Infield Hits by Speed Score

July 8, 2015

We often assume a player's ability to get hits is a function of luck and his ability to make solid contact, but speed can be a hit tool as well, particularly when it can help result in an infield hit. Bill James first created his Speed Score statistic nearly 30 years ago, but it still does a nice job of organizing players by their speed based on publicly available data like stolen bases, triples, grounded into double plays, and runs scored per times on base. Speed Score works on a general scale of 1 to 10 where 4.5 is about average, 2.0 is very poor, and 7.0 is outstanding.

When you group hitters based on their Speed Scores, it quickly becomes clear just how much speed drives infield hit rate:

Infield Hit Rate by Speed Score, 2013-2015
Speed Group Infield Hits Fielded GBs IFH Rate
Less than 3.0 348 7323 4.8%
3.0-4.0 989 19991 4.9%
4.0-5.0 1429 22154 6.5%
5.0-6.0 1809 23717 7.6%
6.0-7.0 2013 24223 8.3%
7.0-8.0 1075 11452 9.4%
8.0+ 805 7674 10.5%


On the low end of the scale, hitters with Speed Scores below 4.0—which includes a lot of catchers, pitchers, and first basemen and features players such as Jason Castro, Matt Adams, and J.D. Martinez on the high end—get infield hits on about five percent of their groundballs. Each step up in Speed Score from there has a higher infield hit rate than the one below, culminating in players with Speed Scores above 8.0—such as Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Trout, and Billy Hamilton—recording infield singles more than twice as often on their groundballs than the slowest batters.

Next up, here are the players with the highest infield hit rates:

Highest Infield Hit Rate, 2013-2015
Min. 200 Fielded Groundballs
Player Speed Score Infield Hits Fielded GBs IFH Rate
Jose Iglesias 5.3 43 233 18.5%
Yasiel Puig 6.4 54 326 16.6%
Mike Trout 8.0 52 320 16.3%
Drew Stubbs 8.0 35 221 15.8%
Dee Gordon 8.5 57 380 15.0%
Starling Marte 7.8 57 388 14.7%
Jose Tabata 5.9 32 221 14.5%
Ichiro Suzuki 6.8 63 438 14.4%
Billy Hamilton 9.0 31 219 14.2%
Jean Segura 7.6 80 585 13.7%


If you’re like me, then you probably expected to find Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton on this list. They did make the top 10; however, it’s actually Jose Iglesias that leads the way with hits on 18.5 percent of his infield grounders. It’s interesting to note that Iglesias has the lowest Speed Score of anyone in the top 10 (although he’s still well above the MLB average). Whether or not Iglesias has some inherent skill for this or whether it is mostly good fortune, it does help explain his career .336 batting average on balls in play, which is higher than one would otherwise expect given his power and speed profile.

The other unexpected name on the list is in the No. 2 spot. Yasiel Puig is often criticized for his poor decision-making on the basepaths, which has led to a career caught stealing rate of 41 percent and many other unforced outs. However, this is one area where his aggressive style is benefitting his team. His 16.6 percent infield hit rate seems as much a function of his effort level as it does his speed to first base.


COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock: I just noticed your comment. (We can easily stop checking on these articles after a few days!)

I think we do know some[ things that bear on what you raise; they don't answer it but they inform it.

If we forget about bunts for the moment and look at other kinds of infield hits, I would think that "reached on errors" is a close analogy. We know (don't we?) that righty hitters reach on errors significantly more than lefty hitters, because they hit grounders to the left side much more than lefties do (and when you boot a ball over there, there's less time to recover and get the ball to first, which generally outweighs the quicker time to 1st base for lefties).

But, there's also bunts -- which (I would think) works in the other direction. I'd guess that lefty hitters get more bunt hits than righties do. I'd guess further that the reason for this is three-fold:
-- They're closer to 1st base
-- They're faster on the average (a guess, but I think an educated guess)
-- .....and because of both of the above, they try more often to bunt for hits.

These are things that are somewhat independent of speed, although the 'bunts' thing is related to it. And also, as noted before, there's the factor of how deep the infielders play a hitter, which is somewhat inversely related to speed. All of these factors are reasons that I don't particularly agree with the apparent assumption in the article that we would necessarily expect such lists to be dominated by the fastest players -- and the presence of slower players isn't necessarily due to either aggressiveness or good fortune.
11:29 PM Jul 17th
Brock Hanke
Marisfan61 leads to a question that a might be important: What are the lefty/righty splits for infield hit percentage? There are pros and cons, as MF61 notes, but, John, do you (or anyone else) have an easy way to run the splits? If it's not a lot of hassle, could you post up why they do look like? A fuller granularity - lefty/righty sorted by speed scores - would be great, but that's asking a lot more work. And then there's the question of what the sped scores themselves are like sorted lefty/righty. I'm gonna shut up now asking other people to do work that I don't have the database to do myself.​
12:24 AM Jul 11th
So, on average how much of a player's batting average accounts for for infield hits? How much does it go up or down for a 10%er or a 5%er?
4:34 PM Jul 9th
A great deal depends, not just on pure speed, but on the player's batting style and ability to move quickly out of the box. If you compare Ellsbury and Iglesias' coming out of the box, this list will be less surprising. Guys like Iglesias and Ichiro are a step or two down the line before Ellsbury even gets started.
5:25 AM Jul 9th
10:34 PM Jul 8th
Iglesias is just small numbers looking at a sample of 2013 to date. He missed all of 2013...Puig has 2.5 times as many PAs.
10:34 PM Jul 8th
I'd be interested in seeing the complete list of players making up the sample...
1:25 PM Jul 8th
Iglesias is much better than guy behind him (18.5% to 16.6%). Nobody else is even half as much better than the guy behind him as Iglesias is. Unless it's Segura, because we can't see who the guy behind him is and how good he is at this. But I'll bet it isn't Segura. So what's going on with Iglesias?​
1:10 PM Jul 8th
For players like Puig, there are a couple of other factors:

-- They hit right-handed, which might seem like a disadvantage, which it is, but it also means they tend to hit their grounders to the left side.
-- They are played deep, especially on the left side.

The things you said are (of course) true too. These are just other significant factors.

I first noticed this (or think I did) soon after I started following the game. From watching Yankee games, it seemed that Moose Skowron got more than his share of infield hits, and he certainly wasn't fast, and it seemed to be due to those things. I'd love if someone could check on that some time. I may try to do it eventually....
12:15 PM Jul 8th
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