For all that’s made of the strikeout and good things happening when players make contact, it actually doesn’t play out that way in the real world:
Braves on Balls in Play: .295/.293/.364
National League on Balls in Play: .298/.295/.377
Braves on Balls Not in Play: .123/.364/.491
National League on Balls Not in Play: .111/.354/.445
The Braves are one of the best offensive teams in the National League on balls NOT in play (any plate appearance that end in a strikeout, homerun, walk or hit-by-pitch). This should not come as a shock. Even with all the strikeouts, they are second in the league in both homeruns and walks.
On balls in play the Braves are mediocre in terms of batting average and on-base percentage but have the third-worst slugging percentage. This is kind of odd considering they are such a good homerun-hitting team. You would think a team that is able to hit the ball with enough authority to hit a lot of homeruns would also hit plenty of doubles. The flip side, I suppose, is that all of their hard-hit balls are leaving the ballpark, which could be taken as a good sign and not a bad one.
But the Braves could make a small change going forward that could help their overall production, based on this balls-in-play data. Andrelton Simmons has the most plate appearances that end in balls in play on the team. He has 271 such plate appearances. Freddie Freeman is the next closest and it’s not all that close. Freeman has 187 such plate appearances. Yes, Simmons has played more games than any player but Justin Upton, who has played one fewer game, has 171 plate appearances that end in balls in play.
Simmons is the type hitter that puts the ball in play a lot, he has okay power for a shortstop but it’s not overwhelming (.333 slugging) and will probably grow into more, but he typically doesn’t hit the ball with much authority. And he’s not going to get on base often via the walk, as he only has 16 on the season, is 8th on the team in walks, though he leads the team in plate appearances.
Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Brian McCann and B.J. Upton all have lower on-base percentages on balls in play than Simmons. But those other players are better at taking walks and/or hitting homeruns. Contrary to the beliefs of some, it’s hard to make a name for yourself offensively in the majors simply by putting the ball in play. Hitters who put a lot of balls in play but don’t walk and don’t hit homeruns are rarely productive. Waiting on a good pitch to hit and trying to crush good pitches are more likely to lead to strikeouts, walks and homeruns. Enough hand-eye coordination to make contact but not make homerun-inducting contact is going to lead to outs too often.
Simmons’ lack of offensive prowess, due to his lack of walking and/or homerun power, even though he does put the ball in play a lot, means he should be hitting low in the order and shouldn’t be in the leadoff spot. On-base is an important statistic for every hitter but it is especially important from the leadoff spot, for a hitter hitting in front of your best sluggers and your hitter coming to the plate more often than any other. Andrelton Simmons is one of the most valuable players on the team because his defensive value is second to none. But he’s not a great offensive player and he’s certainly not the best option at leadoff.