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The Giants aren't hitting the ball as hard as the other teams

The Giants' starting lineup features four hitters in the bottom third of baseball when it comes to exit velocity. This might explain the warning-track outs.

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

I, too, am tired of pointing out that the Giants don’t hit a lot of home runs. The Giants have hit 42 home runs in the second half, which is 42 more home runs than I can remember off the top of my head. It’s hard to know just how to assign the blame, though. If you watched Monday night’s game, you’ll remember that the Giants hit four balls to the warning track, and three of them looked like home runs off the bat. This cursed sea air ruined them all, though. ‘Tis a fickle thing, this city of ours.

It can’t all be park effects, though. For one, Giants’ pitchers have allowed 67 home runs playing in the same ballparks. Other teams have figured out ways to dinger it up under the same conditions. Maybe we need to explore some sort of intramural game where the Giants hitters can face the Giants pitchers, I don’t know.

But there is a stat that shouldn’t be affected too much by ballpark, and that’s average exit velocity. To be honest, I’m not an exit-velocity hound. It adds absolutely nothing for me to know that a home run went 110 mph instead of 100. Can’t imagine caring. It’s possible that I’ll add the context I need in the future, and I’ll treat the difference with the same reverence that I do when I watch a 100 mph fastball.

As an individual average over an entire season, though? Seems like a pretty good way to measure how hard players are hitting baseballs. Which might be the point. And while there are ways that parks could affect exit velocity (a poor hitter’s eye behind center field, perhaps), it seems like something that should be steady from park to park.

Long story short: You’ll never believe this, but the Giants don’t have a lot of hitters who hit the ball hard.

There have been 358 major league hitters this year who have put at least 100 balls in play. That threshold is low enough to include more than a few backups, so it’s not all starters, and there could be some sample-size shenanigans. Still, it’s a fine start to prove this point, and it allows hitters like Hunter Pence and Joe Panik to qualify. Where do the Giants’ hitters rank according to Baseball Savant?

Hunter Pence, #37 out of 358 (92 mph)
Buster Posey, #64 (91.3)
Eduardo Nuñez, #114 (90.4)
Brandon Crawford, #142 (89.8)
Conor Gillaspie, #194 (88.9)
Brandon Belt, #282 (87.1)
Joe Panik, #301 (86.6)
Angel Pagan, #317 (86.1)
Denard Span, #322 (86)
Gregor Blanco, #332 (85.5)
Trevor Brown, #347 (84.4)

It’s not abysmal, at least in the top half. The Giants just miss having one in the top tier, just as they miss having two in the second tier (if you assume that random distribution would give every team a player in the top 30, two players in the top 60, et cetera). They have four starters in the top half, which seems fine, even if none of them are lapping their peers.

But the other four who rank much worse than the typical hitter, and they’re all bunched together at the bottom of the leaderboard. Which is curious, indeed.

The most important thing to remember is that exit velocity doesn’t necessarily correlate with success. Kris Bryant just might win the NL MVP this year, and he’s tied with Nuñez in the middle of the pack. Angel Pagan is having a fine offensive season, even if he’s near the bottom of this particular leaderboard. Different approaches work in different ways, and there are ways to get hits without hitting baseballs 100 mph.

What I can’t stop thinking about, though, is last night’s warning-track explosion. It’s been a theme of the second half, where the Giants hit the ball hard, but juuuuust not hard enough. Here’s what exit velocity does correlate with: dingers. Sweet, sweet dingers. And when the Giants have a team without a lot of super-line-drive hitters, without any elite exit-velocity champions, it’s possible that they’re going to be hurt more by AT&T Park than the opposition.

In road games, though, the Giants have hit 45 percent of the home runs. In home games, they’ve hit 43 percent. So maybe it’s not an AT&T Park thing. Maybe it’s just a dinger thing. Anyway, now I’m out of my depth, and I’ll just leave this pile of statistics for you to parse.

The Giants don’t have hitters who hit the ball harder than the majority of their peers. They have four hitters who rank toward the bottom of hard-hit balls, even if a couple of those players are having fine seasons. Does it mean something? Seems like it should. When ball after ball dies at the warning track, it’s fair to wonder if the Giants are just missing the home runs, or if they’re statistically disinclined to hit them in the first place.

If you drop the qualifiers to 30 balls in play, the Giants do get someone in the top 30. The only problem is that the player is a pitcher.

"Why don't they build the whole lineup out of Bumgarner???", he says, incredulously. "Why don't they just build the whole lineup and/or plane out of Bumgarner???"