Skip the grounder, forget fly; line drive is sure way to first base
Not all batted balls are created equal. When I was 13, coach Tucker at Wally Moon's Baseball Camp drilled into me the conventional wisdom...
Special to The Seattle Times
Not all batted balls are created equal. When I was 13, coach Tucker at Wally Moon's Baseball Camp drilled into me the conventional wisdom of the time: "Just hit line drives and you'll do fine."
Hitting mechanics and theory have changed radically since then, but it turned out coach Tucker's nostrum was wise.
Thanks to Studes, the most graphical sabermetric researcher and co-honcho at Web site The Hardball Times, we can know how likely a line drive is to turn into a base hit, compared to a ground ball or fly ball. He collected data for about 22,000 batted balls at the beginning of the 2004 season and came up with the following results:
Studes found that if you wanted to get on base through a batted ball, your average would be .212 on fly balls, 276 on grounders and an astounding .743 on line drives. Home runs are the single most valuable thing a batter can produce, but the numbers bear out the traditional all or nothing aspect of "taters" ... if you uppercut and it doesn't make it over the fence, it has "out" written all over it, because batting average on fly balls that aren't homers goes down to .113.
It's well-known in baseball that some pitchers are consistently "ground-ball pitchers" (like Jamie Moyer and Derek Lowe) and some are consistently "fly-ball pitchers" (like Johan Santana and Ryan Franklin), that is, they tend to induce more than the league average of one kind over another.
But how about line drives? Are there line-drive pitchers — hurlers consistent in their tendency to yield an unusually high number of frozen ropes? In a Studes study from May 2004, he suggested while the data are not conclusive, major-league pitchers don't vary a lot in their ability to cause or prevent line drives, but major-league batters do vary in their ability to hit them.
That's logical, because in this highly meritocratic sport, pitchers who consistently yield lots of liners (when roughly 75 percent result in hits) are more likely to get winnowed out for giving up too many hits (can you say 'Kevin Jarvis?'). A pitcher would have to be exceptionally fine in other performance measures (simultaneously tons of strikeouts and low home runs surrendered, for example) to survive.
But how about pitchers who consistently yield fewer line drives? Does such a beast exist? And if there are pitchers who do, is it just luck or is it likely a skill individuals have? Because Studes is the only researcher publishing line-drive data and it goes back only to 2004, we don't have the data to run the numbers.
Studes is part of the dominant school of baseball research that believes pitchers in general have little to no control over how likely a ball hit off them will become a non-homer base hit, that differences are mostly luck. A minority, notably Tom Tippett, believe that while that's true for all pitchers combined into a general case, there are exceptions, pitchers who consistently yield lower batting average on the pitches hit off of them and that this is probably a skill.
How about Mariners pitchers? Who are the ground-ball pitchers, the fly-ball pitchers and who gives up the line drives? Courtesy of Studes, we have data from 2004. It indicates what percentage of batters the pitcher faced put the ball into play (as opposed to walks and strikeouts, etc.) and of the balls in play, what percentage of those are grounders, flies and liners.
Which 2005 Mariners are giving up the frozen ropes? Again, based on liners as a percentage of the balls hit through Monday (Source: Hardball Times):
I'm sure coach Tucker, wherever he is, smiles when Franklin or Shiggy take the mound, and winces every time Ron Villone walks in from the bullpen.
Jeff Angus writes on the new baseball statistics, describing what they reveal about the game and how that affects the Mariners. He is the author of the book Management by Baseball and of the Web log at cmdr-scott.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.