Losing Contact: The Shift From Singles to Power Hitting

The panel on ‘The Changing State of Sabermetrics: at the 2017 SABR convention in NYC with panelists Joel Sherman, Mark DeRosa, Vince Gennaro and Mike Petriello claimed that fewer balls are going into play and singles are actually down. They posed the question, “Are singles still a thing?”

With that in mind, we aimed to verify if these claims are true and what makes people feel that players are hitting fewer singles in today’s game.

We used data that’s current as of July 2, 2017.

NOTES:

 

Below you will see two charts illustrating the number of hits, home runs and strikeouts per game.

You can conclude three things from these graphs:

  1. Over the past 10 seasons, strikeouts have been increasing dramatically — 1.94 K/Game in the AL and 1.52 per game in the NL.
  2. Over the past 3 seasons, singles per game have dipped.
  3. Over the past 3 seasons, HR per game have spiked higher than ever before.

 

al-hits-per-game
Plot 14

To get a good picture of the change in the distribution of hits, we broke down the AL and NL in the following two graphs. From these graphs you can conclude three things.

  1. Percentage of HR are spiking higher than ever before.
    1. AL home runs are up 4.6% from 10.3% to 14.9% since 2014
    2. NL home runs are up 4.32% from 9.85% to 14.17%  since 2014
  2. Percentage of singles are lower than ever before.
    1. AL singles down 4% from 68% to 64% since 2014
    2. NL singles are down 4.85% from 68.44% to 63.59% since 2014
  3. These spikes somehow started in 2014.

 

 

Plot 20
Plot 22

With strikeouts per game over the last 20 years rising 1.752 strikeouts per game in the AL (6.456 per game to 8.210 per game) and in the NL 1.5 strikeouts per game (6.754 per game to 8.255 per game), we wanted to see how this has affected offensive performance in terms of both batting average (BA) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). For those unfamiliar with BABIP, it measures how often non-home-run batted balls fall for hits. This metric assesses how effective a particular hitter is at putting balls in play that lead to hits. The graphs below show how BA and BABIP are correlated.

  1. In the AL batting averages have dropped .271 to .255 over the past 20 years while BABIP has remained rather steady around .299.
  2. In the NL batting averages have dropped .263 to .254 over the past 20 years while BABIP has remained rather steady around .299.

 

Plot 18
Plot 16

Conclusion:

Singles are decreasing at an alarming rate, yes. However, they’re still the most prevalent type of hit in the game. This trend is supported by the panel’s feeling that the shift has led to vastly improved defense and pitchers making better use of SABR data. Conclusively tying shifts to better defense is a bit harder, however, as shift data is difficult to obtain.

Additionally, home runs and strikeouts are increasing to all-time historic highs. This confirms the general sentiment on the panel that batters are now willing to take bigger risks to go for the HR, resulting in more home runs and strikeouts.

In follow-up pieces, we are going to look into why this may be happening, and attempt to look into how this helps generate fan interest.



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Dominikk85
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Im not sure there is a relationship between swinging for power and strikeouts.

I did some research and found very little effect of launch angle. I did find and effect for exit velo but again I’m not sure whether that is an effect of swinging hard or whether there is a selection bias against soft hitters with contact problems

http://www.fangraphs.com/community/is-launch-angle-having-a-contact-cost/

It is rare that a power hitter has extremely low Ks but if you look at the slg leaderboard last year
http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2016&month=0&season1=2016&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=15,d

You have low K guys (ortiz ,murphy), medium K guys (votto, bryant) and just two high k guys (freeman, JDM). This year it is little different with judge and sano up there but generally I don’t think there is a huge penalty for power, it is just rare that power and contact are both at an elite level because those are two different but not related skillets and it is rare to hit the lottery twice.

Of course slugging also includes BA and guys like murphy and altuve get their slg more over their average and good launch angle rather than spectacular EV but I still think that the Ks are not so much a function of hitters selling out but a function of pitchers being so dominant that you will strike out a lot anyway no matter how hard you swing so you better make that rare contact count by swinging for extra bases.

If you look at the top hitters from last year by wRC+ you still see that most are in the lowish to medium high K range (15-23% or so).

I also think the new conditions actually help the contact hitters. If launch Angle is not having a big cost and exit velo is than a ball that flies farther favors good contact hitters that can hit the ball in the air and punishes guys with elite power and contact problems since they can’t separate themselves much from the pack if every fly ball goes out.

Murphy and altuve are good examples about guys with a BA driven slugging who learned to elevate the ball with OK but not special EV so that their ISO is also respectable and their SLG is elite now.

http://www.fangraphs.com/community/hitting-300-is-still-something/#comments