Chen: How MLB’s Statcast is creating baseball’s new arms race

From Albert Chen at Sports Illustrated on August 26, 2016, with mention of SABR member Cory Schwartz:

One afternoon in May, Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb was engrossed in his daily pregame routine inside the clubhouse when he stopped, suddenly, in front of a TV screen. He had overheard an unlikely topic of conversation on the afternoon MLB Network show: a somewhat obscure second-year player on a middling team who was a having an unremarkable season. The talking heads were diving into a list of players whose average exit velocity—the speed at which a ball comes off a bat—had improved the most from the 2015 season, and they were discussing the hitter who’d seen the greatest jump. The player atop the list, to the surprise of the analysts and to Lamb himself, was Jake Lamb.

Lamb does not like to clutter his head with information; the daily team stat sheets have no use to him. His philosophy is that the categorizing of a hitter’s batted balls into “outs” or “hits” on a given night is more or less a dice game—a fielder makes a remarkable play, or happens to be standing in the right spot, and what should be a hit becomes an out. “If I hit the ball hard, I count it as a hit,” Lamb says. “If I hit two balls hard, at the end of the night I was 2 for 4, even though on the scorecard I was 0-fer. If you look at the result, you’re going to drive yourself crazy.”

Over the winter, after a somewhat disappointing 2015 rookie season in which he hit .263 with six home runs in 107 games, Lamb overhauled his approach at the plate; he added a leg kick and lowered his hands so that when he started his swing, they were moving in a straighter plane through the strike zone. Though he felt he was squaring up the ball better early in the ’16 season, the results didn’t reflect that—that day in May his slugging percentage was .500, and even Lamb was beginning to question the effectiveness of his new style.

But now, standing in front of the TV, he was looking at a number—his 93.7-mph average exit velocity, which ranked higher than that of Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera and Lamb’s star teammate, Paul Goldschmidt—that told a different story. Lamb was doing precisely what he’d set out to do with his new swing: He was absolutely murdering the baseball. “Here was something telling me, don’t change a thing,” he says. “I’m doing everything right.”

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Originally published: August 26, 2016. Last Updated: August 26, 2016.