How the Mets Have Fared Against Contact Hitting

You can’t always feel original, even when you want to. Yesterday I wrote about the Royals going up against the Mets’ power pitching. I wrote about it because I think it’s interesting, but then, everyone thinks it’s interesting, so everyone has been writing about it. Lots of people have observed that the Royals have hit fastballs well. Lots of people have observed that the Royals have hit fast fastballs well. It’s been demonstrated now that good contact hitters have a slight advantage against power pitchers, relative to worse contact hitters. So much, coming from the Royals’ perspective. It’s all over the place.

A frequent counter-point: the Royals won’t just be facing hard-throwers. They’ll be facing Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. These are hard-throwers with other pitches; these are hard-throwers with instincts and command. They’re not just 98-mile-per-hour fastball machines, so maybe it’s not fair to mix them in with everyone else. I think that’s totally valid. So it’s worth running through these exercises from the Mets’ perspective. We’ve looked at the Royals against power pitchers. How about the Mets against contact hitters?

When I say “the Mets,” I mean the starters. That leaves out Jeurys Familia, but it’s the rotation everyone’s talking about. Many teams have a dynamite reliever or two; few teams ever have been able to boast such a young and talented and hard-throwing group of starting pitchers. We know the least about Matz, but he’s been good, and the others have been even better. Most general managers would consider losing a finger to have Matt Harvey. Syndergaard and deGrom might be even better than him. Okay, you know all this. It’s stupid.

To get right to it: I wanted to break down the pitchers’ collective 2015 performance. So I pulled all the pitcher vs. batter results, playoffs included, and then I mixed in every batter’s overall 2015 strikeout rate. Then it was just a matter of separating into groups by whiffability, and examining the data. Baseball-Reference came in handy, and the rest came from our own pages. I decided to draw lines at 15% strikeouts, 20%, and 25%. The league-average strikeout rate was right around 20%.

In this table: everything you need. You see the performance by each group against the Mets starters, and the overall performance by the same players. wOBA ratio is just wOBA against the Mets divided by overall wOBA. It’s the same for K% ratio.

Mets Starters vs. Hitters Grouped By K%, 2015
Strikeout Group PA wOBA K% Overall wOBA Overall K% wOBA Ratio K% Ratio
14% and down 338 0.285 12% 0.311 11% 0.92 1.10
15% to 19% 807 0.296 22% 0.327 17% 0.90 1.30
20% to 24% 693 0.261 28% 0.326 22% 0.80 1.30
25% and up 648 0.217 39% 0.272 31% 0.80 1.26
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs

The most interesting thing, and the core of the whole thing: look at the wOBA Ratio column. No group did well against Syndergaard, Harvey, deGrom, and Matz, because that wouldn’t make sense — the pitchers are just too good. But relative to themselves, the lower-strikeout groups did better than the higher-strikeout groups. Hitters who struck out at a below-average rate lost about 10% or so of their wOBA. Hitters who struck out at an above-average rate lost about 20% or so of their wOBA. It’s not like there’s a magic line at 20% strikeouts or anything, but this does support the gut feeling that the Royals might have something here. Where the Cubs were maybe a bit exploitable, the Royals might better defend themselves.

The last column might interest you, too. Three of the groups saw their strikeout rates increase by around 30%, but the lowest-strikeout group saw just a 10% increase. Now, that’s also the group with the smallest sample size, so that’s something to keep in mind, but it could be an indication of something real. The extreme contact types remained extreme contact types against the Mets’ best starters. Bat to ball. Bat to ball. Whatever happens happens.

On account of the conscious choice to just look at 2015, there is noise in here, and there’s not a lot I can do about it. Put dorkily: that table doesn’t represent “true talent” effects. It approximates what could be real effects. To me, the takeaway isn’t the precise wOBA Ratio column. Rather, my takeaway is that lower-strikeout hitters might indeed have some kind of relative benefit. Not just against power pitchers in general — against these pitchers, specifically. Which is what we care about this week.

It should be said that the Dodgers didn’t run out a super high-strikeout lineup. They still lost to the Mets. But they did push the Mets to the brink, unlike the Cubs, and they hit the Mets’ starters a lot better. And the Dodgers couldn’t compete with this, in terms of contact ability.

Royals Strikeout Rates, 2015
Name K%
Alex Gordon 22%
Alex Rios 16%
Lorenzo Cain 16%
Eric Hosmer 16%
Kendrys Morales 16%
Salvador Perez 15%
Mike Moustakas 12%
Alcides Escobar 11%
Ben Zobrist 11%
MLB Average 20%

Those are the Kansas City regulars. One player posted a strikeout rate above the league average. It was barely above the average, and Gordon is overall really good. The other eight were all comfortably below the average, and in this sense (and others), Zobrist fit right in. Zobrist doesn’t strike out. Escobar doesn’t strike out. Moustakas doesn’t strike out. And so on. It’s actually surprising to me that Perez doesn’t strike out more than this, given his apparent lack of discipline, but the numbers are smarter than my own subjective impressions. These numbers reflect what happened. The Royals made a ton of contact. You know that — you keep being told that — but look at that table. Internalize that table. It really is kind of crazy.

And it looks like it could help the Royals just a little bit in the games ahead. There’s no way anyone’s going to have a fun time trying to hit the Mets’ starters. But fun can be relative. Compared to waking up with the flu, you’d rather wake up with the sniffles. If the Royals can take some of those strikeouts away from the Mets, they could make just enough happen that the Mets need to worry about hitting the Royals’ power arms. That’s no fun either.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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We have observed that the Royals have hit fastballs well.