Let’s Talk Contact Again

In an effort to expand the reach of my personal blog this season, I’ve spent significantly more time interacting and following along with other writers and fans on social media than I have in the past. That of course has a downside, but the upside is I see many common topics of discussion that are perfect fodder for My Baseball Page – especially when the Yankees are on the west coast. This is an example:

In my Quixotic quest to convince people that contact, in and of itself is useless (hard contact is what matters) I enjoy pointing out that Isiah Kiner-Falefa has MLB’s third-highest contact rate among 151 qualified batters. The fact that IKF is also useless offensively*, while hitters like Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani, and Mike Trout are in the bottom half of the league in contact rate, more or less makes my point a strong one.

(*IKF is 137th in wRC+ out of the 151 qualified hitters across MLB – just behind number 136, Adam Frazier, and ahead of number 148, Myles Straw – both of whom are also in the top ten in contact percentage.)

Invariably, this is when pushback comes in the form of “at least it’s better than striking out a lot”, (no it isn’t) “advanced stats favor power hitters” (yeah, thinking doubles and home runs are better than singles is crazy, huh?) and my favorite “Do you even watch the games?”

The last one is so disingenuous and dumb that I don’t even acknowledge it, but let’s look at the other two…

For starters, a weakly batted ground ball is no different than a strikeout. You might think it is, because a batter taking a called strike three can look hideous, and a ground out to second base doesn’t look bad. That’s a perception discussion, but unfortunately, this is a reality discussion and a tapper to second base is just as bad as a strikeout.

“At least with a grounder you have a chance – a fielder can boot it, or throw it away!”

First, a softly hit ground ball or pop-fly is an out close to 100 percent of the time. I can argue that there’s just as good of a chance of an ump blowing a call in your favor on a called strike three that would give you another chance, or a catcher dropping the third strike, as there is of a fielder making an error on an easy play. All of the above instances have an extremely low chance of a positive outcome – there is no difference.

Secondly, yes advanced stats weigh extra-base hits more than singles, and they weigh walks (when there’s no one on base) just as much as singles – as they should. That doesn’t mean advanced stats are anti-contact hitters.

To wit:

DJ LeMahieu, Luis Arreaz, José Ramírez and Mookie Betts are all also in the top ten in MLB in contact percentage, and guess what? Advanced stats tell us that those players are absolute monsters.

And what’s different about them than IKF, Frazier, or Myles Straw? All together now…

They square balls up and hit them hard. That increases the chances of getting on base and it increases the chances of an extra-base hit. This is not atom splitting: Players who hit the ball hard get good results often and are therefore very valuable – players who make contact just for contact’s sake and hit routine grounders and fly balls are by and large, useless.

I’m on a roll, so let’s do one more…”But runners can advance on batted ball outs, they can’t on strikeouts!”

This is true, but it is also virtually irrelevant. Among the last 10 World Series winners, only three finished in the top ten in productive out percentage, while four of the ten finished below league average in productive out percentage. Its impact on winning baseball games is infinitesimal. (Ask me where the last 10 World Series winners rank in OPS+ or wRC+ now…)

Again, if you want to talk about what’s aesthetically pleasing, I’m with you – contact leads to fielding, and base running, which creates action and makes the game more fun to watch. But don’t conflate that with what wins and loses baseball games – hard contact wins baseball games, soft contact loses them.

Did I miss anything? Let me know. Leave a comment below or yell at me @mybaseballpage1 on Twitter and/or the “My Baseball Page” on Facebook.

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