“That’s Amore!” Quality of Contact
Last week I focused on the sabermetric WAR. A lot of people have heard of it, but few knew what goes into the equation. Overall, it’s a great tool in evaluating the value of a hitter or pitcher to their respective team. This week, I want to take it a step further and concentrate on the quality of contact for hitters and pitchers. Just like last week, I will be focusing on one specific hitter and pitcher.
He throws a heavy ball. He makes the mitt pop. He’s a contact hitter. He’s a dead-pull hitter. There are many terms that have been used to describe specifics of hitters and pitchers. As humans, we love to see logic through numbers. Yes, hearing words is one thing, but it’s simple psychology to get people to observe, analyze, and react through numbers. We see this through commercials, advertisements, and diagrams. Numbers influence people. Sabermetrics have been around for quite sometime now. However, there are those, and I’m guilty as charged, who are too stubborn to see evaluation in terms of numbers. Our eyes do tell us a lot when evaluating talent, but numbers can help support one’s hypothesis. Can you think of a better way to support this than with numbers?
What is Quality of Contact? This represents how well, or awful, a pitcher or hitter’s batted balls have been hit. The overall sum totals 100% which makes it easy to understand. Think of quality of contact like a pitcher’s velocity. We take this into account of what can happen. Naturally, it’s harder to hit a pitcher throwing nearly 100MPH than it would a pitcher throwing 70MPH. I’d say it’s safe to assume that the pitcher throwing 70MPH would give up more home runs than the pitcher throwing 100MPH. A lot of this has to do with reaction, and you have more reaction time to a 70MPH fastball. There are three measurements to quality of contact: Soft Percentage (Soft%), Medium Percentage (Medium%), and Hard Percentage (Hard%). There is no exact science in relating quality of contact to success, but we can use logic in deciphering between a player that makes hard contact over soft contact. It’s easier to catch a lazy Popfly than it would be to stop a line drive to a gap.
I’ve done a lot of research into the exact equation for quality of contact, but it’s in the same category as a “family recipe.” No one will ever tell. However, there are three major concepts that I’ve taken from my research. The data are collected around line drives. To break it down even more, line drives are derived into the categories of hard, medium, and soft. This is a great way to decipher contact as many young hitters are taught to concentrate on hitting line drives. This helps with their bat trajectory as well as building a smooth swing. Overall, quality of contact can’t tell the full story of a hitter, but we can assume that a hitter is more like to be successful with a hard-batted ball compared to a weakly-hit ball.
Here are three charts to take a look at. The chart to the right is a quality of contact rating. The top chart, on the left, depicts 2015 top-five and bottom-five hard-contact percentage for hitters and their batting average. The amazing discovery I made was the fact that all ten hitters were on fantasy teams in contrast to the pitchers where a few of the pitchers were spot start players. By analyzing the hitters’ chart we can see that having a high Hard% doesn’t directly correlate to a higher average. The top-five players did have higher home run totals than the bottom five. But, in terms of batting, the bottom five were higher. We can assume that the bottom-five players were able to “leg out” many batted balls due to their speed, and they had higher Medium% than their leading counterparts. Paul Goldschmidt is the outlier has he is in the top-5, but also had the second highest average of the ten charted players. The bottom left chart depicts the 2015 top -five and bottom-five hard-contact percentage and ERA for pitchers. It’s easy to identify that the top-five pitchers were some of the best in the league while the bottom-five struggled. However, there is an outlier. AJ Burnett had a better overall season than R.A. Dickey. This could be directly related to the fact that it is very hard to hit a knuckleball pitcher, but when contact is made the ball goes very far. Now, let’s turn our focus onto Paul Goldschmidt and Johnny Cueto from 2015.
Paul Goldschmidt: Hard% (MLB Rank: 4) Medium% (MLB Rank: 123) Soft% (MLB Rank: 138)
What isn’t there to like about Goldschmidt? He’s been arguably one of the best first basemen since he busted into MLB in 2011. He’s averaged over 20 home runs, 80 RBI, and a .290 average in five seasons. But what does his contact rate tell us? While his Medium% and Soft% rank near the bottom of MLB, we need to understand the contact percentages. The numbers tell us that Paul Goldschmidt doesn’t get cheated during his at-bats. He’s going to square many balls up, and hit great power numbers while having a high average. This is pretty rare. Yes, there are others that do this, but it’s rare to find a complete player such as Goldschmidt.
Throughout his career he’s shown the ability to steal bases as well as draw a high number of walks. His athleticism makes him such a valuable asset in MLB and fantasy baseball. Specific to Major League Fantasy Sports fantasy baseball leagues, Goldschmidt is arguably one of the most deadly weapons as certain scoring leagues score walks, singles, doubles, triples, and home runs into specific categories. I want to make it known that Goldschmidt finished second to Bryce Harper in the 2015 NL MVP voting. He finished with 234 vote points to Harper’s leading 420 points. He’s solidified himself as the top first base threats in MLB and fantasy baseball.
Johnny Cueto: Hard% (MLB Rank: 44) Medium% (MLB Rank: 27) Soft% (MLB Rank: 54)
Cueto’s 2015 season was interesting. Early into the season he was receiving very little run support from the Cincinnati Reds. This is hard for a pitcher to accept when he’s giving his all each start only to see losses such as 4-1 & 6-1 while giving up an average of two earned runs per start. At the trade deadline, the Royals acquired the righty and Cueto had an opposite effect. He was getting run support, but had a median of 3 runs per game. He gave up more than three runs in eight of thirteen starts. Cueto’s story ended well as he went on to win the 2015 World Series as a member of the Kansas City Royals.
In terms of contact Cueto is pretty solid. No, he may not be the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s solid as a number one and dynamite as a number two. This makes him extremely valuable to the San Francisco Giants. If you look at his rank of 44 in terms of Hard% he was ranked nine spots lower than his current teammate Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is arguably a top-5 MLB pitcher. Cueto’s Medium% was near the top in 2015 while Yovani Gallardo lead MLB was the highest percent of Medium contact (59.0%). Dallas Keuchel, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Greinke take the cake as top-10 pitchers in terms of Soft%. If a hitter is making contact off these three pitchers, they aren’t squaring the ball up very well. Cueto’s Soft% wasn’t nearly as good as the aforementioned three, but he was around with the likes of Bumgarner, Felix Hernandez, Sonny Grey, and Julio Teheran. After researching numbers, hitters usually make medium contact off of the righty. Now that he’s back in the NL, it will be a great comparison between his 2015 and 2016 numbers.
While there is no exact science to relate quality of contact to being a great hitter, one can see that the metric does explain that there is a better outcome of a base hit through Medium%-to-High% than to Soft%. As with all numbers there are flaws, but it’s an interesting tool to see how successful hitters compare to others. By studying the pitching and hitting leaders from 2015, it’s safe to assume the metric does have a meaningful purpose.
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Our guests this week are Mark Rush and Phil Weiss. Mark is the Professor of politics and law at Washington & Lee University, an author, writer, and a frequent guest on National Public Radio as well as the Arabian News Network. Mark was part of the writing staff at Ron Shandler’s old site shandlerpark.com. Since Ron shut that project down Mark has joined our writing staff here at majorleaguefantasysports.com, and also does some editing.
Phil Weiss’s resume includes working as a CPA with a large public accounting firm as well as private industry (Fortune 500), specializing in international corporate tax planning. Chief Financial Analyst for Independent RIA.
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