FanPost

Bill James - Contact hitters undervalued?

Ok, well watching Clubhouse Confidential, I hear Bill James answering about what is the next undervalued skill.

He answered that with the steroid era gone, there are now a lot of hitters who can swing and miss, but with less of a payoff (remember Adam Dunn's 2011?). Instead he talks about players like Marco Scutaro, Ichiro!, and Jeff Keppenger as undervalued assets.

It makes sense to me. If offense is depressed because of the steroid era, then HR hitters become more scarce and thus more valuable, perhaps overvalued. And while still volatile, if you can plunk in base hits all over the place and pepper the opposing team to death, it would serve the same purpose.

Leaguewide numbers over the last 6 years are interesting. While I cannot analyze them perhaps as properly, I can at least comment on what I see:

  • K rate has increased steadily from 17.1% to 19.6%, while BB rate has been more or less stable.
  • HR/FB rate has also been stable, as has the absolute # of HR's with the exception of 2010 and 2011 when it dipped by around 8%.
  • Yet run production has dropped by about 10% during that span.
  • SBs were stable until 2011 when it jumped 10%, and stayed there for 2012.
  • Swing and contact rates have been predominantly stable, but there is an increase of swings outside the zone (~8% increase) and to keep contact rates stable, an increase in contact on said pitches (~8% increase) outside the zone.

Now for my perhaps illogical conclusions, it seems that while the absolute number of HR's has been rather stable, it has not helped stave off the decrease in run production. Meanwhile, the league has been "giving up" more outs via the "swing-and-a-miss".

For the 2012 WS Giants, they swung at a higher rate of pitches than the average, and made contact more often too (especially on ball out of the zone, something we've seen the league do as of late). Since they made contact more often, they had a K rate that was one of the lowest in the league. Of the contact made, their GB/FB ratio was higher than most. And while I'm sure everyone knows this, they had the 2nd lowest ISO in the league - the Dodgers(?!) were the lowest!

The Tigers were also in the lowest quartile in terms of K rate, also swung a high rate (slightly more than the Giants in fact), but was not paid off as well in balls outside the zone.

Go back a year and the Rangers and Cardinals had the lowest K rates in the league. The Cardinals were more disciplined outside the zone and had average swing rates, but had the highest contact rates on balls in the zone. Their GB/FB rate was also one of the highest in the league.

It's only 2 years worth of observations in terms of looking at individual teams, but is there something to Bill James' statement that contact-hitters are (or perhaps were?) the new undervalued commodity? Yes, contact is no good with no power behind it, but line drives and gap hits? Again, while still volatile (i.e. needing multiple hits to score a run - unless you have speed), I (no surprise here) like the pinging another team to death idea.

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