Hitting More Foul Balls Equals Success: 2014 and 2015 MLB Averages Compared
Two seasons ago (2014) in “Is Fouling Off Pitches a Skill?”, Eno Sarris discussed the idea of the two-strike approach, asking in response to Sam Fuld’s questions about foul ball percentage, if the best hitters have some advantage at the plate as they face a two strike count. That’s the gist anyway. Sarris finds little evidence to indicate there is. But he and Fuld may have been looking at it all wrong. But hitting more foul balls is a skill.
Indeed, during the turn of the 20th century, many sources report that players had become adept at fouling off balls; this was before the foul ball actually counted as anything more than a dead pitch. Prior to 1900, in fact, players started becoming skilled at foul ball hitting in order to draw a walk. The historical data certainly impresses upon us that such a skill does exist. Players like Rickie Ashburn were known to have this ability as late as the early- to mid-1900s.
Current data over the 2014 and 2015 seasons supports this idea too: Slapping away pitches does appear to be a skill when the foul ball rates of the top hitters are compared to those of the bottom hitters.
As is typical of baseball writers and statisticians, when we think of batting stats we always go to the defaults—batting average, WAR, OPS, etc. We also look at the number of at-bats, runs and number of and how many hits. But we fail to consider the as-important state of FABs (Fouls/At-Bat). Sarris used IncreaseFoul% for this analysis. FAB (the percentage of times a batter gets on base via a BB, 1B, 2B, 3B or HR after hitting at least one foul ball in the at-bat), however, as a statistic is as valuable as any of the others. And is the one that Sarris and Sam Fuld overlooked (mainly because I just made it up). In order to test whether there was a difference in percentages, in 2015 I altered the test to the current method (number of times batter got on base through conventional means/at-bats with foul balls). This is a derivation from the 2014 season which looked at the number of foul balls hit in conjunction with offense generated in the form of a BB, 1B, 2B, 3B or HR, and presents a more accurate conversion rate.
The results are very similar.
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Ed Comber (VP Of The BBBA/Owner – foulballz.com) Follow @foulballz