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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Numbers That Can Tell a Different Story

By Todd Thomas

Here are some of my favorite lesser-known stats that can show why a player might seemingly be "slumping" and should inevitably be breaking out of it OR shows that a player who seems to find every hole is about to make an apparent about face and regress back to the pack:

Batting average on balls in play: The average major leaguer's BABIP (or BIPA) hovers around .300. If someone has compiled a significantly higher or lower BABIP (and doesn't have a track record of doing so), some regression to the mean can be expected. For example, Chipper Jones'(Braves) at an early point in the 2008 season had a .385 BABIP which was 65 points over his career average. Consequently, we saw that his flirting with .400 didn't last. Chipper did have a very nice year though, but many of those balls that had been finding holes starting getting caught and Chipper "seemed" to regress when in reality the law of averages was just working itself out.

Line drive percentage: Of the three types of batted ball types (fly balls, ground balls, line drives), line drives most often fall in for hits. Matt Kemp(Dodgers) led the majors well into the 2008 season in line drive percentage (32.3 percent); not coincidentally, he was hitting .315 at the time. At the other end of the spectrum, Jhonny Peralta(Indians) had only 9.1 percent of his hits were line drives and he was hitting .216. The moral of the story... Want a higher batting average?.. Then hit more line drives. Want to hit more Home Runs?.. Then hit more fly balls. Want to be turned into exclusively a pitcher or be called a "defensive specialist"(usually called that because the player can't hit)? Then hit more ground balls than anything else.

Isolated power: A .300 batting average is pretty and all, but it needs some extra-base hits to really help a team in runs and RBIs. Enter isolated power, which shows the difference between a player's slugging percentage and batting average. Mike Jacobs of the Florida Marlins and his somewhat pedestrian .271 batting average ranked 19th amongst first basemen, but he was a top-10 first baseman thanks in no small part to his .336 isolated power mark (third best in the majors behind Lance Berkman(Astros) and Chase Utley(Phillies). What does that mean exactly? It means that of all of Jacobs hits, a lot of them were going for extra bases(doubles & Home Runs). Think about this(as a coach)... Which would you rather have?... Your team lead your league in batting average OR your team lead your league in runs scored?? Last time I checked, runs win games.

Ground ball to fly ball ratio: Unless you're The Flash(or Ichiro), it's hard to hit a ground ball for a home run. Not surprisingly, pitchers who do well in GB/FB(more ground balls to fly balls ratio) tend to be successful -- Fausto Carmona(Indians), Brandon Webb(D-Backs) and Roy Halladay (Blue Jays) were among 2008 MLB leaders. Grounder-heavy pitchers don't strike out as many batters as their fly-ball counterparts, but they also tend to pitch deeper into games. How does this relate to hitters? That's easy. Scroll back up and read about Line Drive Percentage again. :-)

Todd Thomas is a Baseball Coach and Professional Hitting Instructor for Mike Epstein Hitting. Coach Todd's personal hitting website is Coach Todd also enthusiastically endorses as a place where baseball and softball hitters can master the Confidence, Composure, Focus and Consistency of their game so they can reach their full potential.

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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick