Recently, basically within the past week, Fangraphs.com has started publishing data on the quality of contact made on a pitch. The data has been gathered by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) and is placed into three separate buckets. There is soft, medium, and hard contact. It should be stated that this information is new and semi-untested. Any conclusions made right now could look foolhardy in the not all too distant future. Furthermore, this is not data related to Statcast which has been coming out in dribs and drabs on the raw data front. Having said all that, let's dive into the numbers and see what the Orioles look like.
The below table is for hitters. This is data collected before Sunday's game.
|League Leader(Team)||21.7% (Mets)||59.9% (Phillies)||32.9% (Rockies)|
As you can see, the Orioles are about league average when it comes to quality of contact. They make a bit more hard contact and a fraction less soft and medium. I also placed the league leaders to show that the overall spread in these categories is not massive. The soft contact rate varies by about six points, the medium by ten points, and hard contact by twelve points. When talking at the team level, the variation is not all that great because of the larger sample size.
The below table is for pitchers. Again, this is data collected before Sunday's game.
|League Leader(Team)||22.6% (Orioles)||58.5% (Tigers)||34.4%( Brewers)|
When it comes to pitching, it appears the Orioles have a bit of an edge. The assumption here is that a higher soft contact is better for pitchers. That may not be the case, but I'm not afraid to come to that conclusion right now. So the Orioles pitchers appear to be good at generating soft contact and limiting hard contact. In fact, they are 4th best pitching staff in limiting hard contact to date. The spreads between the top team and bottom team are basically the same for pitchers as they are for hitters.
Now as I said, these numbers are new so context can be difficult to come by. Hard contact seems like it would be good for hitters and bad for pitchers and vice versa for soft contact. Some work by Neil Weinberg done over at Fangraphs this week tried to put the numbers into some better context by looking how well these numbers correlate to certain statistics and attempted to create some contact profiles to see what rates of contact led to higher or lower production.
Surprisingly, BABIP does not seemingly correlate all to well. Meaning, a players BABIP is not necessarily going to be higher or lower based on their quality of contact numbers. The spread between the numbers is very low for a high and low BABIP. This could be for many reasons. One player immediately thought of was Ichiro. Ichiro did not always hit the ball hard, but he still ran a .350 BABIP because he could place it where he wanted to. So hard contact does not necessarily mean more hits. However, it does mean higher production. As I said before, Weinberg created some batted ball profiles, I have copied those tables below. Please go read his article to go further in depth with the subject.
The above table is for hitters. The contact profiles correlate to a wRC+ band. So you can get an idea of what a quality of contact profile looks like for an average, above average, and below average hitter. Again, the spread is not all that great between the top and the bottom. Yet, this does give us a base to work off of to compare how some hitters are doing thus far with the Orioles in 2015. The table below is all the Orioles hitters to date in 2015 with at least 70 PA.
|Alejandro De Aza||28.6%||51.0%||20.4%||81|
As you can see, the wRC+ correlates pretty nicely to hard hit rate. I did notice that some of the more pull happy hitters, such as Davis and Pearce, tend to not get as big of a boost from their hard contact that other hitters do. This could be explained by those players being shifted much more often. On the good side, Caleb Joseph has been stinging the ball so his hot start might have some real true talent backing it up. On the bad side, somehow everyday right fielder and clean up hitter Delmon Young might be getting a little lucky. He has the lowest hard hit rate and the highest soft contact rate on the team yet has a near average wRC+.
The future of baseball analytics, in my mind, is tracking the quality of contact and figuring out those ideal profiles that will tell you more about pitchers and hitters than ever before. These numbers are new and with the hopeful release of more and more Statcast raw data the quality of contact profiles can come into a clearer picture.