Tyler Glasnow is a damn good starting pitcher.
Glasnow’s always had that label. His talents were plenty evident during his time in the Pirates’ farm system, but once Tampa Bay worked their magic on the tall righty, he turned into the second coming of Jacob deGrom.
He’s one head of the Rays’ Cerberus of starting pitchers, and is certainly the most handsome one of the trio. Over two seasons with Tampa Bay, he’s logged 118 innings, posting a 2.90 ERA/2.94 FIP. The only thing stopping him from entering the conversation for the Majors’ top arm is his injury history.
In pitching circles, he’s a unicorn. Not many starters can succeed by throwing two pitches 96% percent of the time. Glasnow can, a rarity in today’s game.
Although he only hurled 23.2 innings in 2020, he was trusted to be the Rays’ Game 2 stopper against the Yankees.
Glasnow was rolling along during his Game 2 outing against New York. Three innings in, he had only allowed a single hit, a solo shot off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton.
Two innings later, Stanton stepped into the box yet again.
Glasnow threw. Stanton took. Upstairs. Ball One.
Glasnow threw again. This time, Stanton swung. He whiffed. Strike One.
Glasnow threw for the third, and the final time, in the at-bat. Stanton saw ball. Stanton swung at ball. Stanton demolished ball.
A couple of seconds later, the ball laid at its final resting spot, right below Petco’s impressively-sized 7,564-foot scoreboard.
458 feet away, Stanton was rounding the bases, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this ball had a family.
Although the high-tech cameras installed at Petco measured his blast at 458 feet, it seemed like the ball landed 100 feet further.
Twitter was set ablaze. His homer was one no one had ever seen the likes of before. Franmil Reyes’ 2019 blast off of Kenta Maeda was the only other dinger resembling Stanton’s bomb. And truthfully, based on the camera angle, it seemed like Stanton’s homer landed further than Reyes’.
Aaron Judge nearly broke Statcast a couple of years ago with his own jaw-dropping blast at the stadium formerly known as Safeco Field. His teammate, Stanton, did one better. Confused the hell out of those who follow Statcast and myself.
Stanton’s blast traveled 458 feet and was launched at 118.3 mph at 24˚. While perusing Savant’s Exit Velocity tool, I was rather shocked to see a .990 xBA on Stanton’s blast. A quick trip to Twitter confirmed that I wasn’t the only one confused by Stanton’s xBA.
Statcast tracked Stanton’s blast at 458 feet, a distance that no field can accommodate. Not even Comerica Park, a stadium that has the distinction of having the furthest center field fence, could hold Stanton’s dinger.
That raises the question: why wasn’t Stanton’s xBA on his homer 1.00? If it’s a hit at every single ballpark, shouldn’t the expected batting average of the BBE be a perfect value? Where was the missing 0.010?
First, a quick primer on xBA for the uneducated: xBA (Expected Batting Average) is a metric that the geniuses over at Baseball Savant reintroduced in time for the 2019 season. The goal of metric is to determine what probability a BBE (batted-ball event) has of becoming a hit. A more granular explanation is that the metric answers the question: did he hit a ball well enough to get a hit?
Three main factors go into determining a BBE’s xBA: exit velocity, launch angle, and at times, sprint speed. It takes defense out of the equation, which makes it easier to determine a player’s true offensive value.
Let’s say, Mike Trout knocks a single to the outfield that has a xBA of .900. Taking into account similarly-hit BBE’s, Trout’s BBE was a base knock 90% of the time.
A good way to visualize xBA is using Andrew Perpetua’s model. Perpetua, a former analyst for the Mets, is responsible for the xBaseball revolution. (Talking about baseball here. For those of you who are thinking of something else, get your head out of the gutter.)
Perpetua’s model uses a different formula than Savant’s, but the overall concept is similar. They both calculate how likely a ball is likely land in for a hit.
Now that we know what xBA is, we need to know how xBA applies this situation.
To recap: Stanton’s homer traveled 458 feet and was hit at 118.3 mph at 24˚. His xBA: .990. That’s an outstanding xBA. But considering its projected distance exceeded the dimensions of every Major-League stadium, why wasn’t it 1.000?
You might be thinking to yourself, why is that so important? Why does Matt Mancuso care so much about the difference between 0.990 and 1.000? This article is literally about two numbers that are 0.010 apart. Why is he willing to write over 1000 words on that topic?
My answer: Quarantine has finally gotten to me. (Wear a mask, folks!)
Anyway, for this query, I had to call in the big guns: namely Major Baseball’s Senior Data Architect Tom Tango.
Even though the ball had an actual distance of 458 feet, its exit velocity and launch angle project it to land anywhere between approximately 430-490 feet. EV/LA aren’t the only factors that impact ball flight. Other inputs, which include temperature, wind and others, are elements which can’t be controlled.
Due to these events, it’s certainly possible that a ball underperforms its expected batting average.
Since it’s plausible for balls can be caught around 430 feet, that accounts for missing 0.010 value in Stanton’s BBE. Due to the unpredictable nature of ball flight, anything can happen in the air. Luckily for Stanton, the weather was optimal and his 118 mph drive didn’t go for naught.
Adding to the confusion of the missing 0.010 is that Stanton’s homer was unlike anything Statcast had ever tracked before. Baseball Savant’s Hit Probability tool shows us only 11 batted balls that have been tracked at 118 mph or higher. Stanton’s BBE was hit at 24˚, easily the highest-hit ball of the group.
It’s truly the first of its kind.
Photo Credit: Julio Cortez (AP)