How the Reds rank in bat speed and what it means

For many years, there’s been copious amounts of public data available for MLB pitchers, from their spin rates to specific arm angles and precise pitch movements. Statcast has tracked batted-ball data for hitters since 2015, but we’ve had no details on their swings — until now. This week, Baseball Savant published its bat tracking leaderboard, allowing us to dive into the nitty-gritty details of every players’ swings like never before.

Since the dawn of baseball, bat speed has been critical. Getting the bat through the zone quickly and efficiently is key for hitting the ball hard and doing damage. As hitters and teams have started to quantify bat speed in recent years and learn more about its importance, they’ve started to prioritize it in their training. Before last season, every big-league stadium had the new Hawk-Eye tracking system installed, capturing events, such as swings, in more detail than ever before (300 frames per second, to be exact).

Now, we’ve gotten our first look at the swing data captured by Hawk-Eye, and there’s a lot to take in. This explanatory piece by Mike Petriello of is a must-read if you want to fully immerse yourself in the leaderboards. But to start, we’ll break down the primary metric — average bat speed — and how Reds hitters rank. Next week, we’ll cover the other new metrics (squared-up rate, blasts, swing length). We’ll follow that up with a bat-tracking breakdown for Reds pitchers to see how we can apply these new metrics to them.

(Quick housekeeping note: Bat-tracking data is only available for the 2024 season.)

Average bat speed and its implications

Quite simply, bat speed measures how fast the “sweet spot” of the bat (approximately six inches from the head of the bat, otherwise known as the barrel) moves in miles per hour. The bat speed listed on the Statcast leaderboard includes the top 90% of swings in order to exclude check swings and bunts. The top of the leaderboard is wholly unsurprising: Giancarlo Stanton, Oneil Cruz, Kyle Schwarber, Ronald Acuna Jr., Christopher Morel, Matt Chapman, Aaron Judge, Jo Adell, Julio Rodriguez, and Juan Soto round out the top 10.

As you’ve probably guessed, higher bat speed often leads to harder contact and better results. Take a look at the average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and xwOBA in each bucket:

High bat speed can come with a trade-off, though, as it also has some correlation with higher whiff and strikeout rates. This is demonstrated in the scatter plots below, which include every plate with at least 75 plate appearances this season.

Hitters can have success with low bat speed, too, even if it’s less than ideal in a vacuum. Luis Arraez has the slowest average bat speed in baseball, and he’s the best contact hitter in the game right now. But low bat speed usually doesn’t equate to power unless a hitter focuses heavily on pulling the ball (e.g., Astros second baseman Jose Altuve or Rays third baseman Isaac Paredes).

How Reds hitters rank in bat speed

With all that pretext out of the way, here’s a look at the bat speed for each Reds hitter:

This more or less checks out. Generally, the players who tend to hit the ball harder are at the top of the list, and the team’s weaker hitters are at the bottom. The overall leaderboard jives with the fact that the Reds have been an middle-of-the-road power-hitting team (.142 ISO) compared to league average (.146). The top three hitters in bat speed  also have three of the five highest whiff rates on the team. As you can also see, bat speed alone doesn’t always equate to production.

As expected, Elly De La Cruz reigns supreme by a full 3 mph over the next player. De La Cruz’s average bat speed is what qualifies as a “fast swing” on an individual basis. He also hits the ball hard when he makes contact and has more than his fair share of whiffs. The only other Reds hitter with above-average bat speed is Will Benson, another player who makes hard contact but swings and misses often. Then, there’s a cluster of hitters right around the league average and a whole bunch of players well below it.

All in all, there aren’t a ton of surprises in the overall leaderboard, save for maybe Christian Encarnacion-Strand. He has tremendous power and has the second-best maximum exit velocity of any Reds hitter this season (113.3 mph). But his bat speed has been merely average. Given that he’s been playing with a fractured hand for an unknown amount of time and recently suffered another fracture on top of that, it’s very possible that his bat speed has been hampered. It will be worth monitoring when he returns from the injured list.

Jeimer Candelario’s bat speed is also noteworthy. The 30-year-old was the Reds’ big free-agent acquisition and got off to a rocky start before heating up over the last couple of weeks. His average bat speed ranks in the 11th percentile. On the surface, it’s an ominous sign for a player his age. But without knowing his bat speed from previous years, it’s difficult to know how much to read into it. It’s worth noting that he’s typically been right around league average in terms of his exit velocity, hard-hit rate, etc., so it’s unlikely he ever possessed particularly impressive bat speed.

Further adding intrigue to Candelario’s data is the fact that he’s a switch-hitter, as is De La Cruz. Do they have similar bat speed from both sides of the plate? Nope! Candelario has traditionally been a better hitter from the right side, and guess what? His bat speed is better from that side.

  • Left-handed: 67.6 mph bat speed, 5.8% fast-swing rate
  • Right-handed: 71.3 mph bat speed, 16.7% fast-swing rate

Graphing the distribution of Candelario’s swings helps to further illustrate the difference:

That’s quite a difference, and it shows up in the results. Candelario has a career 113 wRC+ batting right-handed versus a 97 wRC+ from the left side, where he bats more often. That has held true this year, as he boasts a 151 wRC+ hitting from the right side and a meager 67 wRC+ from the left. He also has higher strikeout and whiff rates from the left side both this year and throughout his career.

The same goes for De La Cruz when batting left-handed, his better side, although the difference isn’t nearly as stark as it is for Candelario.

  • Left-handed: 75.9 mph bat speed, 55.4% fast-swing rate
  • Right-handed: 74.4 mph bat speed, 47.2% fast-swing rate

Context matters

While De La Cruz has the fastest individual swing of the season — 86.2 mph, which went for a double — some of the players in the middle of the list are capable of generating impressive bat speed. The second-fastest swing by a Reds hitter this season belongs to Jake Fraley (84.6 mph). Encarnacion-Strand has maxed out at 83.2 mph, and even Spencer Steer is just outside the top 10 of individual swings by Reds hitters, maxing out at 82.3-mph. Even the light-hitting Santiago Espinal has one swing over 80 mph!

This helps illustrate that even though hitters might have strong top-end bat speeds, they don’t swing at max effort at all times. The count, pitch type, pitch location, and a hitter’s general approach at the plate can all dictate how hard they swing at a given time. Some hitters trade bat speed (and power) for more contact. Some may have tried a more high-effort swing regularly in the past and struggled with whiffs and strikeouts as a result. Others may just simply not possess top-end bat speed. In this sense, looking only at average bat speed can be misleading without additional context.

Most batters, for instance, slow their swings down with two strikes as they attempt to put the ball in play. Here’s a look at each Reds hitter with at least 50 swings and their average bat speed with two strikes:

Every hitter slows their swing down with two strikes, though some do it to a larger extent than others. Candelario slows his swing the most with two strikes, followed by Jonathan India and Mike Ford.

Here’s India’s bat speed distribution as an example:

Just the distributions for Candelario and De La Cruz, there are different “humps” that help visualize how a player isn’t swinging with the same effort every time. India’s max-effort swing is over 80 mph, but he doesn’t go to it often (just once this season). The bigger hump is roughly his average bat speed with fewer than two strikes, and the smaller hump is around his average with two strikes. Of all India’s fast swings (75+ mph), 68.8% have been with less than two strikes. Meanwhile, every single fast swing for Ford and Candelario this season have been with less than two strikes.

Final thoughts

This is just the tip of the iceberg with the new bat speed metric. There’s much more to be learned about its importance and its predictiveness when it comes to future production. The basic gist of what we know right now: swinging faster generally leads to better outcomes when contact is made (though not always), and it can come at the cost of whiffs.

Bat speed is not a catch-all metric. Like most individual stats, it is a piece of the puzzle rather than the whole story. But it can certainly help us analyze and understand hitters in a new, more granular way.

Featured Image: Reds Facebook

Matt Wilkes

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.