Ode to the base of disappearance
O the whomp from bat to ball
Bring a joyful cry
A single, a double, a triple —
Or not at all, and sighs.
— Joel Sherman, 2022
The annual lesson is not to overreact to April, as results for the first month of a season can be misleading due to, among other things, small data pools and often inconsistent weather. Two weeks into the 2021 season, for example, you might have been able to convince White Sox fans to erect a statue of Yermin Mercedes outside the guaranteed rate field. He ended up being downgraded to minors in early July.
This season in particular, quick and bold statements should be avoided. Due to the lockdown, what are weeks 1 and 2 of the 2022 season really should be weeks 5 and 6 of spring training. It’s the first year, moreover, that humidifiers have been used in all stadiums, and the sample sizes are probably too small to really capture the impact.
So consider this a thought exercise — and a chance for me to write my first poem after more than 30 years at the Post — but I wonder if we’re watching a season that will have us recalculating the value of batting average.
Do you remember the batting average? For about the first century of our national game, it was the statistic that most determined a batter’s skill – the champion batter, after all, was not considered the player with the most home runs or RBI, he was the player in each league with the highest batting average.
The Moneyball revolution raised awareness that the most important offensive skill was to avoid a takedown. So it wasn’t batting average that was the most prized skill, but rather on-base percentage. Typically, hitting .260 with a .360 on-base percentage was better than hitting .310 with a .330 on-base percentage.
But central to the Moneyball philosophy isn’t praying on the altar of on-base percentage or slugging percentage. It was about finding undervalued assets. Michael Lewis’s track and field book couldn’t pay for average, home runs or interceptions. But the rest of the sport had failed to pay to successfully reach base and have long bats to chase starters out of the game – before teams had one high-octane leviathan after another coming out of the bullpen to defuse infractions.
This change in the construction of pitching sticks is a reminder that the game is a living organism, changing shape all the time. Part of the ad-lib to ever-increasing speed and greater movement on the pitches was understanding that it was harder than ever to string hits together to score runs before three outs. So the best counter was trying to generate runs with just one swing. Hence the pitching swing and the quest for more home runs, which led to more strikeouts and less on-field action in games.
But if what’s rare is valuable (and perhaps undervalued by those who don’t move as quickly): has the value of a high batting average come full circle?
Again, I try not to be a victim of the moment or what I regularly see. I watch just about every Mets and Yankees game. And a big early difference between the Mets averaging 4.8 ppg (starting the weekend) and the Yankees 3.0 is that the Mets were averaging .259, which was third in the majors. The Yankees were at .220, and surprisingly, there were 10 teams worse than them. MLB’s overall batting average was .231, six runs shy of the worst season ever.
Arguably the two biggest surprise teams of the weekend were the Rockies (8-4) and the Guardians (7-5). They were far ahead of the majors on average, at .284 and .280, respectively. They also led by quite a bit on average in live balls, and that stat often normalizes (in this case, it would decrease) as the season progresses.
Still, I keep wondering if the ability to have a high batting average makes more sense now. Because of velocity. Because of the height movement. Due to the more accurate defensive positioning. Hitting the ball hard is, of course, extremely important. Due to the changes, however, if there is no diversity in where the hard hit balls are sprayed, we may continue to see a lot more hard hits, cries of “bad luck hitting” and cheering. on the expected batting average. .
As one senior AL executive told me, “If the expected average data includes years, it doesn’t make sense. No one was positioning themselves like they do now. The expected average has to mean something today, so you have to say, “What is the expectation for this batter in relation to the change likely to be seen?” ”
I asked if that negates the sense of someone like Joey Gallo producing a lot of hard outs (when contact is made), and the ex said, “There’s not a lot of variability where he hits strong the ball.” Translation: There will be a defender there, so Gallo hitting the ball hard, but on the same two or three areas, is not too beneficial.
This would lead to more belief that you need to hit home runs. But so far this year, home runs have fallen to 2014 levels. In spring training, when a mix of baseballs from last season and this season were used, officials from a few teams observed that the ball was not carrying as it had in recent years. This has translated into the regular season, to date, when (obviously) only 2022 baseballs are used.
Balls hitting 95 mph or better at a 25-40 degree launch angle are essentially homerun sweet spots — of all home runs, 73% fell within those specs last year. Of all balls hit in these settings in 2021, 43.1% went for home runs. Until Thursday this year, it was 34.3%.
Did you get the feeling right off the bat that Aaron Judge hit a few of them and they didn’t clear the fence? It’s not your imagination. He had four balls in those specs that all turned into outs. If home runs are harder to generate, then singles, doubles, and triples really become more valuable. Bullets don’t carry as far as in the recent past, according to the data.
Maybe it’s only two weeks in April. Maybe with warmer weather the ball will soon fly and batting averages will skyrocket. Or, maybe, I’ll write another poem soon.
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