Changing the Way We Look at Offense, Part Two: WHB As An Offensive Ability

USA TODAY Sports

Most offensive outcomes are end results that factor in a hitter's ability, luck, defense, and a slew of other variables. The first major step in analyzing Well-Hit Balls is to compare them to other offensive abilities. This post focuses on the basics of offense, which will set up the opportunity to go deeper into what WHB are really good for.

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, there are three basic goals for a hitter when he is at the plate in a non-situational appearance (basically whenever a manager doesn't put a play on). These goals are to hit the ball hard, take a walk, and make sure that he doesn't strike out. If a hitter does these things, he will be in the best position possible to create value and produce runs. Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to talk more about Well-Hit Balls (WHB) from a theoretical standpoint. Here is a short bullet list of things a WHB can do:

  • Hits: this one is the most obvious, but WHB can lead to hits.
  • Defensive misplays: WHB should be harder to field. This can mean both non-error defensive misplays and errors themselves.
  • Sacrifice flies: WHB that are fly balls will be hit deeply. If the situation allows, WHB can force defenders far enough back that runs can be created even if the WHB goes for an out.
  • Base-runner advancement: runners will often move up on WHB, because WHB lead to homers, sacrifice flies, doubles, triples, and other events.

Section One: Basics

Now, let's get into the actual analysis of offensive players. Since I am treating WHB as a repeatable skill, I want to look at other offensive events that could be repeatable based on a hitter's playing style. The first place I want to start is with BABIP. For clarity, here is the original thought process from my research paper:

"One of the current statistics used by many people to try and eliminate or account for the "luck factor" is Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). This statistic attempts to measure how often a batter is recording hits when he hits the ball into play. As a statistic, BABIP does not factor in home runs, which are a significant part of offensive production. Without accounting for this fact, it was determined that Well-Hit Percentage did not have a strong relationship with BABIP after running a regression analysis. Theoretically, hitting a ball harder should result in a higher batting average when the ball is put into play. Since the numbers did not come close to matching the theory, this problem within BABIP was discovered. Since BABIP excludes home runs, the data should show that there isn’t a strong relationship because home runs will be recorded as well hit balls. Therefore, they would appear in one data set, but not the other. As a result of this, a new statistic called "Hit Rate" was formed."

Essentially, Hit Rate is BABIP with home runs. WHB produce a bunch of homers, so there really isn't any significance in using BABIP, as stated above. To give context, the league's BABIP in 2011 was .295, whereas the league's hit rate was .325 (through the date of September 21st, which was the day I collected data). What this revealed to me was that BABIP really wasn't ideal for analyzing the process of performance for hitters. I just leaves too much important stuff out.

Next, I wanted to tackle a few standard offensive beliefs. The first of these was that fouling off pitches was beneficial to offensive players (an ability that should be repeatable based on a hitter's ability to see the ball and make some kind of contact with the bat). This statistic was recorded as Foul%, and it was measured against several statistics in the table below:

I could be wrong, but I believe this is enough to show that Foul% doesn't increase a hitter's chances to be successful on offense. When analyzed, Foul% failed to show any proof that it led to getting on base more often, getting more WHB, or hitting for more power. However, this does not mean that Foul% is a bad thing.

What fouling off a pitch does is allow for a hitter to continue his at bat, thus preventing the recording of outs. Essentially, it's a neutral event that hurts the offense by not providing anything positive and hurts the pitcher by forcing him to throw at least one more pitch, thus opening up the opportunity for positive offensive results.

I then moved on to looking at other offensive skills. The first of these was the frequency by which a player misses the ball (Miss%). If a player is not hitting the ball he can't record WHB and is less and less likely to draw a walk (while also being closer to striking out). Below is a table showing some relationships involving Miss%:

While there wasn't much going on between Miss% and Hit Rate/WHOBP, there was a bit of a relationship between Miss% and the frequency of WHB (WH%). The R value found in this relationship was .44, which suggests that swinging and missing more frequently could lower one's ability to produce WHB on a whole. Analyzing Miss% then got me thinking about strikeouts. According to my original hypothesis, strikeouts are the main negative outcome that hitters need to avoid. Below is a table relating K% to some basic offensive statistics:

Much like Miss%, K% didn't relate well at all with any of the above metrics outside of WH%. The relationship between K% and WH% produced an R value of .36, which also suggests that striking out often could lead to a decreased ability to produce WHB, which is significant to the core of my theory. If strikeouts had no relationship at all, then I would more than likely have to take them out completely.

Section Two: Power

In my opinion, the key to any offensive player's performance is his ability to produce power. After all, there are no other events needed to produce offense if a hitter hits a home run. The value provided is instantaneous. Before I go too far, it's important to make one key distinction. To do that, I'll quote my paper again:

"When a hitter is hitting the ball hard, it does not necessarily mean that he is hitting it far, or with a lot of power. In other words, a well-hit ball is not necessarily synonymous with hitting a ball with power. For example, a well-hit ball can be something like a ground ball that is hit with increased velocity."

This is a big key in understanding how WHB will relate with power. The first thing I wanted to look at with power is how K% related to it. Here is another section from my paper:

"One general thought among certain members of the baseball community is that in order to hit a ball with power, a harder swing must be made. An assumption often tied to this thinking is that swinging a bat harder makes it more difficult to make contact due to the length or ferocity of a hitter’s swing. To look into this belief, ISO and HR Rate were related to miss percentage (Miss %), which measures the frequency of a hitter swinging and missing the ball on a pitch. When the relationship between Miss % and HR Rate was measured, an r-squared value of 0.212 was found. This value could suggest that a relationship between the variables exists and that swinging and missing the ball frequently does not necessarily have an adverse effect on the ability to hit home runs. A similar r-squared value of 0.1893 was found for the relationship between Miss % and ISO. What these values suggest is that a hitter’s ability to hit for power is not greatly impacted by swinging and missing the ball. Swinging and missing a ball may be more dependent on the velocity, break, and location of a pitch rather than an assumed flaw or change in mechanics of a hitter."

So the relationship between HR Rate and Miss% produced an R value of .46 and the relationship between ISO and Miss% produced an R value of .44. What this means is that swinging and missing frequently is actually tied to producing more offensive value. Rather than assuming swings-and-misses create a flaw in the offensive game, it could be possible that they are tied into other things that help hitters produce better on a whole. This drew me to the next step, which was looking into the ability for WHB to increase a hitter's ability to produce power. Below is a table analyzing relationships relevant to this:

This was where I began to be more confident in my theory and the power that is contained within WHB. Here are the resulting R values for the above relationships:

  • ISO vs. Hit Rate: .49
  • HR Rate (HR/AB) vs. Hit Rate: .38
  • WH% vs. ISO: .73
  • WH% vs. HR Rate: .70
  • ISO vs. WHOBP: .68
  • HR Rate vs. WHOBP: .65

Make no bones about it, producing offensive power is heavily dependent on the ability to produce WHB. I should note that not all HR are recorded as WHB. The same goes for doubles and triples (although most XBH are indeed WHB). It is also true that producing power leads to a better WHOBP, which means better overall offensive success.

Conclusion

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. After relating WHB to some common offensive events, it is more clear that WHB are a big part of the offensive game. If a player hits the ball hard, he is more likely to produce power, and he is more likely to find success on a whole.

In later installments, I will dig deeper into WHB for offensive players and reveal the true power that the statistic holds. However, I wanted to start with this for now, which composes sections two and three of my research paper. Relating WHB to strikeouts and power was used as the first step in backing my hypothesis that the events were tied together. Knowing that this connection is strong allows me to be able to look into how else WHB can be connected to offense. For now, however, I want to take a step back and branch down into the realm of pitching. After all, WHB may be produced by batters, but they can also be prevented by pitchers.

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