Perusing the Statcast leaderboards the yesterday, I noticed something odd. David Freese, who isn't known for his strength, has the hardest hit ball of the 2016 season. Not only is his name atop the leaderboard populated with Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez hits, he blows then out of the water at an astonishing 123.4 mph, which is 3.3 mph faster than the next fastest ball, a single off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. Not only is this the hardest hit ball of this season by a wide margin, it's also faster than any balls from last year, which topped out at 120.3 mph by Giancarlo Stanton (take a look at the leaderboard from last year, Stanton has an amazing number of the hardest hit balls). Considering how clustered most of the other batted balls on the leaderboard are, the difference between Freese and the next hardest hits from Stanton is astounding. Freese grounded into a double play, which is obviously not a desirable outcome, but does this hit pass the eye test? Check it out here:
This is a pretty unspectacular play. So how did Freese do this? The pitch was a 95 mph fastball down in the zone from Buck Farmer (what a good baseball name), so nothing special there. Iglesias didn’t have any trouble fielding the ball and it resulted in a typical 6-4-3 double play. Overall, this was about as run-of-the-mill as baseball plays come.
The very pedestrian nature of this play brings into question the velocity of the ball. Statcast is known to have problems , such as less than 75% of pre-All Star break batted balls being included in exit velocity charts last year. This is pure speculation on my part, but given the –14.1° launch angle of the ball, it’s possible that the ball isn’t in the air long enough to get an accurate read on the velocity. Only one ball on the leaderboard has a lower launch angle than Freese’s and 84% of the 50 hardest hit balls are launched with an angle of –5.0° or higher. It’s therefore plausible that the extreme downward angle of the ball off Freese’s bat inhibited Statcast's ability to get an accurate read on the velocity, but again, this is complete speculation.
My excitement over this discovery seems to be unfounded, as this unremarkable play occurred in the late innings of an unremarkable mid-April game that no one will remember. Despite the uncertainty of the batted ball data, it's hard to imagine that Freese's name won't remain at the top of the leaderboard for the rest of the season.