“When you put the ball in play, good things happen.” – D.J. LeMahieu
Hmm. Not so fast. We’ll come back to that…
The play to which DJ was referring was a two-out, bases loaded infield single up the middle which was fielded by Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco. Polanco’s wild throw led to an additional run scoring, which gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the game.
Now, because I follow a lot of baseball writers on social media (good ones – not the drivel that the large media outlets dispense), I occasionally read some of the comments from fans on the writers’ posts. Trust me, this is a bad idea – but occasionally I get bored. And in this case, there was a torrent of fans jumping on DJ’s “put the ball in play, good things happen” mantra. A whole bunch of “I told you so’s” and “when will guys get this and stop swinging for the fences” and even a few “tell Stanton and Torres that” in there.
And this wasn’t an isolated incident. I remember A-Rod saying that because the last three World Series champs all had very high contact rates, that high contact percentages were the way to win baseball games. Heck, even Bill James mocked Luke Voit on Twitter, reminding Luke that his team lost the division by 8 games last season to the team with the highest batting average, then condescendingly added: “But keep swinging for the fences.”
Of course, to A-Rods point, if you saw a red Ferrari and a red Lambhorgini you would assume you’d need to paint your car red for it to be fast, following his logic. And James neglected to mention that the Red Sox led the league in OBP, SLG and had the 2nd best pitching and defense in baseball. But, right – “batting average…”
Here’s the thing: DJ’s 2nd inning ground ball yesterday is an out 75% of the time. Literally – I checked Statcast.
I’ve said it before, but obviously, it bears repeating: Just putting it in play isn’t necessarily a good thing. Putting the ball in play HARD is a good thing. Just putting it in play weakly is an out the overwhelming majority of the time. If your strategy is hoping MLB fielders won’t get to a weakly batted ball or will make an error, I’m here to tell you that’s a very bad strategy. In yesterday’s game, there were 10 balls hit with an exit velocity of less than 90 mph – two became hits.
If you think those are good odds, here’s some advice: Stay away from blackjack tables. In fact, don’t go near a casino whatsoever.
The way to score runs, and therefore win baseball games, is to wait for a pitch you can blast, then when you get it, blast it. It’s been this way for over 100 years. You will get a lot of walks and extra base hits that way, and therefore score a lot of runs. The contact for contact’s sake approach leads to a lot of outs with a smattering of singles sprinkled in occasionally.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s look at the best baseball players in history (at least since it’s been tracked) at “putting it in play”. Going by the percentage of times a ball was put into play from a swing, here are the best of all time, in order:
Juan Pierre 94%, Marco Scutaro 93%, Luis Castillo 93%, Jeff Keppinger 93%, David Eckstein 92%, Placido Polanco 92%, Ben Revere 92% and Orlando Palmeiro 91%. Michael Brantley, Brian Giles, and Kenny Lofton are the only players in the top 20 who would scare you even a little bit if they held a bat.
Notice who isn’t on the high contact, put it in play and good things happen list?
Barry Bonds, Mike Trout, Frank Thomas, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols or Edgar Martinez. Or Griffey Jr., or Manny, or JD Martinez, or hell, even A-Rod himself.
By advocating the just put it in play and good things happen approach, you’re literally saying you’d rather have the players in the first group in your lineup than the players in the second group.
Don’t get me wrong, I like LeMahieu, and hitting an obvious strike is better than looking at strike three. But he is not (sorry to disappoint you) going to finish the season with a .359 batting average on balls in play.
Give me Stanton and Torres in the box all week long and twice on Sunday.