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Thursday, May 05, 2022

Welcome to MLB’s new dead ball era: How 2022 might change with the juiced ball gone

So far in 2022, fly balls have tallied an actual slugging percentage .224 lower than the expected slugging percentage based on how hard they’ve been hit. That gap, for context, is the same as the chasm between 2021 MLB slugging champ Bryce Harper (.615) and light-hitting shortstop Jose Iglesias (.397), who finished 113th in the category out of 132 qualified hitters.

There’s a lot of space in that “fly ball” category, though. Hitting the ball in the air is still undeniably better than putting it on the ground. To figure out which hitters are in better or worse shape this year, we need to understand which types of fly balls are suddenly landing in gloves and how they compare to other types of contact.

To begin understanding that, I took a slice of batted balls with exit velocities between 97 and 102 mph and broke them into brackets by launch angle. These are all hard-hit balls but well within every major-league hitter’s capability — a middle ground where a range of outcomes are possible. The lowest bracket, 5 to 10 degrees, would be low line drives that could skip off the ground in the infield in some cases. That highest bracket topping out at 40 degrees would represent huge sky-high fly balls. Homers are exceedingly rare below the 20-degree mark, but batting averages are generally higher.

As you scale up the launch angles, you start to blend risk and reward. Higher angles amount to more air time, which means small changes in the ball can have greater effects. Slugging takes a hit when the ball’s distance starts to fall back from “first row of seats” to “warning track” or from “one-hopping the wall” to “one hop in front of the outfielder.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 05, 2022 at 10:47 AM | 2 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: juiced baseball

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   1. The Duke Posted: May 05, 2022 at 03:06 PM (#6075371)
Cool article. I was just perusing the bottom 20 in position player fWAR. It's a who who of current and former stars. Strange to see. Many of them mentioned in this article.

Billy Hamilton came along a few years to early - he'd be great in this environment. His stats woikd be the same but he'd be relatively more valuable.

The cardinals are employing super small ball this year. Walks, singles, stolen bases, double steals, first to third on singles, taking extra bases on infield ground outs, sacrifice flies. They been really fun to watch.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: May 05, 2022 at 05:43 PM (#6075415)
From the article: MLB’s own stats show higher drag on the ball than in previous seasons.

No they don't. Here's the data linked in the article. The 2022 distribution so far is a good match to 2021 and 2020. Note that's drag on 4-seam fastballs, not drag on flyballs -- I have no idea if those are the same. And of course god forbid they should simply report the mean/median by year, giving us those values only for 2020 and 2021. So possibly the drag has gone up a bit but the linked article doesn't say so.

As to Billy Hamilton -- nope, still a terrible player. He struck out a lot (league average), he walked a bit less than average and he hit the ball in the air MORE often than average. That was his whole problem in the context he has played in -- he needed to make more GB contact. His career BABIP was barely above league-average but a guy with his speed should be well above. But sure, the field would look a lot worse. Still even if we assume he'd be unchanged (his K-rate would be higher at least so his BA probably down) his 240/293/327 line (using Cinci's 2022 data) would be a 73 OPS+, up from 67 OPS+.

Billy Hamilton was a guy who couldn't hit despite playing most of his career in a good hitters park ... and that would have been true in any era. Bob Dernier was a pretty similar player in the 80s who at least struck out a bit less than league average and appears to have hit the ball on the ground a bit more -- 79 career OPS+ in a very similar offensive context as 2022 Cinci. The most you can speculate with Hamilton is that coaches would have emphasized GB contact more -- but since that would have made him a more valuable in his actual context, there's no reason to think they'd do it more than they did or that it would have been any more effective.

Hamilton 3260 PA, -28 Rbat/650, 10 WAR, 0 WAA, 9 dWAR, 69 OPS+ in BD context
Dernier 2757 PA, -12 Rbat/650, 6 WAR, -3 WAA, 0 dWAR, 79 OPS+

The differences in context often aren't as extreme as we think. Lg OBP/SLG for Dernier was 335/397; for Hamilton 327/421. Hamilton "loses" 4-5 points of SLG+ but "picks up" 1-2 points of OBP+. The thing Hamilton would pick up in "real life alternate universe" is that presumably he'd have made a lot more contact in Dernier's era which would have helped his raw numbers a lot. But he remains an average contact, slight FB hitter with no power in any era ... that has never been a good thing but, sure, there are eras where it's a bit worse than others.

Hamilton of course was a perfectly decent player whose running and defense (i.e. running) produced enough value to offset the terrible hitting. With less chance of a HR behind him, maybe they'd have let him run more, that would have been fun but he was stealing a healthy 55 a year at his peak.

The guys who should be excelling (or at least much better in context) are the LD/GB hitters. Somebody like LeMahieu should be seeing a big drop in SLG probably but a boost in (RELATIVE) BA. And he is -- he's putting up essentially his career line and it's a 134 OPS+. He had a 136 OPS+ in his first NYY year but that required an OBP 13 points higher and SLG 94 points higher. (LeMahieu 14% K vs 21% lg; 1.16 G/F vs 0.81 lg)

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