Batted Balls in 2006

Here at the Hardball Times, we’re known for our batted ball stats, things like fly balls and ground balls and line drives. To be fair, they’re not really our stats. We purchase them from Baseball Info Solutions and make them available to you on our website and in our Annual. The batted ball stats have also informed many of our articles, such as Never Swat an Infield Fly (my all-time favorite title of one of my articles) and Pictures of Batted Balls.

Last year, I also posted a pretty intense library of player batted ball stats at Baseball Graphs, which represented a big step forward in batted ballology. Up to the end of last season, we had just reported frequency stats, such as Line Drive percentage or Infield Flies per All Fly balls. That was okay info, but it led to a bit of a misperception: that all line drives are the same, or all flyballs are the same. They’re not.

A fly ball off the bat of Ryan Howard is worth over half a run more than a David Eckstein fly. Half a run. There are also differences between players in line drives and ground balls, though the differences aren’t as dramatic.

With pitchers, the frequency stats are more significant, because fielders, parks and random distribution tend to have a bigger impact on whether a fly ball, grounder or line drive is caught. But even so, you do find that certain pitchers, particularly ace relievers, give up less runs on certain types of batted balls. Mariano Rivera, for instance, has given up less runs per line drive than the major league average each of the last five years—even with that Yankees outfield behind him.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we’re going to take a major leap forward with this year’s Hardball Times Annual by including the 2006 run value of every type of batted ball for every batter with at least 100 plate appearances, and every pitcher who faced at least 100 batters. On the same pages as normal stats, like batting average, home runs and ERA, you’ll find lines like this one:

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

% of PA % of Batted Balls Runs Per Event Total Runs vs. Avg.
Cameron M. 634 22 12 38 17 45 .09 .13 .05 .11 .44 .23 2 8 -4 9 16

I apologize for the lousy HTML formatting; rest assured that these stats will look awesome in the book. Plus, we will make a downloadable spreadsheet with all the stats available to those who purchase the book. But take a closer look at these numbers so you can see what they’re saying.

They’re saying that San Diego’s Mike Cameron had a pretty good year at bat last year. Starting on the far right, he created 16 runs more than the average player with his plate outcomes. When you add in the impact of Cameron’s glove work, you can see that the Padres got themselves quite a center fielder in exchange for Xavier Nady.

Striding into the stats from the right, you’ll find which types of batted balls were Cameron’s strengths. Right away, you see that he was nine runs above average on fly balls but four runs below average on line drives. Why? Well, if you look over to the left side of the table, you’ll find some detail for each type of batted ball hit by Cameron:

  • 45% of Cameron’s batted balls were flyballs, much higher than the major league average of 37%. Plus, only 9% of his flies were infield flies (major league average was 11%) and 13% of his outfield flies were home runs (11% was the major league average). As a result, Cameron generated .23 runs for every fly ball he hit, higher than the average of .19. None of these figures are adjusted for home park, by the way, which makes Cameron’s performance even more impressive. PETCO is not a friendly park for fly ball batters.
  • Line drives? Cameron didn’t hit as many of them (17% of batted balls vs. 20% major league average) though he produced a better-than-average number of runs with each liner (.44 vs. .39). The overall impact, however, was slightly below average (the -4 in runs vs. average).

But even more interesting are the other two figures, ground balls and NIP, which stands for Not In Play (which basically means strikeouts and walks). Cameron was the best ground ball hitter in the majors last year, generating eight runs more than the average batter, just about as big an impact as his fly ball hitting. Why? Well, he didn’t hit a lot of them (his 38% rate was six points lower than average) but his speed enabled him to beat out more than the average runner and he produced .11 runs, on average, every time he hit a ground ball. The average major leaguer produced .04 runs per ground ball.

Finally, Cameron was about average when it came to strikeouts and walks, a far cry from his performance in previous years. His 22% strikeout rate, while still higher than the average major leaguer (17%) was lower than his previous years. And his walk rate, at 12%, was three points better than the major league average. Net net, he was right around average when not putting the ball in play.

What does it all mean? Mike Cameron had a relatively unique year at the plate, generating about the same amount of runs with his fly ball power and ground ball speed. You don’t find a lot of hitters with quite that balance of skills. But it perfectly fits his profile from the last four years—he was just a bit better in most categories (and a lot better with his strikeout rate). The Padres are glad he was.

How much fun is this stuff? Let me show you the simple total batted ball runs vs. average for each American League pitching staff. Remember, negative numbers are good for pitchers.

Team         NIP      GB      LD      FB     Tot
LAA          -34      11     -33     -20     -76
DET           -9     -42       1     -20     -70
MIN          -78       0      10       5     -63
NYA           -7       4     -30      -7     -39
TOR          -10      -8      -5       1     -22
OAK            4      -4       8     -30     -21
CHA          -28      11     -14      28      -4
TEX            1       7      10     -22      -4
CLE          -24      55      -5     -24       3
SEA            7      -6      15     -10       6
BOS           -6     -12       6      37      25
TB            35      49      28     -27      85
BAL           28      30      -6      35      87
KC            52      21      31      29     133

The best pitching staffs tend to stand out in the NIP category, simply because those staffs strike out lots of batters but don’t walk a lot of them. Minnesota was the king in that department. The Angels of Anaheim didn’t match the Twins’ NIP record, but they allowed a lot less runs on line drives and fly balls. The fly ball success was primarily due to their relatively low home run rate and high infield fly rate (it certainly wasn’t due to their tremendous outfield) and their success with line drives was simply a matter of giving up less line drives than the average staff.

Glance over the stats, and you’ll note things like the strength of Detroit’s infield (particularly Brandon Inge), the lousy infields in Tampa and Cleveland, the hurtful fly balls allowed by both the White Sox and Red Sox (park alert) and a pretty interesting line for Oakland, whose staff was mostly average except when it came to fly balls.

I could go all day with this stuff, but I have to get back to work on the Annual. As I said, the book will have this info for most players (and major league comparisons will be readily available in each table) as well as each team. David Gassko and I will also have more fun (??) articles about batted ball stats in the main section of the book. So please order your copy today.

If you can afford it, please purchase the book from our friends at ACTA instead of Amazon or some such place. We make very little money from books purchased through Amazon, and the whole idea of the Annual is to raise enough cash to cover our operating expenses and pay our writers a bit.

We spend thousands of dollars on stats and web operations, and we don’t have a lot of ads on our site. All we ask is that you pay full price when you buy the Annual. If you need to purchase the book through a discount online retailer, then please consider making a donation to THT through the Paypal donation button on the home page (lower right hand column). Our batted ball stats thank you.

References & Resources
The weights used for the batted ball run values were derived by David Gassko, using a bit of sorcery, I believe. We developed weights for the major leagues as a whole, which isn’t the technically perfect way to do it. As a result, there are some findings, such as the Angels rated better than the Twins or Tigers in runs not allowed, that don’t match reality. In future editions, we may develop team-specific weights, which will increase the accuracy of the team results.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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