How Would You Produce if You Sometimes Swung the Bat?

Jeff Sullivan, esteemed overlord of the Community blog, wrote a fun article this past week looking at how the average schlub like you or me would produce if given an opportunity to bat and chose to literally never swing. Pitchers, as it turns out, are surprisingly fallible when it comes to striking out realistic simulacrums of hitters, and the expected production would be nonzero by a hair. What a couple people claimed in the comments was that they could be better than Jeff’s predicted .000/.073/.000, that they could swing blindly a couple times and occasionally get on base, somehow. Maybe that was you! I call shenanigans. Swinging obviously leads to negative outcomes as well, and I think the decreased chance of a walk would outweigh the nonzero chance of a hit. I took Jeff’s frequently given advice (if you want to know more, do the research yourself) and decided to see what would happen if you did decide to swing sometimes.

Throughout this, I’m going to follow a fairly similar methodology to Jeff and use a lot of his numbers whenever possible, so we’ll assume pitchers have the same abilities to throw strikes he gave. It’s true that it might change a bit if they knew what you were planning, but Jeff assumed the pitchers thought you were at least thinking about swinging, so it’s not too big a stretch. To extend the conclusions, we have to decide a few things — when you swing, how likely you are to make contact, and what happens when you do.

In making these assumptions, I’m trying to channel what you or I, a reader of FanGraphs, would do in the batter’s box. If I decided to swing ever, it would be just that, a conscious decision, one I would probably have to make before the ball ever left the pitcher’s hand. There is no way I have the ability to determine if a pitch is a ball or a strike or at all hittable while it’s approaching me rapidly. Therefore, in our scenario, you have a predetermined chance of swinging at any pitch, ball or strike. We’ll call that swing rate, and it depends entirely on how aggressive you’re feeling.

Now we need contact percentages, and for the next few sections, I’m again going to follow Jeff’s lead by looking for some of the historically worst contact percentages ever, and adjust those down somewhat. Looking over the last six years for players with at least 20 plate appearances, there are some pretty terrible numbers for both in-zone and out-of-zone contact rates. Sean West of the Marlins and Alex Wood of the Braves both have O-Contact rates of 0.00%. The lowest non-zero rate belongs to Sean Gallagher, at 14.3%. The lowest from a position player is that of Reid Gorecki, outfielder for the Braves, at 18.8%. It seems fairly reasonable to set your O-Contact% at 10%. Z-Contact% is better, but we see some of the same names. The lowest is Rick VandenHurk, 36.8%. Sean Gallagher ranks third-worst here as well, at 55.6%. Mike Costanzo is the worst position player at 59.3%, though good ol’ Reid Gorecki isn’t far behind, the fifth-worst position player at 68.6%. 50% seems like a good round number to choose for Z-Contact%.

So now we know when you swing, and whether or not you make contact. What happens then? There are 10 players with at least 20 PAs who have a BABIP of .000, so it’s presumably possible (maybe even likely) to ground out every time we even manage to make contact. Brandon McCarthy is the lowest-nonzero rate, at .037, or one hit in the 27 times he’s put the ball in play. The lowest position player is Oswaldo Navarro, shortstop, at .063. We’ll be generous, and assume some of these awful numbers are bad luck and need to be duly regressed, and put your true-talent BABIP at .050.

The floor for your hypothetical power abilities is even lower. Lots of position players have .000 ISO, with all of Luis Durango’s 19 career hits in 74 PAs (the largest sample size among players at .000) being singles. That’s boring, however. We want at least some chance for extra bases. ISO, however, measures extra bases per at-bat, when really what we want is extra bases conditional on the ball being a hit. We can safely set that pretty low as well. Johnny Cueto has a surprising number of PAs, at 340, and the lowest nonzero ISO at .004. Of his 26 hits, 25 were singles, with one double. There are lots of similarly bad numbers, so we’ll put your chance at extra bases at .02, or once per every fifty hits. Sounds about right. They’ll all be doubles — no way you’re hitting the ball hard enough for a triple or dinger, inside-the-park or otherwise.

Now it’s time to plug and chug. (Before continuing, an aside: we’re obviously assuming unrealistic things here, like that our BABIP will be the same on pitches in the zone and on those not, and that the probabilities will be the same regardless of the count, but we’re also assuming that you’re in a major-league game, so let’s not quibble over realism.) Continuing to shamelessly appropriate Jeff’s numbers and methodology, when we step up to the plate, there’s about a .24% chance we’ll be hit in the at-bat and automatically reach base. Nice! Jeff set an expected strike-rate of 70%, and we’ll use that as well. If we didn’t swing, we walked or were hit enough for an OBP of .073. How does swinging sometimes change your production?

Oof. Not well, is the answer. You can see that while BA and SLG increase when you swing more, it’s not nearly enough to cover the increased strikes and in-play outs, and reasonable swing rates in the 25-60 percent range cause lead to some even worse wOBAs in the .020s and .030s. Interestingly, the minimum wOBA comes right around a swing rate of 45%, after which it is better to swing more no matter what your rate is, until you’re deciding to swing before literally every single pitch. They should probably learn your strategy fairly quickly, but until they do, your OBP is about .040 (you get on base once every 25 at-bats!) and your wOBA is about .036. For comparison, Jon Lester (my go-to terribly-hitting pitcher) has a lifetime OBP of .030 and a wOBA of .021.

How good would you have to be for swinging sometimes to be better than doing nothing? It doesn’t take a lot. If you can make slightly more solid contact, and we up your BABIP to .150 and the chance of a double given a hit to 15%, swinging more is a very good thing, with your wOBA topping out at .110 (!!!) when you swing 100% of the time. To be fair, though, while this is a small increase in magnitude, it’s better contact than a lot of pitchers make, so I think the original assumptions are probably closer to the truth.

So now you know. If you’re ever dropped into a baseball game somehow, remember Eddie Gaedel, and keep the bat firmly fixed on your shoulder. Because while you would be terrible, really really terrible, it would be even worse if you for some second you forgot how terrible you were and tried swinging.

PS — I put together a whole spreadsheet where you can mess with all these numbers and see how it changes the results, and if that’s something people would be interested in I could provide a link so you can make assumptions of your own.



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HoJam
Guest
HoJam

For people to assume that if you randomly swing a bat, it would give you some sort of avg or leverage, is a hilarious. Pitchers aren’t machines. This isn’t a batting cage. They think and adjust to the situation. If an avg joe stepped into a batters box against a major league pitcher, and the pitcher was made aware of this….. The out come would not be good. However, I love the topic and the question. I’d love the link to play around with the spreadsheet!

philosofool
Guest
philosofool

This depends on what you mean by “randomly swing the bat.”
The most basic element of game theory is that some games have only mixed solutions. A mixed solution means that you randomly select between two pure strategies, such as “swing” and “take.” Of course, “randomly” does not usually mean “with a 50-50 chance.” You would swing or take randomly, but for most people, take will be the preferred (i.e., more frequent) action.

Matthew Murphy
Member

Two points.

First, the offensive production isn’t so much worse with a high swing rate and truly terrible hitting peripherals than never swinging. It would be interesting to see how even just a modest bump in BABIP (.075-.100) or ISO (.004-.005) might affect the curves and make worth swinging.

Second, the original post was built off of the idea that if you never swing the bat, the pitcher can’t tell that you’re a terrible hitter. The second you take that first swing and miss horribly, whether it’s a whiff on a fastball right down the middle or flailing at a pitch way out of the zone, the pitcher will realize that you don’t belong in the batter’s box and will adjust his strategy accordingly.

olethros
Member
olethros

I think it’s laughable that anyone not currently active in at least A ball thinks that they could do anything better than a foul tip, IFFB, or weak grounder if they were silly enough to swing at MLB pitching. BABIP should probably be around .001, contact rates virtually nil. The worst hitting pitcher in MLB is far better at hitting than us.

philosofool
Member
Member

That’s silly. I would venture that 1/30 completely weakly hit balls in play by MLB players are still hits. If not that, 1/50. It’s higher than 1/100. Why not think that someone like me would have a BABIP at half this very conservative rate? That gives me a BABIP of .005 (assuming that I never, ever make anything better than weak contact) five times your made up estimate.

olethros
Member
olethros

Weakly hit by you is very different from weakly hit by an active MLB player. Unless you played through college, and are still under the age of 25 or so, I doubt that any of us could even make contact at all. But if by sheer dumb luck bat met ball, I don’t believe it would have any chance of being anything other than an out. I only went above .000 because baseball does strange and unexpected things.

chris moran
Guest

True most people wouldn’t be able to do too much, but plenty of college players could at least make contact or perform better than some pitchers. Back when I was a good D-III hitter, I might have been able to hit .025.

cass
Guest
cass

I think a Z-Contact% of 50% is insanely high. No way would Joe FanGraphs Reader make contact 50% of the time against MLB pitches in the zone. Their bat would not be in the zone at the same time as the ball because they’d have no idea how to time the fastball.

I also wonder about bunting, but I think the fielders would already be in. Still, with a runner on base, should you attempt to bunt to try to move the runner over or just keep the bat on your shoulders figuring a strikeout is better than a double play? What if there are two ours? Hope for a walk or go for a bunt?

In the general scenario, I think a walk followed by the next guy hitting a home run is the dream scenario. Cause even a FanGraphs reader can jog around the bases. And then you’d have one MLB run. Amazing!

If I were writing the movie, though, you’d forget to touch one of the bases and be called out.

filihok
Guest

I agree with this.

No way does the average Joe make contact 50% of the time. We are, collectively, not as good as Rick VandenHurk.

Cool article though.

Sean Roberts
Member

Great job on this. Was wondering about this, and glad someone ran the numbers!

Michael
Guest
Michael

As a former low level pro pitcher for many years and a previously accomplished high school hitter who has since had some overmatched at bats I think the numbers seem somewhat reasonable.

In an international game I saw a 1-0 game decided by one of the worst hitters I have ever seen grounding a double over the first base bag against one of the best pitchers I have ever seen in a laughable mismatch. Some non-players would have a zero value and could fail 1000 times in a row, but I think on average taking actual swings (ones that could produce a hit if contact is made) would produce a non-profit result.

One factor not considered would be if defensive positioning could over react (oppo and shallow) to drastically reduce things further. If you imagine David Ortiz hitting a ball well and having a second baseman throw him out from the outfield, you can imagine seven major leaguers adjusting to expected outcome in a babip stifling way

So unless strength and timing of swing allows some possibility of pulling or a flyball with some depth, things could move towards zero.

But if the batter has some strength and doesn’t try to increase contact percentage by slapping at the ball, I think there is a scaled down possibility of very infrequent results akin to Lester’s fly ball off Lincecum that make non-profit numbers plausible.

Michael
Guest
Michael

* Non-profit = non-zero (autocorrect)

Garbanzo
Guest
Garbanzo

I’d be thrilled if I could connect half the time against a pitching machine on 90. And if it threw one out of the zone high or low, there’s no chance in hell I could adjust to the ball in flight and make any contact.

Paul
Guest
Paul

As others have mentioned, there is no way in hell an average person (even if he is athletic) could have a Z-contact% of 50 without extensive baseball experience.

foxnsox
Guest
foxnsox

There’s a little problem with increasing your swing rate to 100%. The pitcher will immediately start throwing more balls, forcing you to accept the much lower 0-Contact rate.

Spencer Jones
Member

People seem to kind of be overreacting to the numbers given with these exercises. It’s a funny thought exercise, not Joe Fan’s Zips projections.

However, these numbers see reasonable for someone with a post-high school baseball playing career who is still in a fit physical state, that is significantly better than Joe Fan, I have a feeling he would put up worse numbers if he could actually find a way to come close to a big league batters box.

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