Table of Contents

Monday, March 02, 2015

Belated Transactions: Reds acquire Marlon Byrd

This past December 31st, my kids adopted their first dog.  It was a long time coming, as the dog had to wait until after our trip overseas.  It's been a great experience for the girls, and my youngest (at least) is taking the role of responsible pet owner with tremendous enthusiasm.  Needless it say, it was a major acquisition for the family.

The Reds made not-quite-so-major an acquisition that same day when they traded Ben Lively for Marlon Byrd and $4 million.  This apparently "solved" their left field situation for next season, with a same-cost club option for 2016.

What the Reds traded: RHP Ben Lively

Lively was the Reds' 4th round selection in 2013 out of the University of Central Florida.  His 2014 season, his first full professional season, was one worth talking about.  I tend to be fairly ignorant of what is happening in the minors, and yet it was hard to not be excited by what he did last season.

After mowing through high-A in breathtaking fashion, Lively was promoted mid-season to Pensacola where he continued to be effective.  He continue to pile on the strikeouts, the hallmark of his career thus far, though he showed a surprising spike in his control rate.  Nevertheless, his numbers were solid enough, and he looks ready to jump to AAA in the 2015 season, and maybe even the majors by the end of the season.  Both ZiPS and Steamer think he wouldn't embarrass himself this year in the majors.  With the exception of that AA walk rate, he had everything you might hope for in a minor league pitching line.

So given that the Reds are set to be without a rotation after 2015, why would the Reds trade away what looks like the ace of the future?  Well, here's Kiley McDaniel's prospect profile on Lively following the season:
13. Ben Lively, RHP Lively was a 4th round pick out of UCF in 2013 and has beat expectations so far, with 79 stellar innings in the hitter-friendly Cal League this year before 72 more solid innings in Double-A.  Lively’s performance may overstate his raw ability a bit; he’s a back-end starter that sits 90-93 and hits 95 mph with four average-ish pitches, led by a slider that’s a 55 at times.  There’s deception and about average command; Lively’s delivery isn’t great but he manages to make it work for him and he throws strikes.
Well, that might explain the Reds' thinking.  McDaniel is arguing that Lively is one of those polished college arms that can carve up low-minors hitting, but doesn't have the stuff to play at the higher levels.  Lively is still a legitimate MLB prospect, perhaps it's more like a future Tommy Milone than a future Max Scherzer.

Milone might be a nice comp, because he had a similar contrast between his scouting reports and his performance prior to reaching the major leagues.  Across four seasons, Milone has been a useful starter, but we're seeing the limitations of his skills.  ...  Then again, Milone throws 87 mph, while Lively sits in the low 90's, so maybe the comp doesn't work.


What they got: RHB OF Marlon Byrd

Marlon Byrd was the Phillies' 10th round selection out of Georgia Perimeter College back in 1999.  Despite his lateish-round pedigree, he quickly mashed his way onto prospect lists, peaking at #26 with both speed and prodigious power displays in the minor leagues.  He reached the majors as a 24-year old, and was starting the next season.
After an excellent rookie campaign, Byrd struggled for a while through his late 20's, ultimately was traded to the Nationals, and then signed on with the Rangers as a free agent.  It was in Texas where he seemed to find himself as a 29-year old, and Byrd went on to post four consecutive above-average offensive seasons for the Rangers and Cubs.

His most recent four years have had huge ups and downs.  Some years, he's been completely awful (2012, -1.0 fWAR in just 153 PA's; it's hard to be that bad in so little playing time!).  And yet during other recent years he has had some of the best seasons of his career (4.1 fWAR in 2013 with Mets and Pirates).  Last year, as a 36-year old with the Phillies, he more or less played to his career line, albeit with less on base skill and more power.  He clearly seems to have been trading power for contact the last few years, based on the spike in both his power output and his strikeout rate, though he's not walking more to compensate for this.  I can see those kinds of trends, but how does one tell whether he's likely to crater again like he did in '12?

He'll be 37 next season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him drop off a cliff (Steamer projects .246/.294/.403 with 0.3 WAR).  But at the same time, if he can stay healthy, he's only two years removed from a 4 WAR season, so he has upside (ZIPS puts him at .271/.314/.481, 2.6 WAR).  If we split the difference between Steamer and ZiPS, maybe we consider him a 1.5 WAR player.  That would only be a small regression from last season, so it seems reasonable to me.

Given that the Reds are paying only $4 million of the $8 million he is owned next season, they're paying for less than 1 win, and hoping for more.  From that perspective, it's a good contract, and they might just luck into another 3 win season from him.

Summary Opinion

Here's the argument for this trade from the Reds' perspective: if the scouting reports are correct, Ben Lively might never be so valuable as he is right now.  He might still crack a big league rotation in his career, but he's unlikely to be particularly valuable.  And he might find that his stuff simply won't cut it in the upper minors and just flame out.  "There's no such thing as a pitching prospect," the prospect guys hate him anyway, and the Reds already have a good number of these back-end rotation prospects (Jon Moscot, for example).  They swapped Lively at his peak value for a guy in Byrd who has very low salary cost and is two seasons away from producing at an all-star level.  He should (hopefully?) fill the gigantic hole in left field that they dealt with last season, and can be brought back in 2016 if Jesse Winker isn't ready by then.

I get all of that.  I'm just hoping that the Reds' scouts are right about Lively.  Because the Reds could look mighty foolish if he goes on to by a solid mid-rotation starter, and meanwhile Byrd goes on to replicate Ryan Ludwick's 2014 season.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Belated Transactions: Mat Latos swapped for DeSclafani and Wallach

Mat Latos was outstanding for the Reds
Photo Credit: SD Dirk
In my continuing (and intermittent) efforts to catch up the Reds' offseason, here's a discussion of their biggest-profile trade.

The Reds' acquisition of Mat Latos was arguably the biggest move of GM Walt Jocketty's tenure with the Reds.  In exchange for two top-tier prospects, a relief prospect, and a struggling big-league pitcher, the Reds acquired an established, young, big league starter with high upside and many years of control left on his contract.  It was a huge trade, and one that paid immediate dividends for the Reds.  Latos had two excellent seasons for the Reds before last year's injury-limited season, and was a major part of the Reds' 2012 division champion team.

The 2012-2013 Latos is still the guy that I think about when I hear his name.  As a result, it was with a sense of dread when I heard he was traded.  I knew the issue: he had one year left on his contract, and there was little indication that the Reds would be able to re-sign him.  Nevertheless, it seemed like a major blow to the team.  

Here's the thing: Mat Latos might not be the same pitcher that he was in 2012-2013.  As I wrote last year, there was reason to be concerned about his health.  Here is his FanGraphs line:

Lato's strikeout rate took a big hit last year.  So did his ground ball rate.  And Steamer seems to have noticed, projecting him for what would easily be the worst season of his career.  Now, one might be surprised to see a projection system react so strongly to one bad year.  Steamer, however, uses fastball velocity in its projections, and Latos was throwing 2 mph lower last season compared to the previous years of his career.

Steamer is worried, and probably for good reason.  Latos might bounce back, of course, and would be a terrific asset for the Marlins as they try to compete with the uber-rotation Nationals.  He had a number of relatively minor injuries last year that prevented him from having a normal spring training and might have sapped his strength and flexibility in a temporary fashion.  But it could also be that he won't return to form, in which case he is suddenly a back-end starter.

Despite all of that uncertainty, the Reds flipped his last year of control for a pair of players who have some promise.  Let's take a look!


Anthony DeSclafani, 24-year old RHP

DeSclafani (which I am struggling mightily to spell correctly) was a 6th-round selection out of the University of Florida, and Miami acquired him in the Jose Reyes/Mark Buerhle trade prior to the 2013 season.  He has never been a top-tier prospect, but he has steadily advanced through the Marlins' system, and split time between AA, AAA, and MLB last year.  He's shown a decent strikeout rate, (usually) excellent walk rates, and acceptable home run rates throughout his career.  

He only threw 33 innings last year in the majors, but so I'm not at all concerned about the ugly ERA.  I'm actually quite encouraged by the strong walk rate and the effective strikeout rate, though I am arching my eyebrow a bit at his ground ball rate.  The main caveat I have is that a chunk of those innings came in relief, which might inflate those rates.  Still, as a toe-dip in the majors, one can do a lot worse.

We didn't get a write-up on DeSclafini with Kiley McDaniel's prospect work this offseason, but he gave us this quick line in a comment:

That contrasts a bit with the stat line in my view.  His control, based on bb/9, has been superb most of the time, save for his stint in AAA last year.  I'm surprised to see his stuff rated so highly (league-average, maybe a tick above), so that's encouraging.  Here are his Brooks Baseball scattercharts:
We have a clear separation between his four-seam fastball and his sinker, which both sat at the high end of where Kiley had him velocity-wise.  Nothing here was identified as a curve, although it's possible that some of the "sliders" above could be a hard curve ball, while the cutters could be what McDaniel described as a slider.  If the slider is his best breaking pitch, however, that would be surprising, because he threw the "cutter" fewer times than the "slider."  So, we have some inconsistency.  We'll just have to wait and see!

At the minimum, it looks like the Reds acquired a mlb-ready #5 starter.  Hopefully he can be more of a #3 or #4.  Given the risk and short term control inherent in Latos, that strikes me as a pretty nice return.  

But wait, there's more!

Chad Wallach, 23-year old RHB Catcher

Wallach was a 5th-round selection out of California State-Fullerton.  While 5th round is nothing to sneeze at, he hasn't highlighted a lot of top-prospect lists that I've seen. Nevertheless, he had a really nice season last year, largely at the Marlin's low-A affiliate.  I'm particularly excited by the fact that he showed both superb walk rates and superb strikeout rates, walking far more often than he struck out.  That's really good performance.  He didn't show a ton of power, but a catcher with good on-base skills can be mighty valuable if he can field his position well.  As throw-ins go, from a stathead perspective at least, he's a good one.

Summary Opinion

This isn't the clear steal that the Alfredo Simon trade seemed to be.  But given the high risk that Latos presents as he enters the season, I doubt the Reds could have done much better.  Latos suffered a big drop in his apparent stuff last season, and is coming off of injuries to both his throwing arm and his legs.  That, combined with his impending free agency unquestionably hurts his value quite a bit.  With this trade, the Reds cleared up some payroll, replaced Latos in the rotation, and gained years of low-cost control.  If DeSclafani is a serviceable cog at the back of the Reds' rotation for the next few season, the Reds did well in this deal.  

...And that's not even bringing up the argument that they also rid themselves with a problem in the clubhouse in the process (<-fwiw argument="" both="" div="" guessing="" i="" is="" m="" of="" sides="" that="" their="" to="" truth="">

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Reds sign Burke Badenhop

Yesterday, the Reds signed their first "big" free agent of the offseason in right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop.  Badenhop, who turned 32 years old today, has been a member of five different organizations since being drafted in the 19th round by the Tigers in 2005.  The signed a 1-year deal with the Reds for a total of $2.5 million guaranteed, with a mutual option for 2016 that can bring the total value of the deal to $5 million.  That's paying for something shy of 1 WAR spread over two years, even assuming the Reds pick up his option.  Seems like a nice deal to me.

Stats:


Badenhop seemed to make an adjustment in approach with the Rays in 2012, decreasing both his strikeout and walk rates substantially.  This trend has continued in the years since, with an even larger drop in strikeout rate last season with the Reds Sox.  In addition to his superb control, however, what has made him successful is his excellent ground ball rates, which climbed all the way to 61% last season with the Red Sox.  Low walks and lots of ground balls should work well with the Reds' strong infield defense, so I like the signing a lot.

When I posted as much on twitter (albeit with a typo in Badenhop's name!), RJ Anderson sent me the following tweet:
Cool, right? Since he looks at Brooks Baseball lets do that too!  First, his pitches (2012-2014):
He throws a sinker, change, and slider.  There are a grand total of 7 fourseam fastballs on his record in the past three years, and you can see they do cluster away from his sinkers in spin axis.  Here is his actual pitch usage:

So, we're looking at 75% sinkers, with a small number of sliders and change-ups mixed in.  He seemed to experiment with adding more sliders in 2013, and then seemed to almost abandon it in favor of his change-up last year.  As you'd expect, he throws more change-ups against lefties, and last year almost threw as many change-ups to lefties as his sinker!
Finally, one last thing.  As expected, given the decrease in his walk rates, we're seeing a general increase in his tendency to locate pitches in the strike zone over the past three years compared to the years before:

Summary Opinion 

While it's great when you can have strikeouts, I think ground ball, low walk rate pitchers should be a good match for the Reds' defense and park.  Badenhop looks like a great pitcher to come in against a right-hander with a man on first to induce a double play.  He's immediately in the running for second-best Reds' reliever, and should be a nice setup guy for us this season.  I'd think he's a good bet to be worth ~1 WAR per season in value, which is a lot less than the Reds are paying him.  Even at 32 years old, I like this signing a lot.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Belated Transactions: Reds trade Simon for Much More Than Bag of Balls

Just before I departed France to return to the States, the Reds made two major trades representing (as Scott put it on a recent Red Reporter podcast) 40% of their starting rotation.  Things were too crazy in my life to write about it at the time, but I wanted to comment a little bit on these two moves.  We'll take Simon tonight, and save Latos for another day.

Alfredo Simon was acquired as a last-minute waiver-wire pickup in 2012 just before opening day, forcing Todd Frazier back to the minors for a week or so to make room on the 25-man roster.  While he'd bounced between the rotation and bullpen, with unimpressive results, for the Orioles in prior seasons, the Reds put him squarely into a bullpen role and got surprisingly good results.  Stats:
In this two seasons in the bullpen, Simon was steady and solid.  He didn't put up peripherals that were completely out of character for his history, but it was as if he figured out how to pull together his best strikeout, walk, and ground ball rate numbers together.

In 2014, missing Mat Latos to start the season, the Reds turned to Simon as their #5 starter.  Surprisingly, he put together an extremely good first-half, albeit one that seemed highly unlikely to continue.  Predictably, he started to regress in the second half, and while he still posted solid enough season totals, I saw little reason to think he was likely to be anything like a solid starter in 2015.  Really, just about all of the warning signs are there.  ERA estimators worse than ERA?  Check.  Below-career average BABIP?  Check.  Declining strikeout rate?  Check.  Entering mid-30's?  Check.  Much, much higher inning totals than prior season or ever before?  Check.  Bad second half?  Check.  Awful projections?  Check: Steamer says 4.92 ERA next year.  

I'd hoped the Reds would trade him at the all-star break, and figured that any value he might have built in the first half would have vanished.  On top of all that, there are off-field rape accusations.  While I tried to stay neutral to that while the legal process played out, I honestly got squeamish every time I saw him take the mound last year...and I know I'm not the only one.

And yet, somehow, the Reds managed to trade him to the Detroit Tigers for a pair of players who have both have some legitimate value: Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford.  Wow.

Eugenio Suarez, 23-year old RHB SS

Suarez got just shy of half of the Tigers' starts at shortstop last year, and acquitted himself pretty well in his rookie season.  The wrap on him coming up was that he was a good defender with some range limitation, and a decent bat except that he was prone to striking out.  That matches up well to his numbers: UZR, DRS, and the Fan Scouting Report all rate him around average or a tad below-average at shortstop.  He didn't hit a lot, but walked at a decent enough clip to get on base at about a league-average rate.  Overall, he earned 0.7 WAR, which extrapolates out to around 1.5 WAR in a full season of work.  His Steamer projection isn't quite so rosy for this season, but if nothing else he looks like a solid utility infielder who can handle all of the infield positions.

As soon as he was acquired, questions started rumbling about whether Zack Cozart was on his way out the door.  After all, he's just reaching arbitration for the first time ($2.35 M in 2015), and wOBA'd a pathetic 0.254 last season thanks, at least in part, to his absolute refusal to walk (4.6 BB% for his career) and evaporating power (0.079 ISO last year).  It sounds like the job is still Cozart's, but I don't have a problem with Suarez giving him some competition in spring training.

Jonathon Crawford, 23-year old RHP

Crawford was the Tigers' 2013 first-round draft pick, so last year was his first full season of play.  It wasn't a great campaign, but wasn't a complete disaster either.  Certainly, his strikeout rates and walk rates both leave a bit to be desired (and see Doug's comments here).  Furthermore, from what I've gathered, the scouting community wasn't particularly impressed with him either.  And yet, he nevertheless held his own in full-season High-A ball.  He's reportedly something of a ground-ball specialist, which makes one hope that there's something to his superb 2014 home run rate.  In 2013, he was throwing 93-96 mph, though Doug reported low-90's.  And he has pedigree: recent first-rounder, and ranked as the #4 Tigers prospect entering last season at FanGraphs.  One thing that I've learned time and time again is to never discount the ability of talented players to make major strides forward when given the opportunity.

Honestly, getting either of these guys for Simon would seem like a good deal to me.  Neither is top-shelf talent (though Crawford arguably was recently), but each has some value.  And I'm honestly not sure that Simon will be much better than replacement this year.  That the Reds were able to turn him into these two prospects seems like a major coup to me.  This was easily the Reds' best deal of the offseason.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Reds swap Heisey for Matt Magill

So long to Chris Heisey
Photo credit: Keith Allison
With Chris Heisey set to hit his third year of arbitration and likely clear the $2 million mark, the Reds flipped him for Dodger pitcher Matt Magill.  Heisey was someone that the blogosphere loved as he came up.  A 17th-round pick, he was usually not rated very highly on prospect rankings, but he played his way to the big leagues.  Although he's shown decent power in the minor leagues (along with decent patience, sometimes), he surprised a lot of us in his 2011 campaign when he smacked 18 home runs in part-time duty, often as a pinch-hitter.  Nevertheless, he never really secured a full-time job.

We definitely saw Heisey become increasingly aggressive during his years with the big league club, and more contact-oriented.  His walk rate 7% to 6% to over around 4-5% from 2010-2014, his swing % increased from 48% to 53%.  He, strangely had a bit of a reversed split over his career (0.295 wOBA vs. LHP, 0.323 vs. RHP), which made it harder to leverage his offensive talents via a platoon.  So, what we have is a very nice 4th outfielder who could play all three outfield slots effectively, provide some power off the bench, and someone who could (theoretically) fill in for an injury whenever needed.  Unfortunately, it always seemed like the times that Heisey did get a chance to play every day as an injury replacement were the same times he fell into bad slumps.  The wrap on him was that that he became exposed as his playing time increased, and there might be some truth to that.

I've always liked Heisey, even if I never really bought into him as a full-time player.  His main argument for playing time, in my view, was a slightly-better-than-replacement bat coupled with plus fielding (average in CF, above-average in a corner).  He's frankly carved out a nice little career; I'm sure most teams would take 50 career home runs from a 17th-round selection any day.  I hope he finally gets a full-season worth of at-bats and performs well, even if it's a Brennan Boesch-like flash in the pan season.  Here are his final Cincinnati stats:

Chris Heisey Career Stats


In return, the Reds acquired Matt Magill.  Magill was also a late-round selection (31st), and pitched his way onto folks' radar.  Coming off a nice AA-campaign in 2012, Mike Newman wrote this about him at FanGraphs:

I saw Magill while sitting with a veteran scout who said, “Magill has more stuff than Kevin Slowey.” And while I can hear the whistling of thousands of index fingers twirling in the air in unison, that’s a pretty impressive feat considering Magill was a 31st round pick. With an 89-92 MPH fastball and slider which flashed plus, Magill has the ceiling of a number four starter with the floor of an excellent ROOGY. Prospect followers will want to point to the lofty strikeout totals as an indicator he has more in the tank, but his slider is a real out pitch against minor league hitters and just won’t be as effective against big league hitters.

Unfortunately, upon arriving at AAA, Magill has encountered what appear to be tremendous control issues, walking ~6 batters per 9 innings across 160 innings in AAA in 2013-2014, posting a lovely 9.1 bb/9 in 27 innings with the Dodgers in 2013.  Yikes.  For someone who doesn't throw particularly hard and doesn't have a reported overpowering secondary offering, it's not very encouraging.

So, yeah.  Shrug.  Maybe someone in Cincinnati thinks they can fix him.  And what do you expect in return for someone you were about to non-tender anyway?

Matt Magill stats:



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Misery of Jay Bruce

I hadn't looked at FanGraphs' Cincinnati Reds team page lately.  Too painful.  But I popped over there tonight to have a look.  After momentary smiles at what Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have managed this year, and a nod of "yeah, pretty solid" at Billy Hamilton, I found myself scanning through the rest of the numbers with predictable dismay.  I knew it would be bad, and hence my need to stay away until now.  But it is a story of despair and agony.  Cozart's .259 wOBA.  Phillips' injury-shortened season with rate states still down from last year's disappointment.  Votto's 272 PA's.  

As I scanned, though, I realized that I was missing Jay Bruce.  I looked again, and couldn't find him.  Finally, I realized that he was on page 2.  Jay Bruce.  -11.7 offensive runs vs. average.  -16 runs in the field by UZR.  -1.3 WAR.  

To call it the worst season of Bruce's career is a massive understatement.  Bruce has always been at least "solid."  This year, he hasn't just been average or disappointing.  He's been disastrous.  With the exception of his base-stealing totals (I haven't looked, but I'm guessing that was from earlier this year?), everything in his line has shown decline.  Walk rates are down.  Strikeout rates are up.  OBP is down.  ISO is down.  BABIP is down.  HR/FB is down.  It goes further:

Bruce's ground ball rate is WAY up.  His fly ball rate is down.  His line drive rate is down.  Bruce has become a groundball machine, which prevents his power from helping him do anything productive...and hence the low ISO.

Earlier this season, he was talking about trying to improve his approach, becoming more selective and looking for his pitch to hit.  His plate discipline profile doesn't match that anymore:

This year, Bruce has swing at more pitches outside the zone, and fewer pitches in the zone, thanany year of his career.  His overall swing rate is down, but that's mostly because pitchers aren't throwing the ball in the zone as often as they did in 2013--if he'll swing out of the zone, they don't have to challenge him.  He's making contact at a decent rate, but it's clearly not hard contact; he's hitting the ball into the ground.

Pitchers aren't throwing that much differently to him.  

A few more fastballs (by pitchf/x, that increase is mostly two-seamer fastballs).  A few more change-ups.  Fewer sliders.  It looks to me like pitchers just aren't as concerned about him this year.  One of the classic ways to get Bruce out was to bury a slider down and in on him, but it's as if pitchers no longer have to rely on that pitch to get through the at-bat.

Earlier this season, I wrote about how Bruce was going to the opposite field more often in 2013.  This year, well:


It's pretty tough for me to say without some summary statistics, but it looks like more of a pull-oriented distribution this year.  For one thing, while he had a nice number of home runs scattered between center field and left field in 2013, every single one of his home runs this year was to his pull side.  Similarly, his ground ball outs (purple) to the infield are all clustered to the pull side.  In the outfield, I'm not sure that I see a specific pattern, and looking only at ground balls, line drives, or fly balls didn't really help (not shown here).  

::sigh::  There's no insight here from me (as usual).  It's been a miserable season, and I certainly don't see anything here that I can identify as something that Bruce needs to do to get better.  He just needs to get better at everything.  My hope is that a big part of the problem has been his leg injury, as Bryan Price has alluded to several times this month.  With an offseason to heal, hopefully Bruce can be in line for comeback player of the year honors in 2015.  If he doesn't I don't see a way to expect much improvement from the Reds' offense...even if they are able to bring in some help.  

How pessimistic should we be?  Well, Bruce's ZIPS projection entering the season was for him to hit .254/.329/.485 with a .344 wOBA.  His updated projection?  .240/.312/.444 with a .328 wOBA.  According to the algorithm, there's still reason to expect him to be a solid hitter.  That's encouraging, despite how bad he's been this year.  But that's a far less intimidating line than he projected to be before his struggles this year.

...I'm not even going to talk about his fielding.  I'm just hoping that's short term injury + fielding stat volatility.  The key word there is hoping.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Using Sound to Scout Players

Sorry for my absence.  Part of it is that the Reds have frankly been rather hard to watch over the past month.  But the issue is that my family and I are living in France for the semester.  We arrived a few weeks ago, and are starting to find our way.  I'm traveling with my university's students in their study abroad program.  It's an amazing experience, but it definitely is hard to keep up on baseball when 7pm EST games start at 1am local time.

In any case, I was listening to Effectively Wild today.  Robert Arthur was on a few weeks back talking about his study that evaluated how the audio signature of the crack of the bat related to the result of the batted ball.  It's great stuff.  His principle finding was that the peak frequency (i.e. pitch) differed substantially between ground ball outs, ground ball hits, line drives, and home runs.  Better-struck balls result in higher frequency sounds.  That makes sense, because those sounds are the result of faster bat speed and more energy being put into the ball.  It's really exciting stuff, and indicates that there's probably quite a lot to the claims that we hear from Baseball People about the sound of balls coming off bats.

The potential applications of these data are really exciting.  The most exciting thing is that these data could be used as another way to evaluate hitters.  Bat crack data should be able to tell us some combination of how hard, and how squarely, batters are hitting balls.  Only those with exceptional power should be able to achieve the highest pitch of bats cracking, once we controlled for bat type and (maybe) pitch type.  Better hitters should have consistently higher pitch than poorer hitters.  My guess is that pitch data should be less noisy than BABIP data, and so they might be useful when we're trying to make "Bonafide or Bonifacio" judgements.

This could be used to evaluate pitchers as well.  Are pitchers really inducing weaker contact?  Or are hitters squaring up the ball well, but just hitting it to defenders unusually more often.

The challenge is the data collection.  MLB compressed games will help, but it's still a lot of data to gather, isolate, sort, and then analyze.  Hopefully some young, enterprising people will go after this, as it has enormous potential.