Can the D-backs improve their hitting?
In 2019, several batting statistics ranked the D-backs as lower than the top-10: runs-scored was 11th in the Majors, batting average was 14th in Majors, on-base-percent was 15th in Majors, and slugging was 13th in Majors.
Improvement to the top-10 is possible! So a better question: what traits do batters need to achieve that improvement?
Clutch hitters are not the answer.
Could the D-backs use mental-skill training to make their hitters clutch hitters? Studies have concluded there are no clutch hitters who are consistently better in clutch situations. So the answer is no.
“We therefore echo Cramer’s conclusion from 41 years ago that while clutch hitting may exist as a feature, it does not exist as a repeatable skill.” — Rob Mains and Pete Palmer in March 2018 article
“This means that most — about 80% — of the differences among player’s PWA’s are really attributable to differences in the quantity of their hits, not to differences in the timeliness of their hits.” — Dick Cramer in 1977 article
What traits do batters need to improve runs-per-game?
There are many plate discipline statistics like swings at pitches in-the-zone/out-of-the-zone, barrels percentages, Swinging Strikes…. A great approach would be to build a holistic view by looking at all measures of plate discipline. However, I will leave that approach for expert team analysts.
Instead, let’s consider two traits. Batters can make an impact by improving these traits. The first is: How well does the batter swing the bat?
- LD%. Line drives divided by balls-in-play. How often does the batter hit line drives? Line drives are the best type of ball-in-play with the possible exception of home runs.
- BABIP. Batting average for balls-in-play. How often does the batter’s swing produce hits?
The second trait is: How well does the batter see pitches?
- Contact %. How well does the batter “see” pitches and react?
- BB/SO. Walks divided by strikeouts. How well does the batter tell the difference between balls and strikes?
For 2019, let’s look at these two traits for the lineup in Jim McLennan’s way-too-early starting lineup.
William Flores ranks the best for both traits. Ketel Marte ranks second for both traits.
Swinging The Bat, 2019
|William Flores, 2B||24.7%||0.332||Best LD %, 2nd BABIP|
|Ketel Marte, OF||22.2%||0.342||3rd LD %, best BABIP|
|Eduardo Escobar, 3B||22.7%||0.283||2nd LD %|
|David Peralta, OF||21.3%||0.327|
|Carson Kelly, C||21.6%||0.271|
|Christian Walker, 1B||20.0%||0.312|
|Tim Locastro, OF||19.9%||0.31|
|Nick Ahmed, SS||19.9%||0.28|
Seeing Pitches, 2019
|William Flores, 2B||89.5%||0.49||best contact %, 3rd BB/SO|
|Ketel Marte, OF||83.3%||0.61||2nd contact %, tied for best BB/SO|
|Carson Kelly, C||78.9%||0.61||tied for best BB/SO|
|Nick Ahmed, SS||79.8%||0.46|
|Tim Locastro, OF||80.4%||0.32||3rd contact %|
|David Peralta, OF||77.4%||0.4|
|Eduardo Escobar, 3B||76.8%||0.39|
|Christian Walker, 1B||73.9%||0.43|
How could the D-backs increase runs scored per game?
Better swinging the bat and better seeing each pitch would increase runs score per game. In addition, Nick Piecoro wrote that the D-backs need to “diversify” their offense. Offensive diversity seems to include the following traits:
Daily consistency. The concept is that consistency results in more frequent consecutive successes in at-bats, and with the exception of homers, it’s those consecutive successes that score runs. “I think the root of that is still in our ability to put consistent at-bats together and not rely on the games where we just go up there and drop 11 hits on the other team.” — Mike Hazen
Consistently on-base. Without a runner on-base, consecutive success cannot happen. Reflecting that basic truth is the number one priority for D-back hitters: “Guys that consistently get on base is number one [priority].” — Mike Hazen
Stubborn at-bats. An at-bat that results in an out can be a success if it includes many pitches, wearing down the opposing pitcher. Perhaps when a pitcher’s “out-pitch” fails, it messes with his mental skills if he starts thinking about it. “We’ll have (to get better at) that by being more stubborn to our approach on a daily basis.” — Mike Hazen
Not always aggressive. Let the batter be more consistently successful by eschewing the “always aggressive” approach. The D-backs were “…being ultra-aggressive in all situations. And it cost us, I thought.” — Mike Hazen
Better offense could be achieved with existing players, or added players (either internally from the minors or externally via trade or free agency.
Mike Hazen said the existing players have the capacity to do it, but need to do it more consistently. He said any “guys that get added to the team” will be “bringing those skills to the table as well [as other skills].”
Quantitatively, how much increase in runs-per-game adds 5 wins?
For the 2019 season, let’s look at the winning percentage based solely on runs-scored by the D-backs:
- 0 runs scored, 0% win percent
- 1 run scored, 11.1% win percent
- 2-4 runs scored, 36.2% win percent
- 5-7 runs scored, 65.1% win percent
- 8-9 runs scored, 95.0% win percent
- 10+ runs scored, 93.8% win percent
Intuitively looking at the above list, increasing runs-scored by 0.3 runs per-game would increase the win percentage by 3%, adding 5 wins in a season.
Let’s do a more rigorous calculation: Using Bill James Pythagorean formula from Baseball Reference , 0.357 more runs-per-game are needed to add 5 wins. However, in the last few seasons, this formula has not accurately predicted D-backs wins.
I conclude that somewhere between 0.3 and 0.4 runs-per- game would add 5 wins. With that increase, the D-backs runs scored per games would have ranked between 5th and 7th in the Majors. That much improvement is an achievable goal.
The D-backs need to score more runs-per-game. Desired traits are better swinging the bat, better seeing pitches, and offensive diversity. Offensive diversity includes consistently on-base, stubborn at-bats, and eschewing the “always aggressive” approach. The existing players (including the projected starters) could demonstrate these traits more consistently. Alternatively, the D-backs could acquire a player with desired hitting traits. An increase of 0.3 to 0.4 runs-per-game is achievable, and it would add 5 wins to the season.