Crowdsourcing: Roger Maris’ Batting Profile

Recently it was brought to my attention that Roger Maris had a career BABIP of 0.254. This value seems low for him or any player with an extended major league career. In the video I have seen of him, he looks like a line drive hitter. With your help, I would like to find out what kind of batted ball profile Maris had over his career.

Maris’ BABIP was always low throughout his career. In his first MVP season of 1960, it was 0.255. In 1961, the season when he hit 61 home runs, it was 0.209. It averaged anywhere from 0.209 to 0.287 over his career.

Since 1920, exactly 717 hitters have accumulated over 5000 PA. Of these players, Maris has the 11th lowest BABIP. Some notable players ranked around him are Dave Kingman, Harmon Killebrew, Rocky Colavito and fittingly, the player that ended up breaking his single season home run record, Mark McGwire. Most of these players are the type of players that intentionally swung for the fences.

From the video I have seen, Maris didn’t have the huge upper cut in his swing. Here are four videos of his swing. Three are home runs #59, #60 and #61 from when he was chasing Babe Ruth‘s single season home run record in 1961. The other was of a swing during batting practice.

I am not the best judge of swings, but Maris doesn’t seem to have a big upper cut in his swing. He seems like a line drive hitter.

To look for similar types of hitters, I went back to his BABIP and got some possible comparisons. I looked at batters from 2001 to 2010, years when batted ball data was available, that had over 1800 PA and a similar BABIP. There were 7 players with within 5 points of Maris’ BABIP (Rafael Palmeiro, Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Carlos Quentin, Joe Crede, Jose Valentin, Damion Easley). The average batted ball data for these players was:

LD: 18%
GB: 34%
FB: 48%
HR/FB% of 10.7%.

These batters loved to either hit a fly ball or a ground ball. They were not line drive hitters. Also, these batters didn’t have elite HR/FB% numbers.

Another note on this group and Maris was that they were slow. The group averaged a Speed Score of 3.3 while Maris’ was 3.7 over his career. Some players with similar Speed Scores in 2011 are Raul Ibanez and Joey Votto. These players are not at the Adam Dunn slowness level (0.9 speed score), but they are not speedsters either.

With this background information, I would like to ask the following question to our readers:

What type of hitter was Roger Maris?

Was he a line drive hitter that he looks like to me in the videos? Or was he an extreme fly ball hitter that the stats suggest? I would like to hear from readers on the types of batted balls Maris hit when he was playing. Thanks.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

47 Responses to “Crowdsourcing: Roger Maris’ Batting Profile”

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  1. Mike D says:

    “1962”? Twice?


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  2. Mike D says:

    What was the average MLB seasonal BABIP during Maris’s career for comparison purposes?

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      1957 0.275
      1958 0.277
      1959 0.277
      1960 0.277
      1961 0.279
      1962 0.281
      1963 0.273
      1964 0.279
      1965 0.274
      1966 0.276
      1967 0.274
      1968 0.269

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      • Mike D says:

        So relatively speaking (player vs. MLB average), how does that compare to today’s hitters?

        What is the average BABIP of the last few seasons?

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      • Nick says:

        Where’d you get thise numbers?

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      • Jeff Zimmerman says:

        The current numbers are near 0.295. Huge bump when the mound was lowered.

        Sadly, no one has the BABIP numbers, but B-Ref has the raw league numbers, so I just calculated the BABIP

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      • astromets says:

        So his career BABIP was not that much lower than the league BABIP when he played, approximately .020 points difference. This doesn’t seem too low, and for his career, 1961 seems like an outlier.

        He went to plate a lot in 1961 – 698 PAs, walking 94 times and striking out 67, with 61 HRs and 7 sacrifices. That leaves 469 other PA, during which time he had 98 hits for his .209 BABIP.

        1962 he had 687 PA, 87 BBs, 78 SOs, 33 HRs and 7 sacrifices, leaving 482 PAs for 118 hits and his .245 BABIP.

        The main difference between 1961 and 1962 is that HRs are down, while 2Bs are up. Replace 28 HRs with 18 doubles in 1961 (difference in HR and 2B totals), and his BABIP is in the .230s; while still low, this is more in line with the remainder of his career.

        I know the lowered pitching mound gave the pitchers the advantage, and one can’t argue with the stats as presented, but I think the different hitting and fielding environment would affect Maris’ BABIP overall too. He was a power hitter and it fell on him to drive in runs, so even with a line drive approach (standard for the day anyway) he probably tried to drive the ball deeper or out of the park. I am not a trained scout, but it seems to me like Maris is always trying to pull the ball – especially in videos I see of HRs hit in 1961. If this is true, than the pull ball approach may be enough of a reason as to why Maris’ BABIP was so low – he simply pulled off too many outside breaking balls and grounded out a lot. Statistical evidence that supports this includes the 75 total GIDP during his career, and career high 16 he hit in 1961.

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  3. Matt Lentzner says:

    You don’t need to be an uppercut swinger to hit a lot of flies. In fact, this is considered a bad approach.

    You can also aim low on the ball. This gives you a lot of backspin. But you will pop out more often as well.

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  4. TheGrandslamwich says:

    By his swing alone I would assume almost everything he hit was pulled to right (I can’t seem to find a spray chart of his HR’s or anything).

    It looks like he does very little with his top hand in the swing, which would prevent him from rolling over, but also decreases his bat control so weak contact would become more likely.

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    • Romodonkulous says:

      good stuff…didn’t see this comment at first, but I’d venture to say you hit the nail on the head.

      You can see the relative neutral gear of his top-hand, ever so slightly, in that 2nd clip.

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      • DCN says:

        Yes, it’s a level swing, but it’s not tight enough to be a line drive swing.

        Actually reminds me a lot of Shawn Green’s swing – a really big arc, more extension than usual, not a lot of bat control. But Shawn Green had pretty good BABIP so I don’t fucking know.

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  5. RC says:

    All of those homeruns are towering fly balls. Doesn’t look like a line drive hitter to me.

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  6. William says:

    Looking at Maris’ stats on baseball reference, his GO/AO for his career was 0.70. Using the GO/AO to GB% conversion from the work of Carson Cistulli, Maris’ xGB% was 35%. Oddly enough, that number is almost the exact same as the 34% of hitters with similar numbers. It seems that Maris hit 65% of balls in the air, suggesting a below average babip. What we don’t know is if the majority of those balls were line drives or home runs.

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  7. Swingdoc says:

    Good post and interesting question. While I have studied many of the older swings and how they are different from today’s elite hitters, there isn’t much video of Maris other than what you’ve posted. However, I think it is safe to say he had a very flat or level swing. I have found that this is very typical in many of the older swings. A major league fastball is coming in at a downward angle of approximately 10%. Consequently, swinging level to the ground will generally produce lower line drives and more flies or grounders depending on which half of the ball the player prefers to hit (flies in the case of Maris). If you look at the players with the highest LD rates today, they consistently swing level to the flight of the ball (see Votto or Mauer), not the ground which maximizes the odds of a hit at the same ~10 degree trajectory.

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    • Nathan says:

      It should be noted that Ted Williams suggests swinging in the same plane as the ball’s velocity vector (like you say Mauer and Votto do) in “The Science Of Hitting.”

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  8. Tasintango says:

    Having seen him on a number of occasions in person(yes I’m old), I remember him hitting mostly flyballs or grounders to the right side. I can’t remember him ever hitting a linedrive when I was there. His swing helped him in old Yankee stadium.

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  9. joser says:

    This indirectly leads to something I’ve wondered about: when the mound was lowered after the 1968 season, what effect did that have in terms of the advanced metrics no one was looking at at the time (because they were as-yet uninvented)? I would assume hitters (and pitchers) adjusted, though that 1969 season might’ve been a bit weird with different players adjusting at different rates. And it certainly has a bearing on what you’re seeing when comparing swings of current hitters to those in the 60s and before: the angle required to get a given outcome (linedrive, pop-up, etc) is going to be different now and then.

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  10. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    Thanks everyone.

    I really like the concept of the change in mound on batted ball types.

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    • GMH says:

      Why? What evidence do you have to support that mound height had any relationship to BAPIP?

      Before 1969, it wasn’t like every mound was 20 inches high or higher. The uniformity of pitching mounds was the problem. Players would go to Dodger Stadium and the mound would be steep. They’d travel to Philadelphia and the mound would be almost completely flat, probably much lower than 10 inches. This disparity in mound height almost certainly made pitching more difficult. First of all, pitching off of a steep mound causes substantially more strain on the arm – which is why Nolan Ryan seldom threw off a mound except on the days of his starts. Secondly, inconsistent mound heights would cause a pitcher to have a timing problem, which would affect his command and produce additional strain on his arm.

      The lack of uniformity of mounds probably did little but cut a lot of pitcher’s careers short.

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      • stu says:

        Pitching from a higher mound would be, somewhat like throwing down a Ski slope, it would be a great advantage to certain pitchers. McClain, Gibson pitched off such a mound. And, Sandy Koufax, away from the high mound at Dodger stadium was pretty much a .500 pitcher. You can look it up…

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  11. Irwin says:

    It seems like he has a very long swing – note how far his hands are away from his body. This generally leads itself to a pull happy swing with lots of balls off he hands.

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    • GMH says:

      I don’t know whose swing you are describing, but it’s not Maris’s. Maris is very short to the ball and long through his swing, which is the mantra of virtually every hitting instructor. It’s a swing that provides power and backspin.

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  12. well says:

    Hitting a lot of homers naturally leads to a low BABIP – although, yea…outside of a couple years Maris didn’t constantly clock homers.

    An odd outlier that was worth examining

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  13. Peter Gentleman says:

    His swing looks pretty flat and slappy to me. I don’t imagine anything he didn’t manage to hit in the air would be hit very hard.

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    • GMH says:

      Right. That’s why the man won two MVP awards and played in four all star games: he couldn’t hit the ball hard.

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  14. max says:

    I didn’t know there was YouTube in 1961.

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    • Jon L. says:

      I don’t know what year is what founded, but YouTube first became popular in 1929 when rogue videographers began posting moving images of people jumping off buildings in response to the stock market crash.

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  15. Romodonkulous says:

    It’s often more helpful to analyze the movement and specifics of a player’s hands through the zone, as opposed to their actual swing.

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    • GMH says:

      That makes no sense. The way a hitter’s hands move through the zone is part and parcel of his actual swing.

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  16. HamptonBayardHampton says:

    As the Scooter used to say, The Commerce Commet’s homers were Cathedral Shots -so high- while Roger’s HR were line drives that got out in a hurry.

    Interesting comment on the speed, as he was even better at football in HS as a running back and set a state record for returning kickoffs for TDs that stood for a number of years in one the Dakotas.

    Also, he was well known as one of the best at giving up his AB to move a runner over with less than 2 outs with an infield grounder to the right side, a much more popular tactic before arbitration stats meant more than an old-time manager’s tactics.

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    • stu says:

      He once ran back four kickoffs in a High school football game, was offered a scholarship to Nebraska, was a track and field star, and someone says he had no speed? They were, obviously, looking at the wrong guy.

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  17. Thomas says:

    Having seen Maris when he was a Cardinal, his shot’s remind me of one Player’s shot’s. Jack Clark. Short swing to the ball, line drive Homerun.

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  18. maqman says:

    I saw quite a few of his games throughout his whole career and in 1961 in particular as I followed his quest to beat the Babe. I don’t recall a very noticeable uppercut in his swing. He was quite strong and more of a power hitter than most people might think by looking at him. He hit some stinging line drivers and his home runs got out quickly, mostly to the right side. I’ve always thought that he was very underrated as a player. Being a Brooklyn Dodger fan I was and am no fan of the Yankees but he was one of the best to me.

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  19. Walter Shapiro says:

    I am not an expert, but don’t we have World Series highlight reels and actual tapes of a few games from 1960-1964? I can’t believe that in Cooperstown or for sale on ebay there isn’t a much more detailed visual record of Maris’ swing.

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  20. maqman says:

    TV in the years before color was added, starting around the mid-1960s, was recorded on a system called kinescope. This was created by filming in 16 or 35mm film using a camera placed in front of a TV monitor. The practice during that time was to wipe out the recordings to reuse the media for later programs. This included baseball games. Recently a kinescope 16mm copy of the 1960 seventh game of the Pittsburg Pirates vs New York Yankees World Series game was found in the former wine cellar of Bing Crosby, who was a part owner of the Pirates, consisting of five reels of film. The story is at:

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  21. MikeD says:

    Did they employ a shift against Maris? If he was an extreme pull hitter and they had a shift that could pull his BABIP down quite a bit, perhaps similar to what has happened to Mark Teixeira this year when batting left.

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  22. KJOK says:

    I’m not old enough to really remember Maris swing when I saw him playing for the Cardinals, but I would note as some above alluded to:

    1. Extreme Pull Hitter, which I think would impact his BABIP.
    2. BABIP doesn’t work for hitters like it does for pitchers. You’re EXCLUDING some of his more hard hit balls by excluding HR’s. I think a better comparision would be ‘true’ BABIP vs. league BABIP, which INCLUDES HRs.

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  23. vinnie says:

    Growing up, I watched a lot of Yankee games that Roger Maris played in during his prime years. As you can see for yourself, he had a beautiful swing and made a lot of contact for a homerun hitter. While he could and did hit a lot of high fly balls, I always considered him more of a line drive hitter, compared to Mantle, Gentile or Killebrew, as you suggest his swing evidences.
    Also, I don’t remember him hitting too many balls to the opposite field, although he wasn’t a dead pull hitter who lost some of his best shots that often times were caught in front of the 407 ft sign in right center.
    As a runner, he was deceptively fast and a smart and aggressive baserunner. As for right fielders(and he could have been a great center fielder as well), only Al Kaline may have been better and his arm was both strong and accurate.
    The real shame is that injuries took away his power and sapped his strength as a hitter. At the time, we didn’t stop to consider that his last few years were played in the peak of the “pitchers years.”
    Think of him more as a left handed version of Henry Aaron, who also was a great line drive homerun hitter.
    Wish all of you could have seen him when he was healthy.

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  24. Old Yankee Fan says:

    I was quite young at the time so this is just based on memory: if Maris hit a ground ball that an infielder could reach, by the time the ball landed in the first baseman’s mitt, Maris would have been about halfway between home plate and first base. I remember this being an object of discussion at the time, as well.

    Someone would have to check the papers at the time for more info on THAT, but I would suspect that that cut maybe ten, twenty (or possibly more in a particular season) points from his BABIP. Too bad the information on ground balls, etc. in those days isn’t available.

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  25. Erik P says:

    It is incredibly tough, impossible even, to decipher the plane of any hitters bat in video shown at ‘game speed’. Were talking about inches of bat travel in a fraction of a fraction of a let’s not go making assumptions about the plane of his swing. We would need slow motion digital video to make actual judgements about his swing.

    Maris was a lefty, so obviously he was a pull hitter. A pull hitter who was incredibly prone to extreme hot and cold streaks. Of course I have no idea what he was thinking while he was at the plate, but could his babip be caused by hot streaks in which he was hitting quite a few homers, thus having a low babip, and then his cold streaks, where he was getting out, so obviously a lower babip?

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  26. stu says:

    The important thing is he did not cheat, and use Steroids. Also he had a wrist injury which caused him much trouble in 62. If he’d hit his first homer in 61 before his 11th game he would have broken Ruth’s record within 154 games. But twice MVP, and holder of the True homer record, and leading four teams to world series victories, and he’s not in the Hall of Shame? Very odd and Hard to believe… Must have been the Buzz Cut…

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  27. Joe C says:

    First of all, Maris was a very fast runner, period. He still holds the high school record for returning kickoffs of touchdowns in a single game, 4.

    Regarding his hitting, Maris had 2 issues. He had a great eye, but by his own admission, he had too big a hitting zone, particularily up in the zone. Secondly, and this was mentioned earlier, Maris was under significant pressure from the Yankee brass to hit homeruns, and he attempted to pull any and all pitches. These two issues led to a lower than ba than his hitting skill would suggest.

    From my recollection, Maris hit both fly ball hr’s and line drive hits.

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