach in batting practice. It’s hard to improve upon that experience, but the numbers actually do add something here. The distance of the homer was 483 feet, and the exit velocity was 121.3 mph. In 2019, just seven home runs surpassed that distance, and no batted balls of any kind matched that exit velocity. If I had to guess, none will in 2020, either.

Even if 60 games are somehow played this season, it’s pretty unlikely Stanton’s exit velocity will be topped. That’s because this kind of exit velocity is extremely rare — and outside of Stanton, it’s basically unheard of. Statcast began measuring exit velocity back in 2015. In that time, only two batted balls have had an exit velocity higher than the 121.3 mph Stanton reached on Saturday. One was this 2017 single, which was struck at 122.2 mph by Stanton:

And the second was this 2018 home run, also hit by Stanton at 121.7 mph:

Yep, Stanton now has the three hardest-hit balls on record. There are only five seasons and change worth of data on hand, but still. Now more than ever, major league baseball is populated by guys whose carrying tool is their prodigious power, and they’re hitting against pitchers who throw harder than ever. The competition to be the player who boasts the highest exit velocity readings should be incredibly stiff, and yet, we have Stanton. (Stanton’s teammate, Aaron Judge, led the league in average exit velocity in 2019, ’18, and ’17, while Nelson Cruz was the leader in 2016 and Miguel Cabrera was tops in 2015.)

Here is a list of the highest exit velocities recorded in each season for which we have data:

Highest Annual Max Exit Velos, 2015-2020
Year Player Max EV
2020 Giancarlo Stanton 121.3
2019 Giancarlo Stanton 120.6
2018 Giancarlo Stanton 121.7
2017 Giancarlo Stanton 122.2
2016 Giancarlo Stanton 120.1
2015 Giancarlo Stanton 120.3
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Every year, Stanton has been the one to set the standard, because he’s capable of repeatedly touching exit velocity figures other players can only dream of. Saturday’s homer was the 10th batted ball tracked by Statcast that was hit at 120 mph or harder. Stanton is responsible for eight of those:

Top 10 Exit Velos, Statcast Era
Name Game Date Exit Velocity
Giancarlo Stanton 10-01-2017 122.2
Giancarlo Stanton 08-09-2018 121.7
Giancarlo Stanton 07-25-2020 121.3
Aaron Judge 06-10-2017 121.1
Giancarlo Stanton 08-05-2018 121.1
Gary Sanchez 06-19-2018 121.1
Giancarlo Stanton 03-28-2019 120.6
Giancarlo Stanton 07-08-2018 120.3
Giancarlo Stanton 05-12-2015 120.3
Giancarlo Stanton 04-10-2016 120.1
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Each time you move the threshold down a tick, the appreciation for Stanton grows. Since the start of the 2015 season, just 55 batted balls have had exit velocities of 118 mph or greater. That’s about 0.0009% of all batted balls in that span. Stanton has accounted for half of them:

Number of 118-plus mph Exit Velos
Name 118+ mph EVs
Giancarlo Stanton 28
Aaron Judge 10
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3
Carlos Gonzalez 2
Gary Sanchez 2
Adam Lind 1
Aristides Aquino 1
Daniel Palka 1
Enrique Hernandez 1
Eric Hosmer 1
Mark Trumbo 1
Mike Trout 1
Nelson Cruz 1
Pete Alonso 1
Tyler Flowers 1
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

We’ve experienced something similar to this before, but with pitch velocities. Back when Statcast was first unveiling their various tools and leaderboards, they built a convenient search to find the hardest pitches thrown by anyone in the majors that year. It sounded like a fun idea, but reality made it seem like there was a glitch in the system: The 101 fastest pitches thrown that year all belonged to Aroldis Chapman. Therefore, Statcast had to implement a “Chapman filter,” just so you could try to parse which pitchers might be a distant second place to him in the race for the hardest thrower on earth. Chapman’s velocity has tailed off slightly and other flamethrowers have reached the majors, but thanks to young right-hander Jordan Hicks, the list of the fastest pitches still looks very lopsided.

The exit velocity leaderboard also has one player similarly front and center, which is far wilder to me than the idea of one pitcher throwing harder than everyone else. If you’ll allow me to sound very dumb about all of the various components that go into someone being able to throw a baseball at 104 mph, fundamentally speaking, the act of throwing is the only thing happening there. With hitting, there are more variables at play. The batter has to deliver a swing that is on time, accurate, and, in terms of what we’re discussing here, extremely powerful. I think of Hicks throwing a fastball as him demonstrating an unbelievable superhuman gift, but one he can more or less show off whenever he wants. Every 120 mph batted ball, however, is an entirely different kind of achievement, one that requires everything to go exactly right for a very specific kind of hitter.

It’s not easy for a hitter to distinguish himself like this. In modern times, there isn’t a single player lapping the field in homers the way Babe Ruth used to, posting absurd strikeout-to-walk ratios like Ted Williams, or making a mockery of his peers with video game numbers like Barry Bonds. Whether it’s batting average, on-base percentage, or homers, the top of the leaderboards are usually pretty close together. That’s what makes Stanton’s so special — it’s one of the only areas where we see a player truly in a class of his own. Years from now, virtually nothing about the 2020 season will look normal, with one exception — Giancarlo Stanton, owner of the hardest hit ball of the season. Just like every other year.

We hoped you liked reading Giancarlo Stanton Probably Already Has the Hardest Hit of the Year… Again by Tony Wolfe!

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Tony is a contributor for FanGraphs. He began writing for Red Reporter in 2016, and has also covered prep sports for the Times West Virginian and college sports for Ohio University's The Post. He can be found on Twitter at @_TonyWolfe_.

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tz
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Love all the dust coming up on that 122mph grounder he hit.