Playing Hit and Run With Line-Drive Rates

Balls in play can travel one of three ways: on the ground, on a line drive (minimal arc) or on a fly ball (deeper arc). In its description of batted balls, FanGraphs says: “Generally speaking, line drives go for hits most often, ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls, and fly balls are more productive than ground balls when they do go for hits (i.e. extra base hits).”

Do line drives really go for hits most often? For argument’s sake, let’s just say they do. That being the case, I proposed this thesis:

1. The team that hits the most line drives will also score the most runs in their respective league.

After some research, I found that only three times since 2012 has a league line-drive percentage leader also finished in the top five in runs scored (Detroit Tigers in 2013 and 2014, and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013).

So there went that theory. But I wanted to dig a little deeper (shocker, I know) and came up with a revised thesis:

1a. Line drives are directly responsible for more runs for a team than their fly ball or ground ball counterparts.

I tested this statement in the American and National Leagues, using a small, seven-day sample size. The Tigers and the San Francisco Giants were the teams I chose since they were leading their respective leagues in line-drive percentage at the time this data was compiled.

I also took some liberties when considering what batted balls to count. For example, I didn’t count pop ups or line drives to an infielder, since neither of those outcomes typically result in a run scored. Sacrifice flies were counted as fly balls, even if the ball’s arc was flat. As far as what constituted a line drive and what constituted a fly ball, I based it off MLB.com’s play-by-play application.

Here were my results, displayed in a chart:

Detroit Batted BallsSan Fran Batted BallsWhen analyzing these stats, I devised a ratio to put these numbers into perspective. Batted Ball Type per Run Scored shows the frequency with which a team scored a run off a particular batted ball. The Giants hit 67 line drives, scoring 22 runs for a 3.04 line drives/run scored. The Tigers hit 35 line drives, scoring six runs for a 5.83 line drives/run scored. So in this case, the Giants were a more efficient run-scoring team off of line drives than the Tigers were.

What does all this mean? In the grand scheme of life, it means absolutely nothing. In terms of baseball statistics, based on this experiment, I wouldn’t say that line drives ARE directly responsible for more team runs than ground balls or fly balls.

Now if only there was a way to use this batted-ball information to your advantage. Ah-ha! Enter MLB.com. The website hosts a contest called Beat the Streak (registration required, but that’s FREE), where you pick at least one player to get at least one hit per day. If you’re successful for five days in a row, you’ll win MLB.com swag, 10 days in a row means more swag, and so on. Available in the App Store and Google Play, download it and make your picks. If you need help making your picks for that day’s games, you can pick one of the Top Picks, the most popular selections among other contestants for that day. Additionally, you can filter players and essentially say, ‘Show me all hitters, playing at home, who have a .300 average against the starting pitcher.’ Of course you could do neither of these and take a shot in the dark. While researching players for your selection won’t guarantee that player gets a hit, understanding a few key metrics can certainly improve your chances.

One of those key metrics is Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP. While I’ve written about BABIP as a whole a few times, I haven’t touched on BABIP by batted ball type. Going back to my experiment, the Tigers’ BABIP on line drives was .629 while the Giants’ was .716. That means, on average, if 10 line drives went into the outfield, six or seven of them resulted in a hit. You’d take those odds wouldn’t you? When you compare those numbers to the teams’ ground ball and fly ball BABIPs, it’s not even close.

While line-drive rate may not be a great indicator of an entire team’s run-scoring prowess, it can show how proficient a player is at getting on base. According to FanGraphs, the average line-drive rate in the NL this year is 20.7%. Of the top 30 hits leaders in the NL this season, 20 have line-drive rates above average (as of 5/24). It’s a little murkier in the AL, as only 17 of the top 30 hits leaders have line-drive rates above average (as of 5/25). That being said, it’s definitely worth taking line-drive rate into consideration for your Beat the Streak selection.

To the casual fan, I challenge you to take note of batted ball statistics for your favorite player as you can tell how well they’re “seeing the ball” from the pitcher. To the person who no longer has the time to play in a fantasy baseball league, good luck picking your players in Beat the Streak. Beat the Streak positions itself as “15 seconds a day, $5.6 million reasons to play.”

Fifteen seconds? Do you like half-assing things or would you prefer actually trying to win something?

If you do take the Beat the Streak challenge, who are you picking for your first game and why? Leave your comment below or on the Section 426 Facebook page.

 

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