Baseball statistics and the things we count that have been established by tradition and that many of us use are kind of silly. And I’m not just talking things like pitcher wins, which are too dependent on teammates and run support and things of that sort to be useful. I’m not talking about RBI, which are too dependent on teammates and the pitcher giving the batter something to hit to be useful. I’m not talking about these stats that sabermetricians often rail against. I’m talking about something as simple and seemingly as non-controversial as hits and batting average.
In the long, crazy Bottom of the 7th inning of Thursday night’s Braves-Brewers game, Ryan Doumit was the runner on first with Jason Heyward at the plate. Heyward hit a grounder to the second baseman, Jeff Bianchi, who made a great play flipping the ball with his glove to shortstop Jean Segura for an apparent out at second and a fielder’s choice for Jason Heyward. However, upon further review, Doumit was ruled safe at second, as Segura was pulled off the bag on the flip. Heyward’s fielder’s choice became a hit.
In the Bottom of the 8th inning Chris Johnson led off the inning with a fly ball to center field, where Logan Schafer appeared at first glance (at least in the view of the umpires) to make a shoe-string catch. Johnson had apparently made an out. However, upon further review, the call was overturned, as Schafer trapped the ball. So Johnson’s batted ball became a hit.
Neither Jason Heyward nor Chris Johnson nor the pitchers for the Brewers, Will Smith and Rob Wooten, had any influence over whether those batted balls became hits or outs. The end results didn’t change what the batters and pitchers had done. Yet, the end results gave the batters hits instead of outs on their baseball cards and internet stat pages.
When it comes down to it, what’s the point of categorizing batted balls based on the end result of whether they are hits or outs? If we were brought from a distant land and had no knowledge of traditional baseball statistics but we had become familiar with the game and wanted to come up with our own useful statistics to tell us about what happened, would we categorize a hitter’s batted balls based on what a fielder might or might not have done?
We have things like Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP), and the like that can help give us an idea whether a batter or a pitcher might have been unusually lucky or unlucky on batted balls. But it’s not enough. The ideal way to judge a batter’s batted ball and a pitcher’s batted ball allowed is how hard and how far the ball was hit and whether the pitch was squared up. The end result of whether it was a hit, out, fielder’s choice, whatever is sort of irrelevant if we are trying to glean information about the batter and the pitcher. There is data on “hard-hit” and “soft-hit” batted balls but it’s not publicly available. This is what we need to end the silliness of judging hitters and pitchers’ batted balls by what a fielder might have done with it.