Keeping It in the Infield

On a list of the highest single season infield hit totals since FanGraphs began tracking the statistic in 2002, Ichiro Suzuki occupies the first seven spots. Across all seasons, Ichiro’s 391 infield hits totally dwarfs every other hitter in baseball. The next highest is Luis Castillo with 248. By sole dint of his impressive cumulative total, it is tempting to award Ichiro as the best infield hitter in baseball, but is that a reasonable conclusion?

Ichiro bats leadoff and is incredibly durable, routinely garnering among the top number of plate appearances among hitters each season. That translates to lots and lots of opportunities to rack up infield hits. Instead of looking just at raw totals this illustrates a need to look at rates so that I can attempt to control for Ichiro’s advantage in opportunities.

Usually the most logical way to turn a total into a rate for a hitter is to divide by plate appearances. That runs right into a problem on the other extreme though as the leader in infield hits per plate appearance is Aquilino Lopez who has had one trip to the plate in his career and reached on an infield error (FanGraphs counts those among infield hits). I do not consider Lopez’s one-for-one to be more impressive than Ichiro and neither should anyone.

Lopez’s 100% rate is a symptom of ignoring the denominator, which we cannot afford to do any more than we should rely solely on the numerator. A balance must be struck between rates (to weed out people with far more opportunities) and counting stats (to weed out people with far too few opportunities). That balance typically takes the form of a minimum requirement, such as we see in Batting Average and ERA titles that require a certain number of at bats and innings pitched before a player is eligible to qualify.

Determining a reasonable minimum is often a subjective exercise and often varies with the measurement in question. For something like this, I desire something akin to two seasons worth of data. Putting in a 1,000 plate appearance threshold shows Ichiro to rank second (5.3%) slightly behind Joey Gathright (5.7%), but are plate appearances the right measure to use as rate denominator? It certainly is not a bad one, and I would not fault anyone who used it, but I believe there is a better one available, ground balls.

The vast majority of infield hits are going to come from ground balls. Ones that do not are not particularly interesting to me. An infield hit off a pop fly or line drive speaks more of flukiness than a repeatable skill to me. Ichiro retakes the lead when using that measure, with a 500 ground ball minimum, but just barely. He edges out Gathright by four-hundredths of a percentage point. Looking at infield hits per ground ball hit also introduces Brett Gardner, Drew Stubbs, Jose Tabata and Nolan Reimold as potential overtakers once they get a bigger sample. It also shows Jason Bay at a surprisingly high place. At 11.7%, Bay ranks third among hitters with enough ground balls to qualify.

So is Ichiro the hitter most adept at getting infield hits? I think so, though it is certainly a lot closer than his overall lead in infield hits would lead me to believe. I also give Ichiro slightly more credit for accomplishing a league-leading rate over such a larger sample than the other contenders possess.

The need to balance rates and totals is not a new or even an ignored idea. Still, I find it useful from time to time to break things down to their fundamental levels to make sure we lay out our assumptions and thinking patterns for any newcomers. Plus, it is always prudent to remember to evaluate our criteria before offering rankings.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Member
phoenix2042
5 years 5 months ago

good analysis, but you forgot to add something: Ichiro is just plain awesome.

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Vaga
5 years 5 months ago

Awesome…

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Sam
5 years 5 months ago

*yawn* There’s a point called trying to find meaning where there isn’t any. I’m getting a feeling this article gets very close to this point..

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brendan
5 years 5 months ago

you might be somewhat true, but adding in the yawn just makes you sound like a douchebag.

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Telo
5 years 5 months ago

I’d say the yawn was fairly appropriate…

Usually the most logical way to turn a total into a rate for a hitter is to divide by plate appearances. That runs right into a problem on the other extreme though as the leader in infield hits per plate appearance is Aquilino Lopez who has had one trip to the plate in his career and reached on an infield error (FanGraphs counts those among infield hits). I do not consider Lopez’s one-for-one to be more impressive than Ichiro and neither should anyone.

Lopez’s 100% rate is a symptom of ignoring the denominator, which we cannot afford to do any more than we should rely solely on the numerator. A balance must be struck between rates (to weed out people with far more opportunities) and counting stats (to weed out people with far too few opportunities). That balance typically takes the form of a minimum requirement, such as we see in Batting Average and ERA titles that require a certain number of at bats and innings pitched before a player is eligible to qualify.

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Sam
5 years 5 months ago

I’m cool with that.

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Landon
5 years 4 months ago

More like a douchebag with more negatives than an oversized house in a trailer park during a down turn in the real estate market…

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John
5 years 5 months ago

The point of the article is only kind of about Ichiro. It’s mostly about using Ichiro to show how Fangraphs writers form arguments and use statistics in a meaningful, non-random matter. If you don’t care how the sausage is made, just eat your damn sausage and be quiet.

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chuckb
5 years 4 months ago

or don’t eat it and move on to one of the other great articles here. It’s not that hard to read one (or skip one) and move to the next without having to be a jerk.

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Rick
5 years 5 months ago

Just curious, but what is the value in knowing which hitter is most adept at getting infield hits? Another thought, what hitters have the highest % of (2B + 3B) / (LD + FB). I wonder how much that correlates to speed as opposed to power.

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Mike H
5 years 5 months ago

Holy mother of filler, i defy you to tell me Fangraphs articles don’t have a word minimum.

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evo34
5 years 5 months ago

Is there a table missing, which would show the inf. hit rates for all the top players?

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Oscar
5 years 5 months ago

Why would you possibly write “by sole dint of” instead of “because of”? Is Fangraphs sponsored by the thesaurus or something? I think Carson has infected the rest of the staff with verbose bloating.

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David Carter
5 years 5 months ago

What you call “verbose bloating” – others call good writing.

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Oscar
5 years 5 months ago

I mean, the correct way to approach this article is by writing “Sorting all active players by infield hits per PA and setting an appropriate minimum PA requirement tells us that Ichiro Suzuki is the best active player at getting infield hits.”, and then deleting the sentence because it’s common knowledge.

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chuckb
5 years 4 months ago

and the correct way to reply to a previous commenter’s comment, is to hit the reply button prior to commenting.

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Slacker George
5 years 5 months ago

If he wanted to, Ichiro could lead the league in under-the-ground hits.

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Dealer A
5 years 5 months ago

But can Ichiro jump over Hiorki Kuroda?

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max
5 years 5 months ago

Yes

Member
5 years 5 months ago

Ichiro is not only one of the best and awesome player in baseball, but also very fascinating one due to his unique game.

But…a infield hit must be lower than the other singles in terms of runs value, because it has less effects of advancing runners. Can it lead to lessening his batting value? (though, if it can do, I still believe he is one of the more valuable player in baseball.)

I’d like to know the difference between the two from the runs value standpoint, so if someone knows or has read something about it, I’d like you to show me it.

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Bob
5 years 5 months ago

This would only matter if there are runners on base. And since we’re talking about the 2010 Mariners, the impact is 0.

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Bob
5 years 5 months ago

How about incorporating defensive positioning? Wouldn’t this significantly impact the ability of players to get an infield hit? If the infield plays shallow, then getting an infield hit is probably less likely as compared to playing back for power hitters (which would explain Jason Bay being on the list). And since I’m going to postulate (through observation only) that the infielders play in much more on Ichiro than most other players, I think the only real conclusion is:

Ichiro! is truly awesome.

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Neil S
5 years 5 months ago

Rather than set minimums, why not regress the results – add, say, a 200 ground-ball sample of league-average performance? That would deal with all of your Lopez problem without disqualifying other batters who might deserve consideration.

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CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

Matt,

Interesting premise.

Here’s what I run into ….

As a result of the article I know that Ichiro and Joey Gathright are 1 and 2 in terms of IFH% as a rate of turning groundballs into hits.

Seeing how both of them are very fast, groudball machines, that hit form the left side … that might actually be very predictable.

Here’s what I need to make this information applicable or more interesting to me (when I say “to me”, I simply mean “as a reader”).

Compared to other batters with similar ground ball rates … How many extra hits, as a result of these IG hits off GB’s, does this result in for Ichiro and Gathwright? That gives me some perspective on how if affects actual outcome and the like.

Maybe give us an idea of what Ichiro would be like, in terms of value, if he achieved IF hits at the average rate so that we have an idea of how to appreciate his IF hit rate.

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Dufman
5 years 4 months ago

Wouldn’t IFH per BiP be more appropriate? Bay probably is positioned differently because of his power, so if we ignore his flyballs and line drives, couldn’t that inflate his IFH% as put in the article? How many of Bay’s IFHs are dribblers that the third baseman cannot reach?

I found the article interesting, but if articles are going to be written with a higher level of vocabulary, I would expect a more exhaustive article with charts, graphs and more supporting data. Otherwise the language comes across as verbose and unnecessary rather than enriching.

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Nats Fan
5 years 4 months ago

you guys do realize that infield singles are rarely better than a walk from a leadoff hitter. Why Ichiro is regarded as godlike for being the king or infield singles (rather than merely very good) I do not understand. he is a very good player, but would you guys worship a guy with a .350 on base % with 200 walks and 30 steals as much? I doubt it