The Contacct Theory and the Power Theory

January 21, 2016
 The Contact Theory and the Power Theory

 

            Let me point out to you something quite remarkable about the 2015 Baseball Season.   In 2015 there were five major league players who hit 40 or more homers, but drove in less than 100 runs: 

First

Last

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

Avg

Mike

Trout

159

575

104

172

32

6

41

90

.299

Nelson

Cruz

152

590

90

178

22

1

44

93

.302

Albert

Pujols

157

602

85

147

22

0

40

95

.244

Carlos

Gonzalez

153

554

87

150

25

2

40

97

.271

Bryce

Harper

153

521

118

172

38

1

42

99

.330

 

            In all of baseball history up through 2014 there are only 16 such seasons, now 21, and in no other season before 2015 are there more than two such players.    Two of the 2015 players (Trout and Pujols) were teammates.   This is only the second time in history that teammates have done this, and one of those (Trout) tied the major league record for fewest runs driven in by a player hitting 40 or more homers.  

            Players began hitting 40 home runs in a season in 1920, and thirteen players had done so by the end of the 1920s.   It was actually six different players; Babe Ruth by the end of the 1920s had done it eight times, and five other players had each done it once.    Anyway, all 13 of those players who hit 40 homers had also driven in 100 runs.   Eighteen more players hit 40 home runs in the 1930s; all of those drove in 100 runs.   Nine more players hit 40 homers in the 1940s, and all of those drove in 100 runs.   Twenty-three players hit 40 homers from 1950 through 1956, and all of those drove in 100 runs.  

            The first player to hit 40 homers and NOT drive in 100 runs was Duke Snider in 1957.   Snider, who had driven in 125+ runs in 1953,  1954 and 1955, dropped below a hundred in 1957 because (a) he missed some playing time with a bad back, (b) he hit just .236 with runners in scoring position, and (c) the other team walked him a great many times when there were runners in scoring position.   The Dodger offense had a poor season.   Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo, all of whom were old—all of them were at least five years older than Snider—had poor seasons, and Dodger leadoff man Jr. Gilliam, who had hit .300 with a .399 on base percentage the previous season, slipped to .250 and .323.   That made it easy to pitch around Snider, and everybody did.  

            Long before Snider, however, 40-homer men were losing RBI.   Forty-homer men in the 1920s averaged 146 RBI.    In the 1930s they averaged 163 RBI; eighteen players in the group, Hack Wilson drove in 191, Gehrig 184, 174 and 165, Greenberg 183, Foxx 175, 169 and 163, Chuck Klein 170, and DiMaggio 167  

            In the 1940s forty-homer men averaged 135 RBI.   In the early 1950s (1950-1956) they averaged 119 RBI.    In the 1930s 40-homer men averaged 163 RBI; from 1940 to 1956 not one 40-homer man drove in 163 runs, although that might be obvious, because from 1940 to 1998 no PLAYER drive in 163 runs.   The only player to drive in that many runs since 1938 is Manny Ramirez in 1999.  

            Anyway, the RBI totals of 40-homer men were dropping by 1950, and several players before Snider had come close to hitting 40 homers with fewer than 100 RBI.   It was inevitably going to happen, and after Snider it became something that would happen every few years.   Mickey Mantle hit 40 homers without driving in 100 runs in 1958 and again in 1960.   Killebrew did it in 1963, and then Henry Aaron and Rico Petrocelli both did it in 1969.   In 1973 Henry Aaron and Davey Johnson did it as teammates, the only teammates to do so before Trout and Pujols last year.  

            One might suppose that a player who hits 40 home runs but fails to drive in 100 runs would be a low-average slugger, and this is not absolutely false but it is not a reliable general truth, either.   Of the 21 players who have hit 40 homers but failed to drive in 100 runs, seven hit .300 or better, and two more hit .299 and .297.    Bryce Harper is on the list; he hit .330 last year.  

            The players hitting 40 homers and failing to drive in 100 runs have more to do with the disappearance of table-setters than with low batting averages.   

            This has to do with the disappearance and re-appearance of Triple Crown candidates, and that has to do with the dis-integration of unified batting skills, and their re-integration at the opposite end of the scale.     This is a complicated story, but stay with me; you can do it.  

            Before Babe Ruth, hitting long fly balls was considered to be a sucker’s game, because the balls would hang in the air and someone would run under them and catch them.   Ruth demonstrated that that was not an absolute truth.   If you hit the ball far enough, nobody would be able to get to it 40 or 50 times a year, and that made the gamble of hitting long fly balls worthwhile.

            Baseball before Babe Ruth had been a game of speed, quickness and agility.    After Babe Ruth it became a game of power, speed, quickness and agility.   I am speaking in absolute terms about things that are not absolutes, of course, and one of the things I am leaving out is that there had been an earlier era, the Cap Anson era, in which baseball had put a premium on strength.   But Babe Ruth at 6-foot-2 and Ty Cobb at 6-foot-1 or 6-2 had been considered physical marvels, in that they were big men who had the quickness and agility of smaller men.  

            Once Ruth established so clearly that power had value in the game, baseball began looking for other big, strong men.    But if you go back to the 1920s and 1930s, you will find that very often the best hitters are also the best power hitters.  The reason this is true is that the theory of hitting the ball hard in the air hadn’t yet swept the game.

            Yes, men are bigger now than they use to be, but that’s not ALL of that story.   Two things have happened there, I think:  1) Men have gotten bigger, and 2) Baseball players have gotten bigger relative to the rest of the population.   I should check that out and I will, but that’s another story; as of now, that’s what I think. 

            If you look back to the 1930s, there were only one or two power hitters per team—at most.   Most good hitters concentrated on putting the ball in play—the Contact theory.   In the 1920s there were 91 players with 400 or more plate appearances who hit .300 or better but with isolated power less than .100.   In the 1930s this number dropped to 69; in the 1940s it dropped to 40.   In the 1950s it dropped to 33; in the 1960s, to 18.  

            The Dee Gordon/Jose Iglesias type of player.   The player who hits for a good average but without power.   In the 1970s these players re-entered baseball, the number shooting back up from 18 to 54.   This was primarily because of artificial turf.   Artificial turf was believed to put a premium on speed, and this brought back into the game a flood of players of the Curt Flood type.        But since the 1970s, these numbers have declined again.   In this decade—and we are 60% of the way through this decade--there have been only 12 such players.   We may have fewer in this decade that in any other decade in history.

            The thing is, now everybody is trying to hit the ball hard, and almost everybody is trying to hit it in the air.   I would put it this way:  That there are two theories of hitting, the "contact" theory and the "bat speed" theory.   In 1915 100% of baseball players believed in the "contact" theory.   In 1925 90% of baseball players believed in the "contact" theory, 10% in the "power" theory.   By 1935 it was 80-20, by 1945 70-30, by 1955 60-40, by 1965 50-50, etc.   We have now reached the point at which 100% of the baseball playing population believes in the bat speed theory, rather than the contact theory.

            Of course that is an oversimplification, and of course it is not 100% true, but it is generally true.   But what you notice is that there is a separation of the players, and then there is a re-unification on the other end of the scale.   In 1915 the players were 100% unified, and now they are again, but whereas in 1915 they were all contact hitters, now they are all hitting for power.   Or trying to.

 

Bat Speed and Bat Quickness

            This is a continuation of the same concept; I’m just going in a little different direction.  In my old gray head there are two distinct concepts, which are bat speed and bat quickness.   Bat speed means "how fast is the bat going when it makes contact with the ball?"   Quickness means "how long does it take the hitter to get the bat where it needs to be?"

            These two are not only not the same thing; they actually work at cross-purposes for most players.   If you are going for bat speed, you tend to use a longer stroke.   Momentum gathers as the swing progresses.    If you are trying to bring the bat into the contact zone as quickly as possible, you may get there without a lot of momentum. 

            But while I make this distinction in my own mind, most people do not.  I hear the term "bat speed" many, many times in discussing young players.  Between you and me, I don’t believe at all in Bat Speed.    I believe in Bat Quickness.  To me, if a player has a lot of bat speed, that’s a negative.   That means he is going to strike out.   Unless he is going to hit 30 homers a year, I don’t want him.  

            There are a few players, like Gary Sheffield and John Kruk, who have both quick bats and bat speed.   Andrew McCutchen is the best example of that right now; he generates a tremendous amount of bat speed in a millisecond.   Brett was like that, and Kyle Schwarber looks like he generates a great amount of bat speed with a very late reaction to the pitch.   Jim Thome did.   Kevin Millar did.  But guys like Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn  . .they don’t have fast bats.   They have slow, slow, slow bats.   Ichiro, although occasionally he will turn on a pitch, has the slowest bat of any player since Juan Pierre.   Quick, but slow.   The problem is that "slow" is the opposite of both quick and fast, and quick and fast don’t mean the same thing at all when it comes to swinging a bat. 

            The thing is, there is a minimal advantage to hitting the ball hard—unless you’re going to hit it up against the fence or over it.   Of course a hard-hit ball is better than a weakly hit ball—a little better—but centering the bat on the ball 55% of the time is a whole lot better than hitting the ball hard 40% of the time. 

            From 1900 to 1909, hitters with 400 or more plate appearances in the season averaged 1.31 bases per hit.   In the 1920s this was up to 1.42; in the 1940s, it was up to 1.45.   By the 1960s it was up to 1.54; by the 1990s, 1.58.   In the last decade it was up to 1.62.   It’s down a little in this decade because of the banning of steroids, but not really down; in historic terms it is still going up:

 

Decade

Bases/Hit

1900

1.31

1910

1.34

1920

1.42

1930

1.47

1940

1.45

1950

1.54

1960

1.54

1970

1.50

1980

1.53

1990

1.58

2000

1.62

2010

1.59

 

            In this decade the bases per hit of regular players are down from 1.62 to 1.59—2%--but the batting average is down from .278 to .268, which is more like 4%.  

 

The Iterative Effect

            I made this point 40 years ago; if I had copies of my old books I would look up the exact quote.   Suppose that you have a lineup in which every player hits .270 with 10 homers and creates 70 runs.    Suppose that you can substitute for one of those players with a player who hits .270 but with 35 home runs.   That might add to the team 30, 35 runs.   

            Go back to the lineup with nine guys who hit .270 with 10 homers.   Suppose that instead of adding power, you add a .300 hitter, a guy who hits .300 but with 10 homers.   That’s not going to add as many runs to your lineup as adding the power hitter.   It will probably improve you by 20, 25 runs, whereas the power hitter would probably add 30, 35. 

            However, the second time you make the substitution for a power hitter, the second one adds fewer runs than the first one did.   The third power hitter that you add to the lineup adds fewer runs than the second, and the fourth adds fewer than the third.

            With a high average hitter, though, the opposite applies.   Adding a second .300 hitter adds more runs than adding the first one; adding a third .300 hitter adds more runs than the second one.  

            The reason this is true is that the power hitter is maximizing your ability to capitalize on opportunities, but is diminishing the number of opportunities that remain.   Because there are fewer opportunities left, fewer men left on base to drive in, each additional power hitter has fewer opportunities to work with.   But the .300 hitter is increasing both the number of opportunities, and the rate at which the team will capitalize on its opportunities.    The more of those guys you add, the better. 

            I made this point 40 years ago, but in a very different context.   Forty years ago I was talking about Greg Luzinski against Rod Carew, Dave Parker against Pete Rose, Jim Rice against Lou Brock.   The thing is, there aren’t any Rod Carews anymore; everybody now wants to be Jim Rice or Dave Parker.  

            So the question is, have we gone too far?  Have we moved to the Land of Diminishing Returns?

            Well, I certainly believe that we have.  When you start stacking up 40-homer men who drive in less than 100 runs each, you’ve gone too far.  

            When the defense start shifting against you and you can’t defeat it with the bunt or by just making late contact to roll the ball the other way, you’ve gone too far.  

            We have gone too far.

            I am asked sometimes, "What is the undervalued skill in baseball today?  What is the thing that teams don’t value properly, in 2016 major league baseball?"   It’s this.   It’s contact hitting.   That’s what I believe.  

 

 
 

COMMENTS (32 Comments, most recent shown first)

evanecurb
Timely article on this topic in The Hardball Times. Here's the link: www.hardballtimes.com/quantifying-the-trade-off-between-power-and-contact/
9:40 PM Mar 11th
 
KaiserD2
While Bill has identified an important issue here, I think he has managed to make it a lot more complicated than it is. (Interestingly enough, in the last few months there was a go-round on this very same issue on the SABR email list.)

As I think I've mentioned, I've been writing a book identifying great players and their impact on their teams, 1901-2015, using Wins Above Average as my basic statistic. I get the stat from baseball-reference.com but I modify their figures in two ways that I won't go into here (they aren't important.) This has been a great experience for me, and I hope it will be a good one for my readers when the book comes out in a year or so, because that statistic is independent of parks, eras, and teammates.

What I have come to realize is that RBIs are a very team- and era-dependent statistic. To use a spectacular example which both Bill and I have had occasion to write about: Junior Stephens had 137, 159 and 144 RBI in 1948-50, but only in 1949 did he have a truly great season. He owed those RBIs to Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Ted Williams. On the other side of the coin, Don Baylor's 139 RBI in 1979, which won him the MVP, was WAY out of proportion to his actual offensive performance. The reason that 40-homer, >100 RBI seasons began to appear in the 1950s was that league on-base percentages were dropping so fast. When offense mushroomed in the 1990s such seasons became much less common. Now offense is down again and they are reappearing. The reason Trout and Pujols both had 40 homers without 100 RBI last year is that the rest of the Angels' offense was so dreadful. (Trout also batted second a good deal of the time, I believe.)

The lack of contact hitting may well reduce league OBP a bit, but the general decline in offense is, I think, far more significant. So is the failure of teams like the Angels to find good hitters to bat in front of their power guys.
8:34 AM Feb 7th
 
bjames
The suggestion to use the terms "acceleration" and "velocity" is not helpful. It ISN'T acceleration. Acceleration is still a measure of relative speed. What's relevant is how quickly you get the bat to the right position. That isn't acceleration. It's quickness.
9:26 PM Feb 4th
 
NutanaVin
Being someone who couldn't hit a lick I've always been interested in trying to understand the science of hitting. This was a great read. It reminded me of an article in Sports Illustrated where Ted Williams, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly talked hitting. I just reread it. For those interested it can be found at the SI vault; it was in April 1986.
9:22 AM Feb 4th
 
Rcrout
As with so many parts of life, diversity makes for a richer experience.
10:16 AM Jan 31st
 
studes
Nearly a week later, and I just realized that I omitted a key word or two from my previous comment.

My point: % of PA held around 54% and 55% for all years available (with one exception in 1988) until 2010, when it broke above 56%. It has stayed there ever since and even topped 57% this year. So this does indeed appear to be a recent trend.
9:14 AM Jan 27th
 
champs6
I learned to hit in the mid-sixties when there was still a stigma attached to striking out and coaches advised us to "choke up on the bat" and "just meet the ball".

The first hitting coach who made an impression on me was Harry Walker. His punch-hitting mantra was "throw the fat of the bat at the ball". Charley Lau later preached weight shift as hitting's key movement. Both approaches promoted a controlled swing.

It seems today's hitters use a hip turn to generate maximum bat speed and a much less controlled swing.

9:28 PM Jan 25th
 
champs6
Mikeclaw's comment causes Dustin Pedroia to leap to mind . In a million years, I wouldn't have predicted the success he's had with that swing.

9:25 PM Jan 25th
 
mikeclaw
Bill, I agree with your conclusion - that the most undervalued skill in baseball today is contact hitting - wholeheartedly. I am a minor league official scorer. I see tons of Triple-A games each summer, in addition to the MLB games I watch on TV. The thing that amazes me more each year is the guys I see who swing from the heels on every pitch, even with a two-strike count. Many of them are guys who hit 5-10 home runs per year. For as long as I could remember, the rule used to be to "shorten up your stroke" and put the ball in play with two strikes. Not anymore. Today I see 165-pound middle infielders taking huge cuts with two strikes. It continues to befuddle me.

11:51 AM Jan 25th
 
flyingfish
Riceman1974: You did NOT read Bill correctly. The first thing you said was correct, but not the second. Here is the second thing you said: "But, he then says that if you replace another .270 10-homer batter with another .270 35-homer batter, the increase in run scoring is LESS THAN adding another .300 10-homer batter to the other lineup. And so on down the line." What Bill actually said is that if you replace another .270 10 HR guy with another .270 35 HR guy the increase in run scoring you get IS LESS THAN YOU GOT FROM ADDING THE FIRST .270 35 HR GUY. He didn't answer the next question, which is whether it's even less than adding another .300 10 HR guy, but I'm going to guess that it is not; I'd guess that you'd have to get to the 4th guy or maybe even the 5th before the lines cross.

But Bill implied this, or perhaps I should say I read this into what he wrote: A whole team of .300 10 HR guys would score more runs than a whole team of .270 35 HR guys, all else (e.g., fielding, baserunning) equal.



10:07 PM Jan 23rd
 
jollydodger
I see what BJ said and the gradual increase of 40/<100 guys, but I think the PED era exacerbated it. By the early 2000s, you had bad #8 hitters getting 20-25 HR. As baseball is slow to change (not an insult, just similar to natural evolution), we have players that came up in the PED generation through the minors. They're common now, hence the increase in 40/<100 guys.

Dee Gordon-types will now be valued as they're different and, thanks to the last 20 years, rare. Along with those, you'll have the potential Gordon-types that scouts can dream on - that's how a Billy Hamilton gets 500 ABs in the majors.

The prototypical lineup is likely a generic bell curve, with hi-avg/low power guys at the top and bottom, with hi-power/low avg guys in the middle - basically an old-school lineup. #8 hitters aren't hitting 25 HR anymore. When they were, batting the pitcher 8th in the NL made no sense. Now that the 8 hitters have come back down to earth (in power), it sort of makes sense to bat them 9th if they get on base.

That last point may be unrelated, but I think it still holds true.
9:20 PM Jan 23rd
 
tangotiger
Frank: excellent suggestion and unambiguous.

If we talk about cars, I think we all understand the difference between acceleration and velocity. We can apply the same thinking to swinging a bat.
5:00 PM Jan 23rd
 
FrankD
Interesting study. Not to be a stickler but lets change the terminology to bat acceleration and bat velocity at contact. The ability to accelerate a bat is different from the ability to reach a high terminal velocity of the bat. Velocity is the integration of acceleration. OK, a little anal ..... I do believe baseball evolves like any living organism and today's strategy will be defeated. And since baseball is proscribed by many rules, yesterdays failed strategy can easily become today's success ......
9:30 PM Jan 22nd
 
stevebogus
Not exactly on topic-

There has to be a tradeoff between bat speed and bat control. The ultimate contact play is the bunt, when the bat has essentially zero speed. Not only does it give the batter maximum control over placement of the bat in the zone but it also lingers there for as long as the batter chooses. As bat speed increases more energy goes into accelerating the bat and less is available to control the placement. And the as the bat sweeps through at faster speeds it is in the hitting zone for shorter periods of time, so the timing of the swing becomes more critical too.

Ideally a quicker bat (as Bill points out not the same as higher bat speed) gives the batter more time to observe the pitch and decrease his margin of error in the swing. But a slower bat speed just might allow for some in-swing corrections that are impossible with an all-out swing.

And, if I recall correctly, several years back MLB actually reduced the maximum diameter of the bat barrel. It was just a fraction of an inch, and it drew no criticism in part because batters were no longer using the largest allowable size. Hitters wanted lighter bat weights which could not be attained with the old maximum barrel size.
12:33 PM Jan 22nd
 
Gfletch
Good article, and good comments. gejerz, re: if you plan your offense around contact hitting, shouldn't you plan your defense around preventing it? Right, just like if you want to maximize your profits, don't just find ways to make more money, find ways to reduce your spending, too. Funny how things all seems so obvious once they are pointed out. Reminds me of Bill writing about how Casey Stengel really focused on the double play, not just turning it, but on preventing it...so that the Yankees had a significant advantage in that area.
12:28 PM Jan 22nd
 
gejerz
Only gave it a quick read, will come back for more reading and consideration. On that basis alone the article is really good thinking and a well written article. Worth the Sub with this alone. Thank you very much.

One quick question, would the values change in a baseball world with many teams having KC bullpens of three closers? That is, if the bullpens are more shut down, do the odds of linking together more singles decline? And if so, is not KC's strategy not just offensive 'contact' but also, simultaneously shutting down the likelihood of the other team doing the same to them? And does it not produce a championship unless both parts work well?


12:14 PM Jan 22nd
 
MattGoodrich
I made a similar argument with my softball team: Imagine there are a couple guys who want to play but they can't stand each other and won't play together, so we have to choose only one. One player (McGwire) bats .500 but every hit is a home run. The other player (Gwynn) bats .750 but every hit is a single. Which player would you choose?

By most metrics (OPS, RC, fantasy baseball points, totals bases, etc) McGwire rates as a much better player. Intuitively, wouldn't you rather have 2 HR than 3 singles?

But what if you had an entire team of that player. A team of McGwires would hit 3 HR per inning and score 3 runs. A team of Gwynns would hit 9 singles each inning and score 6 runs - twice as many!

The point I was making was the value of On Base percentage. If you are adding one player, add a McGwire. If you are building a team, get 9 Gwynns.

11:12 AM Jan 22nd
 
tangotiger
Re: diminishing returns

You can see the run impact of an event as the OBP increases here:

tangotiger.net/rc3lwts.jpg

And here's the accompanying article:

tangotiger.net/rc3.html
10:21 AM Jan 22nd
 
Riceman1974
Is Bills statement inherently true regarding diminishing returns? If I read him right, he's saying that in a lineup containing 9 .270 10-homer batters, if you replace one of those 270, 10-homer batters with a .270 35-homer batter, you'll score more runs than if you replaced him with a .300, 10-homer batter. Makes sense.

But, he then says that if you replace another .270 10-homer batter with another .270 35-homer batter, the increase in run scoring is LESS THAN adding another .300 10-homer batter to the other lineup. And so on down the line.

To clarify (run estimates below are made up, just trying to understand what Bill is saying math-wise):
Lineup 1: 9 .270 10-HR batters, Expected Runs: 600
Lineup 2: 8 .270 10-HR batters, 1 .270 35-HR batter, Expected Runs: 630 (+30)
Lineup 3: 8 .270 10-HR batters, 1 .300 10-HR batter, Expected Runs: 615 (+15)

But then:
Lineup 4: 7 .270 10-HR batters, 2 .270 35-HR batter, Expected Runs: 645 (+15 over Lineup 2)
Lineup 5: 7 .270 10-HR batters, 2 .300 10-HR batter, Expected Runs: 635 (+20 over Lineup 3)

So with each .300 hitter you add to the lineup, you increase run scoring more than adding a 35-homer hitter due to the diminishing returns of home runs.

This sounds crazy to me, but I'm not good at math.






10:11 AM Jan 22nd
 
tangotiger
Don: you can make use of this:

tangotiger.net/markov.html

The diminishing returns for HR does happen. For walks they don't. For singles, the diminishing returns will only happen when OBP is extremely high, probably .900 or something.

Have fun with that. You'll like it.
10:07 AM Jan 22nd
 
doncoffin
I think Bill might be right about the possibility of diminishing returns to (home-run) power in isolation from any other factor. (That it, more HR as a % of PA holding everything else--including overall OBA--unchanged.) But it is, fundamentally, an empirical question. I would also suggest that there are diminishing returns to any single event on offense, holding everything else constant (again, an empirical question,)

I recall that a (long) while back, Bill discussed the difference between long-sequence offenses (in which a team needs to string together a number of events to score a run--e.g., 3 singles) and short-sequence offenses (in which fewer events are needed to score a run--1 homer, two doubles, or even 1 double & 1 single). That discussion seems at odds with the current one, but I may be misreading or misunderstanding something here.
8:52 PM Jan 21st
 
ksclacktc
Tangotiger

Well said. I remember an article Bill had in one of the old abstracts in the 80s era. It goes something like this .At any one time you can have a 50 homer guy, a 100 SB guy and a .350+ hitter on the field at the same time.
6:24 PM Jan 21st
 
studes
I just did a quick search on Baseball Reference. Looking at the percent of plate appearances with no one on, the percentage has stayed around 54% to 55% pretty much every year with complete data (1960, 1961, 1969, 1970 and 1974 to now) and it only broke above 56% once (1988, to 56.2%). And it has stayed over 56% every year since, topping 57% this year. This is a very interesting thing.

I also looked at home runs hit as a percent of PA with the bases empty vs. men on, and there isn't a discernable pattern that I can see. In most years, HR are hit with a higher frequency with no one on, which isn't surprising. But this past year wasn't particularly skewed in that direction.
6:21 PM Jan 21st
 
chuck
Bill, regarding the change of player height vs change of average male height...
I did a bit of a height change study awhile ago, in looking at the change in strikeout rates. I did only selective years, 3 decades apart, taking the regular position players from each team and finding the major league average (and for each position also).

Overall, the numbers went:
1920: 5’10” (5.83 feet)
1950: 6’00” (5.98 feet)
1980: 6’00” (6.03 feet)
2010: 6’01” (6.08 feet)
That’s a change of 3 inches in the average position player, from 1920 to 2010.

I found an article saying that soldiers in the Civil War and in WW 1 were measured... large samples. The average quoted for the Civil War was 67.7 inches (5.64 feet), and in WW1 it was 67.5 (5.625 feet). The writer guessed that the lower number in 1917-18 was due to the lesser height of many of the new immigrants.

A wikipedia page on recent average U.S. male height gives 5’9 and a half (5.79 feet).
That’s 2 inches, or 2.93% higher than the wartime height of 1917-18;
whereas position player height is about 3 inches, or 4.3% taller (by these numbers).

By the way, the change in average position player height, 3 inches, has added about 50 square inches- about the size of your computer keyboard from the bottom up through the tab bar.
5:54 PM Jan 21st
 
tangotiger
The beauty of baseball is that you can have Juan Pierre and Adam Dunn on the field at the same time, and not know which of the two is the better player.
5:30 PM Jan 21st
 
evanecurb
Is there an inherent assumption within this analysis that contact hitters have higher on base percentages than sluggers? I know there have been lots of high batting average/low walk rate hitters over the years, just as there have been lots of low average/high walk rate guys. I would assume that, as a group, contact hitters have higher on base percentages than power hitters, but I don't know if this is actually true.
4:28 PM Jan 21st
 
OwenH
Great article. I've been wondering since the mid-90s when we'd start to see contact hitters coming back, both for the reasons Bill mentions and because a contact approach seems like it'd be the best way to counter the ever-increasing power pitching and strikeouts that dominate the game, now more than ever. We still have yet to see large numbers of major league players taking this approach (at least in the past couple of decades); the contact hitters who are in the game (Dee Gordon, Ichiro, Howie Kendrick et al) tend to stick out like sore thumbs just because they're so different.

It surprises me that even with 90s-early 2000s offensive levels now much deflated, and pitchers seeming to have the edge over hitters again, that most players are still trying to hit the ball out of the park every time, and don't care if they strike out 150 times. Yeah, chicks dig the long ball, but as Bill points out, .300-hitting table setters also have great value. I prefer the game when it features more variety; I hope we do start to see more contact hitters (and, consequently, more plays in the field and on the bases). One does tire of endless strikeouts, walks and homers.
3:34 PM Jan 21st
 
jalbright
I'm sure the point about the diminishing returns value on a slugger was made in connection with Whitey Herzog's Cardinals (Jack Clark and a bunch of singles hitters), though it is possible it was made before that in some other format.
3:06 PM Jan 21st
 
kseesar1
I agree with you, and have been pondering this phenomenon for a while. I love baseball, don't get me wrong, and hated astroturf, but what I did like about '70's and '80's baseball was there were lots of different kinds of players--power hitters, high average hitters, speedy guys, and some big dudes thrown in. My problem with the game now is it is so dominated by both power hitters and power pitchers that the game is getting a little boring. I don't want to watch almost every player loading up to crank one over the fence, or see gobs of strikeouts every single game. There has to be a balance of lots of different types of players, lots of different types of hitters; it just makes the game more fun. Bunting may not be an optimal strategy but sometimes it's fun to watch, like the hit and run, some scrappy guy going the opposite way, base stealing. Variety is a good thing.
1:11 PM Jan 21st
 
tangotiger
That is very interesting. We should see the results of that in the linear weights run values of each event. If all the HR are clearing out the base runners so we're seeing say more solo HR, we'd catch that easily enough, whether by looking at HR split by bases empty and men on base, or more specifically, through linear weights that will handle all 24 base-out states.

I put out a word to someone who has their database up to date on that. If they don't come through, I'll take a look this weekend.
12:17 PM Jan 21st
 
evanecurb
The Kansas City Royals' success in the past two seasons would seem to support Bill's final point.
11:04 AM Jan 21st
 
mrbryan
Brilliant observation. Like the best ones, it transforms the picture, taking an object that was invisible and making is so obvious that one is forced to ask "Why didn't I see that?"
10:10 AM Jan 21st
 
 
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