By Rich Arleo
If there is one word that comes to mind when summarizing the first two-plus months of the 2017 MLB season, it’s power. Before play began on June 12, there was an average of 1.23 home runs per game, which would be an all-time record. This upswing certainly didn’t come out of nowhere, as fans saw an average of 1.16 homers (5,610 in total) by last seasons’ end—the third most overall and highest since 2000 (1.17, 5,693)—and this season is well on pace to eclipse those marks.
It’s no secret that baseball fans (not just chicks) dig the long ball, and to make this power surge even more enjoyable is the emergence of MLB’s Statcast technology. Beginning in ’15 and really coming to prominence the past two years, Statcast has made stats like Exit Velocity, Home Run Distance and Launch Angle become important measurements of a player’s power. These stats, along with Quality of Contact Stats help us go deeper in determining who some of the hardest hitters in baseball are. While plenty can change as the Summer rolls on, here’s an early look at MLB’s five hardest hitters so far based on Statcast and Quality of Contact Stats.
5) Khris Davis – OF, Oakland Athletics
Athletics President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane has had his ups and downs (the Josh Donaldson trade an obvious example of a down), but he’s known for his frugal, savvy moves that land cheap stars in Oakland. One of his better recent trades was acquiring slugger Khris Davis from Milwaukee last season for two low-level prospects. Davis went on to provide the A’s with 42 homers and 102 RBIs in ’16, and so far his ’17 encore has been just as impressive.
Davis’ raw power was evident in his early days with the Brewers, but injuries kept him in check before he put it all together after coming to Oakland. Last season he had the 31st highest average exit velocity (93.1 MPH) and an average distance of 238.4. Davis has stepped it up early on this season and is in the top 10 with a 94.5 MPH Avg Exit Velo and is in the top 15 in baseball with a 45 Hard% (hard-hit rate). Davis has a career 40 Hard%, and given that his Exit Velo has ramped up as well, Davis is hitting baseballs harder than ever in ’17.
Davis doesn’t have one particular hard hit on the Top 50 Exit Velo leaderboard this year and had just one last year (a single that left his bat at 115.9 mph), but it’s his consistent hard hits that get him on this list. Davis may eventually regress and slide down the Avg Exit Velo list a tad as the season progresses, but given his performance in over 200 games with the A’s, he’s legitimized himself as one of the hardest hitters in baseball
4) Joey Gallo – 3B/1B, Texas Rangers
Joey Gallo has been a household name as one of baseball’s future sluggers since he was drafted in the first round by the Rangers in ’12. Gallo made his MLB debut in ’15 but had struggled to find his footing in the bigs. Gallo got a chance to start ’17 with the Rangers due to an Adrian Beltre injury, and he has made the most of it and looks to have stuck around for the long term. Gallo has a top 10 Avg Exit Velo (94.5) and Avg Distance (248 feet) with four of the 50 hardest hit balls this year. His most majestic blast was a 430-foot homer against the Rays on May 29 that left his bat at 116.3 MPH.
Gallo was also atop the Exit Velo leaderboard earlier this year thanks to a 462-foot homer with a 116.1 Exit Velo, and his power will afford him plenty more chances to get back to the top. His ISO (isolated power) of .312 is top 10 in the league, and his 43 Hard% is good for top 15. The power is more than legitimate and should never be in doubt. The downside to Gallo, as is the case with many big swingers like him, is the strikeouts. His 37.4 K% is third worst in baseball, and his .205 average obviously leaves room for improvement and sheds doubts on how long he can keep up this pace.
For as long as he is in the Majors, Gallo will be a regular atop the Statcast leaderboards and one of the hardest hitters in the league. The question is whether or not he can consistently make solid contact despite a high strikeout rate. The Rangers will be more than happy if he becomes something similar to Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. Nobody expects Gallo to ever be a .300 hitter, or even a .260 hitter, but his current K rate can’t get any higher if he’s going to continue to be a force in the Rangers’ lineup.
3) Paul Goldschmidt – 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
A four-time (soon-to-be five-time) All Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger and MVP runner-up, Paul Goldschmidt has little left to prove. Starring in relative obscurity for disappointing Diamondbacks teams the past five seasons, Arizona’s hot start has helped put Goldschmidt into the limelight this season. Goldy can do a little bit of everything: he has a career .300 average and tallied a combined 57 homers and 53 stolen bases the past two seasons while playing a stellar first base.
Goldschmidt’s 49 Hard% is top five in the Majors and not far off from his career average (41%), and he has managed a top 10 hard-hit rate of 41% since ’15. He differs from the others on this list as he’s not the prototypical slugger. Goldy doesn’t strike out as much, and while he isn’t a perennial 40-homer threat, he is an extra-base hit machine, with authority.
The veteran first baseman is top 20 in the league with a 93 MPH Avg Exit Velo, which is where you can expect him to stay. He had that exact same rate in the Statcast’s first year and finished last year at 92.6 MPH. Goldy’s hardest and furthest hit this year was a 453-foot homer off Pittsburgh Pirates start Ivan Nova on May 14. The blast generated a 112.4 MPH Exit Velo and was one of two homers from Goldschmidt in the game.
While Goldschmidt may not be the sexiest name on this list — thought it is the longest — there’s no denying he is one of the most consistent hard hitters in the Majors and will be in the top 10 for the majority of his career.
2) Miguel Sano – 3B, Minnesota Twins
If this list was made even just one week ago, Miguel Sano might’ve been at the top. That’s how close baseball’s two hardest hitters are, but one look at the numbers tells you it’s safe to say they are in a class of their own.
Sano’s current Avg Exit Velo of 98.4 would be second all-time only to Giancarlo Stanton’s 98.5 in ’15. Who was second that year you ask? Well, it was the then-rookie Sano (94.7). In what was a down ’16 for Sano, the slumping sophomore still managed a 93.6 Avg Exit Velo. The difference is clear this year, as Sano has found his groove.
Despite not having one particular hit in the top 50 of the Exit Velo or Distance leaderboards, Sano is top five in Avg Exit Velo, Average Distance and perhaps most interestingly, Average Generated Velocity. One of the lesser known stats in the Statcast era, Avg Gen Velo, is a bit of a wild card as it attempts to measure how much of a hitter’s Exit Velocity is generated by the batter’s swing. Sano’s Avg Gen Velo of 9.3 is tops in the league by almost one entire MPH and a whole six MPH higher than No. 3 on this list, Goldschmidt. While this stat is still very new and not as widely used as the other Statcast numbers, it nonetheless gives a glimpse into Sano’s raw power and impressive swing speed.
Sano has rebounded from his sophomore slump in a big way and is simply crushing the ball with baseball’s highest Hard% (51.3) and lowest Soft% (6.8). Sano does not get cheated, and while his K-rate (36%) is still one of the worst in MLB, he’s making pitchers give him stuff to hit thanks to his good plate discipline. Sano maintains a top 20 walk-rate (14.4 BB%) and shows his patience with an above-average 26% outside-swing rate (O-Swing%). It’s looking more and more like his struggles last season will be an outlier in what should be a very productive career for the 24-year-old.
1) Aaron Judge – OF, New York Yankees
Statcast users may have noticed that the leaderboard incorporates a “Chapman Filter” on its Fastest Pitches list in order to clear away all of Aroldis Chapman’s ridiculous heaters. Well, they may want to update the site to add a “Judge Filter”, because Yankees superstar rookie Aaron Judge is the current owner of the four hardest hits measured by Statcast in the league this year, and 16 of the top 50 spots.
Judge currently leads the American League in batting average, home runs, RBIs and a number of other categories. If the season ended today he would become the first to win a Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in ’12 and would likely become just the third player ever to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season. It’s been an almost unbelievable two-plus months that nobody saw coming after Judge struggled in his first stint with the Yankees last year. While this run has been unpredictable and the pace he is on may not seem maintainable, there’s no denying that Judge is MLB’s hardest hitter of ’17 thus far.
What might be most impressive about Judge’s early-season run is that he seems to be getting hotter, and stronger. Three of his hardest hits happened in the first week of June, with the highest Exit Velo this season coming on a 121.1-MPH home run against the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend.
The series against the O’s was littered with Judge’s lasers, and he also managed to hit the furthest home run of the year on Sunday against O’s reliever Logan Verrett. This blast had a particular ‘wow’ factor as it landed over the left-field bleachers in a spot no hitter has reached before. It was the longest home run in Yankee Stadium and the second longest homer of the Statcast Era, second only to Stanton’s record 504-foot blast in Coors Field last season.
While Judge has clearly taken a major step this year, the sheer strength should come at no surprise. Judge, one of the biggest players in baseball history at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, led the league in Avg Exit Velo (96.8 MPH) last year despite his poor season. His current 96.8 MPH Avg Exit Velo is equal to last year’s and second only to Sano this year. Whether or not he can continue to live up to the hype that’s he’s built remains to be seen. No matter what, Judge will be at or near the top of the Statcast leaderboards for as long as he’s in MLB.
Be on the lookout for: Giancarlo Stanton – OF, Miami Marlins
The veteran Stanton is widely regarded as one of the strongest hitters in baseball. He was third in Avg Exit Velo last season (95.9) and has a career 41.7 Hard%, but this season he hasn’t been lighting the ball up like normal. His current 37.1 Hard% would be a career low, and while his 92.8 Avg Exit Velo is nothing to scoff at, it’s still not enough to put him in the top 20 and is well off his usual number. Given that his Med% (medium-hit rate) is currently a career-high 44.9%, it appears that he’s not missing the ball by much and should be able to square up at a more consistent rate. His Med% and Hard% will eventually even out, and he already has the fifth hardest hit ball (a 118.7 mph double) and six of the 50 highest Exit Velos this year. Stanton will absolutely be in the top five come season’s end as long as he stays healthy.