I don't want to spend the rest of the preseason writing about this, but I am intrigued by one thing that Brett said:
As for making contact (eg. Swisher), intuitively I agree with the authors that contact rate and BABIP should be inversely proportional.Brett can't be specifically talking about low contact hitters, because the top BABIP hitters aren't pure strikeout hitters. Certainly, there are some high strikeout guys on these lists (Hunter Pence 2007, Ryan Howard 2006), but many of the hitters here aren't high strikeout guys.
They wrote: "One might expect a higher contact rate to lead to a higher BABIP, but the opposite actually seems to be the case. This is likely caused by the correlation between strikeouts and power, since players who swing hard tend to either miss entirely or crush the ball for hits."
I am curious about Hardball Times' theory. Are players who are swinging hard "crushing the ball for hits" when they're not swinging and missing?
Top 10 Strikeouts 2008
We've talked a lot about "regression to the mean" the last few days, so it's useful to know that the mean in 2008 for BABIP was .313. That is to say that of the 147 hitters who qualified for the batting title in 2008, the 74th hitter - Adam LaRoche - had a .313 BABIP.
This chart isn't a ringing endorsement for the theory that these guys are "smoking the ball" when they're not missing it. Dunn, Thome, and Howard are the only hitters who are well below the mean, but only Kemp and Ludwick are really well above it.
Top 10 Strikeouts 2007
Looking at this backwards, half of the players from the 2008 list repeat on the 2007 list.
2007's mean is about the same as 2008's (.312), but now we have hitters like Upton and Cust who are truly smoking the ball when they're not swinging and missing. With the exception of Pena, there is an incredible amount of variance in the repeaters from one year to the next.
We're still not any closer to figuring out how much of this is good luck one year versus bad luck the next. And I'm not necessarily convinced that Brandon Inge is due some additional luck because he's taking some "good cuts" on the balls he's not completely missing.
Top 10 Strikeouts 2006
Once again, more repeaters (Dunn, Howard, Sizemore, and Peralta). Now you've got even more hitters (six) above the mean (.314) for 2006.
Top 10 Strikeouts 2005
These BABIP numbers all look pretty good. But for some of these players (Sexson, Wilkerson, Wilson, Inge), it's the low BA/high K combination - and not the BABIP - that should have lit up like a warning sign ahead.
One significant problem with expecting BABIP to be higher for sluggers is that it loses sight of what a strikeout is.
It's a negative outcome. It's three swings and misses. There might be some hitters taking great cuts and just missing, but there are also a lot of bad swings on strike three, too.
After Pat Burrell's .341 in 2005, he's put up 298, 283, 275. He might be below his expected BABIP, but after three years of putting up BABIPs under 300, it might be time to ask if our expectations are too high.
After Sexson's .217 in 2007, a lot of the numbers wags said Richie would bounce back. He did...to .275, which didn't make enough of an impact.
I think there are hitters who make great contact or swing and miss. But there are also hitters taking lousy swings and putting the ball into play. Don't assume someone who mashes the ball out of the park is making good contact when that ball stays in the yard.