MLB is a sport where rhythm, timing, muscle memory, and routine are common successful traits when players are properly executing. Pitching is all about changing the timing, rhythm, expected location, and speed to disrupt a proper swing. Hitting is all about identifying what pitch is on the way, where it is going to be, and what velocity it is arriving at. The question is what batters are making solid contact per swing, not per at bat? Once identified, does it really matter if they swing and miss, or have a high strike out rate because they are productive anyway?
I found a way to measure this. There is a Stat Cast metric Hardhit% per swing. It does just that. It measure 95+ mph exit velocity per swing! It is similar to barrels, but exactly the same. A top 25 hitter under this stat would be someone who has limited holes in their swing. They are not fooled often and make solid contact better than the average hitter, thus they should be a good hitter. I want to compare that to the Sabermetric stat wOBA. wOBA is a very important metric. It is an offensive all inclusive metric. wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base such as walking or being hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single?) and again ignores other ways of reaching base. On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentage point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG. In short, OPS is asking the right question, but we can arrive at a more accurate number quite easily. Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value.
Lets see what happens when we compare Hardhit% per swing with wOBA. The first chart is Hardhit% per swing. Followed by wOBA chart.
The wOBA chart is the most important in terms of the hitter being productive so lets see how many of the top 25 are on both carts. The answer is only 9 hitters are on both charts. This answers a very big question for those who believe the strikeout hurts the game. The top 25 batters in MLB are not the same 25 batters who hit the ball hard per swing. It corelates the best hitters will swing and miss, yet be more productive than someone who hits the ball hard more often.
Marcell Ozuna (#3 wOBA) is the first not on the top 25 hardhit% chart. Clearly he has a K% of 22.5% so he has swing and miss. Jose Ramirez (#5 wOBA), Ronald Acuna (#6 wOBA), Trea Turner (#7 wOBA), Dominic Smith (#8 wOBA), and Nelson Cruz ( #9 wOBA) are all top ten but do not get on the hardhit% per swing chart. In general, it is easy to see why, their K% rates are higher n most cases. Ramirez and Turner are the only ones not above 20%.
The data shows while making hard contact per swing would seem like a tie in to performance, it does not. It doesn’t mean it is a poor trait to have, yet it is not a focus point for success. There is a guy on the top 25 wOBA list with 30% K rate! This supports the idea that swings and misses or strikeouts, are not as bad as we think. It isn’t pretty but it is reality. MLB conceptually has changed and we need to understand performance of the players today against the concepts we have of what good looks like. I guess in my mind. I would like to see the guys who miss get better making contact and maybe they would move up the wOBA charts.