The book is finally, mercifully closed on 2020. But it wasn’t a complete and utter dumpster fire! A truncated baseball season provided some needed solace, and it came with the reward of the Reds’ first postseason appearance in seven years. While the playoff run was as brief as the regular season, there are plenty of highs to look back fondly upon. We’ll revisit some of those — as well as a few low points — in our Statcast Superlatives series, which will highlight the most (and least) impressive feats from the season.
First up, the hitters.
Joey Votto: 113.2 mph
Joey Votto’s slow start was emblematic of the team’s overall underperformance and a troubling sign that his inevitable decline was rapidly continuing. It culminated in Votto getting benched for three games by manager David Bell in late August, when he was hitting .191/.321/.326 with a .336 xwOBA. Upon his return, Votto looked rejuvenated at the plate, hitting .258/.385/.557 with a .410 xwOBA the rest of the season, powered by a retooled batting stance. Returning to a more upright stance and adding a leg kick helped him hit the ball with authority again. Post-benching, his average exit velocity increased from 85.3 to 89.8 mph and his hard-hit rate doubled from 24.0% to 48.5%.
The home run here is the best example of Votto’s resurgence. It was not only the Reds’ hardest-hit ball of the season, but it was also Votto’s highest exit velocity in the Statcast era (since 2015) by a fairly wide margin — his previous high was 110.9 mph in 2017, and that was the only other time he’d eclipsed the 110-mph mark. To sweeten the pot, it came against the Cardinals and longtime Reds adversary Adam Wainwright. Relive the 442-foot blast below.
Softest-Hit Ball (Non-Bunts)
Joey Votto: 34.1 mph
Well, Votto didn’t exactly crush every ball he saw in the second half. He tried to fight off this Brett Anderson sinker with one of his patented check swings, but he couldn’t foul it away. The result: a weakly hit ball back to the pitcher. Can’t win ’em all.
Highest Average Exit Velocity
Jesse Winker: 92.1 mph
In his best season to date, Jesse Winker’s success was fueled by hitting the ball harder. A novel concept, eh? Winker increased his average exit velocity from 89.2 to 92.1 mph year over year, the eighth-largest increase in baseball among qualified hitters. He ranked in the 90th percentile in exit velocity and hard-hit rate — huge jumps from the 46th and 62nd percentiles, respectively, in 2019. What better way to remember Winker’s prowess than with this missile of a home run? By the way, it was Winker’s hardest-hit ball of the year (113.0 mph).
Longest Home Run
Matt Davidson: 449 feet
Matt Davidson only had seven hits in his stint with the Reds, but he made the most of them with four extra-base hits. His biggest moment came against the Cardinals on August 21 when he belted a grand slam well over the visitor’s bullpen to blow the game open. It was, at the time, the Reds’ hardest-hit ball of the year (the top three have all been featured in this post already) — and while he was eventually surpassed in that category by Votto, he held on to the title of longest homer.
Shortest Home Run
Tucker Barnhart: 345 feet
Tucker Barnhart is hardly known as a power hitter, but he had enough muscle to squeak this one over the right-field wall in Great American Ball Park for his first home run of the season. In addition to being the shortest home run of the season, it was the softest-hit ball to go for a home run (92.9 mph) and the’s Reds’ “luckiest” hit of the season (.021 expected batting average). But hey, it counts just the same as Davidson’s gargantuan blast above.
Highest Average HR Distance
Aristides Aquino: 425 feet
Did you really expect anyone else? Aquino had a tough time cracking the lineup in 2020 and didn’t do much with his sporadic playing time (73 wRC+ in 56 plate appearances), but he did sock two home runs — and both were no-doubters. Checking in at 428 feet, here was Aquino’s longest homer, a two-run shot that helped the Reds secure a key series win over the White Sox late in the year.
Fastest Pitch for a Hit
Jesse Winker: 99.8 mph
It should hardly be surprising that a big-league hitter can handle a 100-mph fastball, especially as velocity continues to increase across the game. But it’s still impressive to see. On paper, this showdown against flame-throwing rookie Garrett Crochet looked like a potential mismatch for Winker. Crochet had just been drafted two months previously, and there probably wasn’t an extensive scouting report on him. Plus, Winker has traditionally struggled against left-handed pitchers. But Winker made noticeable improvements against southpaws in 2020 (small sample caveat, of course), and nothing symbolized it like this at-bat when he turned on a 100-mph heater from Crochet and pulled it for a single.
Fastest Pitch for a HR
Mike Moustakas: 97.2 mph
A single is nice, but a dinger is better. Mike Moustakas also showed he can handle the heat, turning on a 97-mph fastball from the Brewers’ Drew Rasmussen for a three-run home run in a pivotal late-season contest against a division rival. The eventual win moved the Reds over .500 for the first time in over three years and put them one step closer to a playoff spot.
Nick Castellanos: 55°
The ideal launch angle, when paired with a high exit velocity, is referred to as a “barrel.” But even a poorly struck ball can find a hole or fall in no man’s land. Nick Castellanos found that out firsthand when he weakly popped up this pitch to right field. Off the bat, it seemed innocent enough. But as the play unfolded, it became clear that Pirates right-fielder Gregory Polanco wasn’t going to make the catch. Castellanos read it perfectly off the bat and hustled into second base with a double. (Side note: Castellanos has sneaky wheels, ranking in the 72nd percentile in sprint speed.) Castellanos is used to roping doubles into the outfield gaps, but he probably wasn’t complaining about this blooper considering how many tough-luck, line-drive outs he hit into in 2020.
Lowest Hit (Non-Bunt)
Kyle Farmer: -62°
Similarly, Kyle Farmer made weak contact on this 95-mph fastball and got a good result. The ball bounced only two feet in front of home plate and left the bat at just 56 mph, but that was enough for Farmer to leg out the base hit. Hard contact is preferable, but sometimes, just putting the bat on the ball is all you need.
Freddy Galvis: .950 xBA
Since we already mentioned the “luckiest” hit of the season, we might as well cover the unluckiest out, too. That unfortunate award goes to Freddy Galvis. A victim of an extreme shift that saw the second baseman positioned in short right field, Galvis’ line drive that would’ve been a single in previous years went for a routine out. This, unfortunately, plagued many left-handed hitters in 2020.
Stayed tuned later this week for the pitching edition of Statcast Superlatives!
Featured Image: R.J. Oriez