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Statcast: A-Rod among leaders in exit velocity

Yankees slugger averaging 94.4 mph; homer No. 661 was tracked at 108.2
MLB.com

As usual, there's no shortage of stories when it comes to the Yankees. Entering the 2015 season, the main points of interest were how dominant the bullpen would be with Andrew Miller joining Dellin Betances (very!), how well Masahiro Tanaka's health would hold up (hey, how about that bullpen?), and what in the world anyone could possibly expect from 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, who'd been suspended for all of 2014 and collected just 181 plate appearances in 2013.  

On that last point, so far, so good, as Rodriguez and his .245/.351/.532 line -- forget batting average, because that OBP and SLG combine to make him 39 percent better than a league-average hitter -- have been a big reason why the surprising 18-11 Yanks lead the American League East by three games over the Rays.

Full Game Coverage

As usual, there's no shortage of stories when it comes to the Yankees. Entering the 2015 season, the main points of interest were how dominant the bullpen would be with Andrew Miller joining Dellin Betances (very!), how well Masahiro Tanaka's health would hold up (hey, how about that bullpen?), and what in the world anyone could possibly expect from 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, who'd been suspended for all of 2014 and collected just 181 plate appearances in 2013.  

On that last point, so far, so good, as Rodriguez and his .245/.351/.532 line -- forget batting average, because that OBP and SLG combine to make him 39 percent better than a league-average hitter -- have been a big reason why the surprising 18-11 Yanks lead the American League East by three games over the Rays.

Full Game Coverage

In New York's 4-3 win over Baltimore on Thursday, Rodriguez made history in the third inning by hitting his 661st career home run to pass Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run list. A-Rod could have had two homers had Delmon Young not made a fantastic play by bringing one back from over the wall in the first.

Video: BAL@NYY: Young climbs the wall to rob a homer

Thanks to Statcast™, we know that both blasts came off Rodriguez's bat at more than 100 mph -- the first-inning out at 102.4, the third-inning homer at 108.2 -- and while that's true of most home runs, what's informative is just how often Rodriguez is hitting the ball that hard. Among everyday players, Rodriguez's average exit velocity ranks seventh, at 94.4 mph.

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While there's not a perfect correlation between exit velocity and success -- we've all seen the smashed liner turn into an out while the well-placed bloop ends up being a double -- when you look at the average exit velocity leaderboard, there's certainly at least some kind of positive relationship. At the top, Rodriguez is sitting there with names like Joc Pederson, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton, all powerful and respected bats having great starts. At the other end, slap hitters like Billy Hamilton and Alberto Callaspo aren't hitting the ball hard and don't have much to show for it.

Entering play on Thursday, only five hitters had smashed at least three homers of 108 mph or more, with Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes joining Pederson and Stanton. With Thursday's long ball, Rodriguez counts himself among that group as well. We don't know yet how well a month's worth of exit velocity data will hold up over an entire season. We do know that a group led by those elite names certainly passes the smell test.

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Less than three months away from his 40th birthday, Rodriguez is hitting the ball better than he has in years, at least judging by the isolated power (.287) that would be his best since 2007 if it held up. Everyone has an opinion on Rodriguez, for one of a million different reasons. What's indisputable is that just a month after he began a season full of endless uncertainty, he's one of the biggest reasons why the Yankees are in first place. 

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez