Ted Williams’ first rule of hitting was “get a good ball to hit.” In today’s game, there is, of course, still value in patience. But if you think that analytics have made baseball more boring, it’s yet another strategy that could hurt the sport’s entertainment value.
Some relatively benign findings have driven baseball to where it is today. The fact that hitting a home run is the best thing a hitter can do, numbers-wise, has pushed hitters to generally abandon two-strike approaches and swing full-bore on every attempt – which has at least partially driven the last five seasons of record-breaking homers. On the mound, the fact that 30 percent of all balls in play turn into hits, year after year, has directed pitchers to optimize for the strikeout. And so we break strikeout records every season.
Now, front offices can see another incontrovertible fact in the numbers, one that has more implications for pace of play and the enjoyment of the game:
Hitters should swing less than they do.
It’s an unfortunate fact if you find the swing more exciting than the take, but it does seem to be true. With the current rules of the game, hitters are more productive when they swing less often. You can prove this using a couple of different methods.
Tom Tango, baseball’s own Senior Data Architect in its Advance Media project, produced this graph that shows the production that some of the greatest players in history put up on swings (the x-axis) and takes (the y-axis).
Very few hitters in the history of baseball have a positive run value on swings. Hall of Famers did good things; everyone else was a net negative for their team when they swung.
“Hitters should not swing,” said Kyle Boddy, proprietor of Driveline Baseball, an independent player development lab in Washington. His analysts even looked at the value of swinging at more strikes… and found it was negatively correlated with outcomes.