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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Slicing the Stats
Batting Average and Home Runs visit Dan’s delicatessen.
When looking at a player’s performance, my favorite thing to do is break it down into small pieces—to see how the individual components of their play combine to create their total value. Sometimes, useful bits of information come from that kind of analysis; other times, you find something interesting or unexpected. Two statistics that are useful for this purpose are batting average on balls in play and home runs on contact. I used both statistics in articles about players during the 2002 season, so this will serve as a chance to see how those players finished the season, and how players in 2002 stacked up against each other and against players of the past.
Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP)
Batting average on balls in play isolates the component of batting average (and on-base percentage) that comes on balls are put into play by the batter—balls that fielders can make plays on. While hitters do exert a great deal of influence on the outcome of balls in play, a lot of other factors affect the outcome as well, including the skill of the fielders and simple chance. BABIP is calculated with the formula (H-HR)/(AB+SF+SH-SO-HR).
Around the middle of the season, I noted that Bret Boone was struggling despite performing at his career level or better in many important categories such as walks, strikeouts, and power. Boone’s problem was an abysmal batting average on balls in play, which appeared to be the best case for him: BABIP is subject to a higher degree of variance than other offensive statistics, so it was more likely that Boone was experiencing a flukish low than a meaningful offensive decline.
At that time, Boone’s BABIP was just .243, lower than it had ever been over a full season, and well below his career .288 average. As such, it seemed reasonable to expect Boone to do noticeably better during the second half, and end up with a BABIP between his season-to-date .243 and his career .288. Instead, Boone closed out the season by posting a .369 BABIP over 261 at bats, raising his final BABIP to .296—above his career rate. During that time, Boone essentially hit as well as he did in 2001, which turned out to be just about the only bright spot for Seattle in the second half of the season.
While Boone’s BABIP turned out better than expected, it was far from the best of 2002. That honor goes to Milwaukee’s Jose Hernandez—yes, the same Jose Hernandez who made news by nearly breaking the strikeout record reached historical significance in another statistic, only nobody noticed this one.
When Hernandez put the ball in play, he got a lot of hits—so many that he made more outs by striking out (188) than he did on balls in play (187, including reaching on errors). Hernandez’s BABIP was .404, which comfortably led the league:
2002 BABIP Leaders (Min 300 PA) 1. Jose Hernandez, MIL .404 2. Jim Edmonds, STL .375 3. Manny Ramirez, BOS .373 4. Bernie Williams, NYY .372 5. Austin Kearns, CIN .370 6. Quinton McCracken, ARI .357 7. Adam Kennedy, ANA .356 8. Bobby Abreu, PHI .354 9. Larry Walker, COL .353 10. Dan Wilson, SEA .350More interesting is where Hernandez’s season ranks all-time:
1913-2002 Single Season BABIP Leaders (Min 500 PA, SF not included) 1. Babe Ruth, 1923 .419 2. Rod Carew, 1977 .411 3. Rogers Hornsby, 1924 .411 4. George Sisler, 1922 .411 5. Manny Ramirez, 2000 .408 6. Jose Hernandez, 2002 .406 7. Andres Galarraga, 1993 .405 8. Roberto Clemente, 1967 .405 9. Ty Cobb, 1913 .403 10. Willie McGee, 1990 .400
Jose Hernandez reached a historical level of success at turning his balls in play into hits in 2002, but unfortunately, all the attention was focused on his strikeout record.
Home Runs on Contact (HR/Contact)
Home runs on contact provides a very pure measurement of a player’s home run power by removing non-home run opportunities such as strikeouts. The question HR/Contact answers is this: if a hitter hits a ball, how often does he hit it hard enough to hit a home run? HR/Contact is calculated with the formula HR/(AB+SF-SO). Here are the 2002 leaders
2002 HR/Contact Leaders (Min 300 PA) 1. Jim Thome, CLE .150 2. Barry Bonds, SF .128 3. Sammy Sosa, CHI .118 4. Alex Rodriguez, TEX .113 5. Russell Branyan, CIN .104 6. Manny Ramirez, BOS .094 7. Rafael Palmeiro, TEX .094 8. Jeremy Giambi, PHI .091 9. Lance Berkman, HOU .091 10. Jason Giambi, NYY .091
And the historical leaders:
1913-2002 Single Season HR/Contact Leaders (Min 500 PA, SF not included) 1. Mark McGwire, 1998 .198 2. Barry Bonds, 2001 .191 3. Mark McGwire, 1999 .171 4. Mark McGwire, 1996 .167 5. Jim Thome, 2002 .152 6. Sammy Sosa, 2001 .151 7. Jim Thome, 2001 .144 8. Babe Ruth, 1920 .143 9. Sammy Sosa, 1998 .140 10. Sammy Sosa, 1999 .139
Jim Thome’s best HR/Contact season to date was also one of the best ever. His 2.23 total bases per hit (TB/H) also led the major leagues and was the 12th best mark ever in that category. Thome is clearly one of the most powerful hitters in the major leagues, if not the most powerful.
Jeremy Giambi’s eighth-place ranking is a show of power that some worried he would lack, and another indication of his potential. And Alex Rodriguez reached a career high in this metric and in TB/H as his power hitting continued to improve.
Rather than measuring overall value, these statistics help to demonstrate some of the specific areas where that value comes from. In doing so, they also show the characteristics that distinguish major league hitters—characteristics that might not show up as clearly in more inclusive metrics.
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