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June 17, 2014

Moonshot

Striking Distance

by Robert Arthur


"To be a good hitter you've got to do one thing: Get a good ball to hit."
-Rogers Hornsby

On the face of it, Hornsby’s quote sounds somewhat vacuous. After all, batters don’t control what balls they get, at least not directly. Pitchers decide, at least to a first approximation, where the ball will go and whether it will be “good” or not. Hitters are faced with a simple dilemma: to swing or not to swing.

Yet Hornsby was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, having amassed some 127 bWAR by his retirement. Perhaps we ought to indulge him, and all the other hitters who speak of “getting a hittable pitch” or something of the like. Though hitters can’t directly control the quality of the pitches they see, they do exercise some indirect effect through their plate discipline.

Even so, it’s not clear what a “good ball to hit” would be. As good a place as any to start might be with location. A good pitch, Hornsby might say, is one that is unambiguously close to the center of the zone. The closer, the better: that way the hitter doesn’t have to concentrate on adjusting his swing path, or leaning out over the plate, or drawing his hands up. He can just stand and let fly their strongest rip.

Hitters do best when they can hit line drives and worst when they pop up, so I reasoned that one place we might see how pitch quality affects contact quality is in the batted ball categories. I took all the pitches from the 2013 season thrown to right-handers and grouped them by the batted ball outcome. I plot here the center of the strike zone, with the median positions of each batted ball group.

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Related Content:  Plate Discipline,  PITCHf/x,  Babip,  Zone Distance,  ISO

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (06/17)
<< Previous Column
Moonshot: Learning fro... (06/10)
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Moonshot: Dale Sveum a... (06/24)
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Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (06/17)

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